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Overcoming rough waters

Today's commencement ceremonies at Trinity High School will have special significance for the family of THS senior Jessica Scherr. While every student can expect rough waters during his/her life, Jessica faced a life-threatening illness during he...

Today's commencement ceremonies at Trinity High School will have special significance for the family of THS senior Jessica Scherr.

While every student can expect rough waters during his/her life, Jessica faced a life-threatening illness during her senior year.

She recalls just completing her junior year and starting a job at Dickinson's White Drug.

"It was the first week of summer, and my first job and I got sick. I threw up at work and I was so dizzy I had to close one eye," said Jessica.

Jessica's parents Steve and Lanet took her to a Dickinson clinic where a chest X-ray was performed. That day, she was referred to Bismarck for further evaluation.

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Lanet remembers the day in a blur. She grabbed two left-foot shoes for Jessica and headed out of town.

"We drove to Bismarck. I refused to take an ambulance," said Jessica.

The diagnosis was vertigo, and the family was allowed to drive home. While on the road back home, they received a call to return to the hospital immediately. The CAT scan revealed Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"I was diagnosed June 6, 2007. I remember the date. The sixth is my birthday," said Jessica.

The next day, Jessica and her mother were flown to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., for treatment. Jessica remembers the paramedic lifting her up from the stretcher to see the sunset.

"She said she never wanted to fly because she hated airplanes, but her birthday present was her first airplane ride," said Lanet.

The following days were another round of needles and tests.

"The worst part was not being able to eat, like the whole week. It was bad," said Jessica.

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"The positive side, was some of Steven's family who lived in Minneapolis, came to support her by her bedside," said Lanet.

The x-ray revealed a tumor was wrapped around an artery in her chest. A biopsy revealed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and spleen. A few cells were found in the bone marrow. The results were a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis -- the highest degree.

"We shed our tears, but then decided this isn't fun," said Lanet. "But you move on to the next stage. That's all you can do."

Lanet stayed at the Ronald McDonald house, while Steve remained at Dickinson to manage their Midas business and care for their other daughter, Stephanie and son, Alex. Lanet was granted leave from her job at the Family Dental Clinic.

Stephanie got her drivers' license as an eighth-grader to help transport Alex to his activities, while family and friends took turns delivering an occasional dinner.

What was ironic, said Lanet, is Steve serves on the Roughrider Commission, which raises funds for the Ronald McDonald House.

"We never thought we'd need it," she said.

Jessica went through four chemotherapy treatments (seven days each), with a break of three weeks between each session. The chemotherapy treatments were rotated between Rochester and Bismarck.

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While the chemo made her weak and nauseous, Jessica said the worst part was losing her hair.

"The very last day of chemo was the first day of school," said Jessica.

Radiation therapy was next on the agenda.

"I stayed at Rochester three weeks the first time," she said.

Jessica continued her high school studies from her bedside.

"I ended up dropping human anatomy, but I took most of them," she said. "My teachers were very good working with me."

Jessica relied on her friends to keep her posted on school activities.

"I e-mailed my father every day and complained," she said.

Lanet added, "Her roommate mother drove her crazy."

The radiation treatments, with breaks in between, continued until the first part of November when she was discharged. The event was signified by the ringing of a bell. The plaque beside the wall was inscribed as follows: "Ring this bell three times well. The toll to clearly say: My treatments are done. It's course has run. And I am on my way."

There was no sign of the cancer at discharge time or at the May 1 checkup. Her next checkup is in August.

According to a Hodgkin's disease Web site, around three quarters of patients diagnosed with the disease will recover completely.

Looking back at the experience, Lanet believes the family has grown closer.

"My kids have always been really good. Now, they do things together. They appreciate things so much more," she said.

"I take one step at a time. I don't stress about the little things," added Jessica. "You're only young once."

The Scherrs expressed their appreciation to everyone who supported them during the medical emergency.

A prayer service was held at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, and a benefit dinner was held at the Eagles Club.

"To see all these people there was a favorite moment of my life," said Jessica.

Stephanie added, "I didn't realize how many people we knew."

The donations were appreciated to help cover expenses of gasoline and eating out.

Jessica's 44 classmates kept in close contact. One time, they took a picture of their bare feet with letters printed on them: "We love and miss you."

"They sent me boxes and boxes of gifts," she said.

The Scherrs have been busy preparing for graduation. Their open house was held Saturday so the family could attend other open houses today. Grandma Barbara Rohr helped with the baking.

Jessica is returning to White Drug to work as a gift department sales associate for the summer. She also is working as a counselor for the High Five Camp.

She has enrolled at Dickinson State University for the first two years, and plans to pursue a career in speech pathology at Minot State University.

"I want to work with little kids and the elderly," she said.

The senior class is singing "The River" as its farewell message during commencement.

The lyrics stand as a guidepost for their lives:

"And I sail my vessel, 'til the river runs dry. Like a bird upon the wind, these waters are my sky. I'll never reach my destination, if I never try, so I will sail my vessel 'til the rivers runs dry, Lord, I will sail my vessel 'til the river runs dry."

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