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Aurora

Nine years cancer free


Relay for Life starts Friday



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July 07, 2010 | 08:51 AM
Delavan Township — Joanne Baars is in a peaceful place now, relaxing and sipping homemade lemonade on a cushioned patio chair on a beautifully sunny Friday afternoon.

But it was only 10 years ago that Baars, 68, was in a war for her life.

On a routine medical visit back in 2000, her doctor suggested a colonoscopy. Six weeks later, Baars was shown the cancer mass on her colon.

"I was shocked," she said. "I had no symptoms. The doctors were pretty sure, but after surgery in September, I already was in stage three."

With stage four being the most severe level of cancer, things looked grim for Baars. But she kept faith and kept believing she could beat it. After six months of chemotherapy, a grueling period where she lost two-thirds of her hair, Baars was pronounced cancer-free in April 2001.

"Chemo was devastating," she said. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I couldn't keep anything down, and I became addicted to my painkillers. But I've been healthy since. My faith and family got me through it."

At the 2001 Relay for Life, Baars was the sponsored survivor, and this year's event, which kicks off with opening ceremonies Friday set for 6 p.m. on the Walworth County Fairgrounds, Baars will co-chair the survivor tent. Her daughter, Tammy, also will head the tent. All cancer survivors are encouraged to register at Baars' tent, and each one will receive a survivor T-shirt. This year's theme is birthdays.

The event, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, gives everyone in communities across the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease, according to the ACS website.

Born in Chicago and raised in Harvard, Ill., Baars has been a volunteer at Lakeland Hospital in Elkhorn for the past 16 years. She helps fight cancer there, too. For the last 12 years, she has ran the Me Again Wig program, which offers free wigs to anybody who has lost his or her hair due to a medical condition.

This will be the second year co-chairing the survivor tent for Baars. Also, at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Baars and her church choir will sing the national anthem. Closing ceremonies are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Saturday. According to Baars, this year's goal is to raise $150,000 toward cancer education and research.

Baars said people usually walk around the track the entire time, foregoing sleep because cancer never sleeps.

"Cancer attacks anybody at any age, anytime," she said. "You think you're in your own little world when you're diagnosed. But then you realize there are so many others with cancer, even families. People never talked about it a few years ago, it was the silent killer. You were going to die. But that's not the case today. It's heartwarming knowing you can survive."

For those fighting cancer right now, Baars has some strong advice.

"There's always hope," she said. "Just have faith. Sometimes we lose, but a lot of times we win. With today's medicine, miracles are happening every single day."

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