How important is having cancer treatment available in Marshall? Just ask a cancer survivor.
Ask Sue Ann Moyars.
Moyars, of Tracy, knew going in her emotions would get the best of her Thursday morning when she got up in front of a few dozen strangers to give her thoughts on Avera Marshall's new proposed cancer institute. She quickly snatched a tissue out of the box before uttering her first word and then fought through her speech, occasionally wiping tears from her eyes, tears that started to fall about five seconds into her presentation.
A mother of two girls, Moyars is a three-year breast cancer survivor. With no family history of the disease, her cancer took her by surprise at age 34.
"Until June of 2009, I would've never thought in my wildest dreams I would use a facility like this," she said. "I know first hand how much this cancer institute is wanted."
The numbers presented at Thursday's news conference announcing the new institute are eye-opening, sad and disturbing if you live in southwest Minnesota. We lead the state in categories no one wants to: No. 1 out of eight geographical sections in the state in breast cancer mortality rates; No. 1 in cervical cancer incidence rates; Nearly No. 1 in colon and rectum cancer mortality rates; No. 3 in prostate cancer mortality rates.
In case you didn't know, "mortality rates" is a fancy way of saying "death."
In sum, per capita, more people die of cancer in this area of the state than any other. If any part of the state needs top-of-the-line cancer treatment options, it's here.
There's a personal side at play here as well. Because Marshall doesn't have comprehensive cancer treatment available, patients have no choice but to hop in the car and drive for treatment, whether it's to Mankato, Willmar or Sioux Falls. That means lost time from work, but it also means confronting a sense of isolation when their family can't go with them, making a scary situation even worse.
Larry Doom can speak for that. In fact, he did at the news conference, in what I can only imagine was a story Doom spontaneously felt compelled to share.
"I spent about 60 days in the hospital in Sioux Falls; as you sit down there and do this treatment, day after day, Monday through Friday, you don't have friends and family," said Doom, who was told by doctors in 2007 he had a brain tumor. "It's a lonely, lonely situation. Great people over there, great doctors, but it's not family and friends."
"Having a cancer center in Marshall means that patients will be able to save on travel costs, and this center makes it so they don't have to choose treatment over family events," Moyars said. "Time saved traveling can be used to make memories that will last a lifetime."
Moyars came in with a prepared speech, but her emotions weren't an act. And the tears were real. So were the ones being wiped away by those listening that morning. All the preparation in the world couldn't help Moyars keep her emotions in check, scripted speech or not. And probably the most important point she made was an impromptu one: "There should be no need to have to drive 100 miles a day for a five-minute treatment," she said.
The cancer center will be the second multi-million dollar facility to be built in Marshall in the coming years. Ground will eventually be broken on the new regional amateur sports facility, a potentially huge piece of economic development that will hopefully pay off in the future. But while the need for that facility was clearly open for justifiable debate, this one is not.
Life would go on for all of us without a new sports facility, but a quick look at the numbers will tell you that for many, the same can not be said about a cancer center. Numbers don't lie, even though we wish sometimes they did.