Jerri Lynn Baker is a warrior. Relay for Life gave her hope as she battled Stage IV cancer and, nine years later, she is co-chairing that Relay event.
In August 2004, Baker, of Oswego, was diagnosed with Stage IV tonsil cancer. After having her tonsils removed and a feeding tube installed, she suffered two rounds of chemotherapy, each requiring a five-day hospital stay, and 41 radiation treatments. Baker said she barely survived the first round of chemo and was rushed back to the hospital by ambulance, requiring a week in intensive care.
Baker said she lost 52 pounds because the radiation tore up her throat so badly that she couldn’t eat. She finished her treatment in December 2004 and shows no signs of reoccurrence.
Baker’s mom, Edie Weeks, had been diagnosed with cancer just weeks prior to Baker’s diagnosis. While Baker was recovering from her tonsillectomy, her mom visited her in the hospital and told her they would be walking in the Relay for Life the following summer.
“It was my mom’s message of hope,” Baker explained. “It was her way of telling me, you are going to survive. Hope is an incredibly powerful thing.”
Relay for Life is sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Teams sign up to walk around a track for the duration of the overnight event – at least one member of the team is always walking. Baker participates in the Relay for Life of Plano, Sandwich and Somonauk as she is originally from Plano and she walks with her church, First Lutheran Church of Plano.
Relay events begin with a Survivors Lap. All cancer survivors walk the first lap while everyone else lines the track and cheers them on.
“I was holding hands with my mom. It was so emotional. My mom was smiling; I was crying,” Baker recalled. “It was completely overwhelming.”
Baker and Weeks participated in every walk together following their cancer diagnoses. Weeks died in 2011, shortly after the 2011 Relay Event.
“She was really, really sick at the event,” recalled Baker of her mom, “but it was really important to her. It was important to the entire family. We pushed her around in a wheelchair.”
Every year, both Baker and Weeks raised $1,000 for Relay. Starting in 2012, Baker increased her individual goal to raise $2,000 in honor of her mom, she said.
Baker acknowledged that each year for nine years she has asked the same family and friends to donate to Relay. This year, she decided to add an extra incentive. Each person who donates has a vote as to whether or not she should buzz her hair. If the vote is yes, the haircut will happen at the Relay Event.
“I’m not some hot babe, 20-something, that’s going to look good with a buzzed head. I’m just an old lady with a lot of heart for a cause near and dear to me...So this is me doing what I can and not giving a doodly darn what I look like in the end, if it helps just one person to not have to hear the words: ‘you have cancer,’” Baker declared.
At the 2012 Relay, Stephanie Beery of the Illinois Division of the American Cancer Society, asked Baker to co-chair the 2013 Relay for Life of Plano, Sandwich and Somonauk. She will then chair the 2014 Relay.
“Jerri Lynn has been an unbelievable addition to the committee…She gets others fired up – that’s probably my favorite part,” Beery explained. “She brings out other’s potential and has become a mentor, which is huge.”
“Jerri Lynn refers to herself as a warrior. Honest to God I could not think of a word to describe her better…She is always out there and always experiencing life,” Beery described.
The Relay for Life of Plano, Sandwich and Somonauk will be Friday, June 21 at Sandwich High School. Oswego hosts two Relay Events: April 12 at Oswego East High School and June 8 at Oswego High School.
Donations for Baker can be made through the Relay for Life website.
Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m., Baker is starring in a comedic reading of Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain. This is a fundraising event held at First Lutheran Church, 200 N. Center, Plano. Tickets are $10 each.