by TaLeiza Calloway
Julie and Ciera Ehlert of St. Joseph rock their buzz cuts with pride.
The mother and daughter shaved their heads recently, along with Julie’s sister Susan Rajkowski. Rajkowski would have been cancer-free for 10 years if it hadn’t returned a few months ago. The 39-year-old is being treated for stage-three breast cancer.
Shaving off their locks was one way for all three women to unite and rally for Susan. Ciera, 14, says she doesn’t miss her hair. She cut it off gradually, even sporting an afro before chopping it all off. Her focus is on stepping up to help her aunt.
“The first time she was sick, I was 2 years old, so I really didn’t understand what was happening,” Ciera said. “Now that I’m older it’s easier to support her.”
Julie Ehlert has always rallied for her big sister. She admits it’s hard to think about life without her sister, but Susan’s endurance is inspiring.
“It’s scary to think about her not being here,” Julie said, “but she has a strong faith and that has carried over into us. She’s a fighter.”
When Rajkowksi was first diagnosed in 2002, the lump she discovered was the size of a pea. She was 29. This second time around she said the cancer returned more advanced. The growth was the size of a golf ball and doctors found several infected lymph nodes.
She is at the beginning of her treatment. The latest PET scan brought good results, and she had her second round of chemotherapy this week (June 6).
Rajkowski doesn’t live in fear. Yes, to go through something like this is not taken lightly, but she said her faith is strong and God never gives us more than we can bear.
“I’ve learned to appreciate every moment,” Rajkowski said. “Don’t worry about little things. If your house isn’t clean or your dishes aren’t washed, who cares? Enjoy life.”
Susan’s husband, Jeremy, likes the saying, “Love is blind but marriage is a real eye opener.” He and Susan have been married for five years. They have a 4-year-old son, Elijah, and a 12-year-old son, Preston, (Susan’s stepson). Jeremy said it can be emotional at times and a little overwhelming to have loads of family members at the house at once to offer a helping hand. Nevertheless, the support for his wife has been great.
“It (the experience) makes you step up more.” Jeremy Rajkowski said. “It helps knowing there’s a God and he will help you.”
Susan’s mother assists her daily at her Sauk Rapids home. She comes over and helps clean the house and whatever else is needed. Her mother also lived with breast cancer.
The support from her family leaves Susan speechless.
“It’s amazing,” Susan said of the support. “I have no words.”
Julie, Ciera, Susan and Jeremy are raising money to walk in a three-day event sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The walk is slated for Aug. 24-26 in the Twin Cities. Walkers average about 20 miles per day and each have to raise $2,300 to participate, Julie said.
The money raised helps fund community education and outreach programs in the community.
This is the first year Ciera and Jeremy are walking. Both are eager to make the trek for Susan. This year marks the third walk for Susan and Julie, whose favorite part is seeing their parents along the route cheering them on.
The name of their team is “Battlestrong.” They also have a theme song. It’s called “No Matter What” by singer Kerrie Roberts. Roberts sings: “I’m running back to Your promises, one more time, Lord that’s all I can hold on to, I gotta say this has taken me by surprise, But nothing surprises You. Before heartache, can ever touch my life, It has to go through Your hands And even though I, I keep asking why, I keep asking why
Chorus: No matter what, I’m gonna love You, No matter what, I’m gonna need You, I know You can find a way to keep me from the pain, But if not, if not – I’ll trust You, No matter what (no matter, no matter what, no matter)…”
They’re not giving up. No matter what.
To make a donation to any of their team members or to learn more about the upcoming walk, visit: www.the3day.org. The family will also hold a fundraiser July 14 at Great River Bowl in Sartell.
Author: TaLeiza Calloway
TaLeiza Calloway is a professional journalist in Central Minnesota. Her byline has appeared in the St. Cloud Times and Central Minnesota Women Magazine. The Ohio native moved to Minnesota about four years ago. She joined the St. Joseph Newsleader staff as a reporter in November 2011.