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Jaimie's generosity: Tragedy turns family's focus to foundation

Jaimie Senger, 18, of Brainerd, died in October of 2015 after suffering from leukemia. Her family and friends recently started a foundation, Jaimie's Purse, to financially support families experiencing childhood cancer. Submitted photo1 / 3
Jaimie's Purse takes its name from one of Jaimie Senger's favorite possessions, the blue purse in which her ashes are kept. The purse is pictured here among some of Senger's favorite things displayed at her memorial service in October of 2015. Dispatch file photo2 / 3
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On the day of her 18-year-old daughter's memorial service in October 2015, Carolyn Reller already knew one way she wished to honor her memory.

She wanted to start a foundation, she said—one to financially support families experiencing childhood cancer, as her own family had with daughter Jaimie Senger's leukemia diagnoses.

Nearly eight months later, Jaimie's Purse is up and running, the beneficiary of its first fundraiser in partnership with the upcoming annual Pink Links for Cancer women's golf event.

"We know what it's like for families that have a child that has cancer," Reller said Monday. "There were people out there that supported us and helped us financially, and we just thought we would give back."

The organization took its name from one of Jaimie's prized possessions, the purse in which her ashes were placed upon her death.

"She loved her purse," said Helen Eide, a family friend and one of the foundation's board members. "She was so proud of it."

The Brainerd High School graduate died Oct. 13, 2015, after developing a rare complication associated with the stem cell transplant she received to treat her leukemia.

Jaimie was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 14. After three years of treatments, she was declared cancer-free in September 2014—only to develop a different type of leukemia eight months later.

This type—acute myeloid leukemia—was a secondary cancer, one Jaimie likely developed as a result of chemotherapy drugs taken to eliminate the first type.

Jaimie spent her summer of 2015 in the hospital receiving cancer treatments, and in August, received a stem cell transplant. Two weeks after the transplant, a preliminary biopsy showed no indication of leukemia in Jaimie's bone marrow, which had been replaced successfully by the donor cells.

Just before Jaimie's planned move to a Ronald McDonald House near the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, she began to have trouble breathing. Doctors diagnosed the teen with idiopathic pneumonia syndrome, a condition affecting 6 percent of youth stem cell transplant patients.

Nearly a month later, after various attempts by doctors to treat the condition about which little is known, Jaimie lost her life.

Carolyn Reller's husband Grant Reller said throughout those years, the expenses added up well beyond the direct cost of Jaimie's treatments.

"There was a point where we were driving to the Cities on a weekly basis, and it was a whole-day appointment," Grant Reller said. "A lot of time, just to have a gas card to cover a trip or a Subway card or something to pay for a meal, it's an expense you don't have to pay out of your pocket. Over time, it adds up."

Carolyn Reller added they received assistance from many resources while facing Jaimie's cancer, and that help was a major factor in her wish to be part of helping others.

"There was a time when we struggled," Reller said. "We needed help making our house payment. There was a foundation you could apply for that helped you with $400, which was enough to get by."

Eide added although there are numerous organizations offering relief to families in these circumstances, there are so many families in need.

"These guys, we watched them and how much time they had to spend, and it was constant," Eide said. "We as friends did what we could, but we couldn't help nearly enough."

Reller said they plan to work with social workers at the children's hospitals where Jaimie received treatment to identify families in need of financial help.

"They know the families best, and know where the greatest needs are and where needs are maybe not being met," Reller said.

"And they knew Jaimie," added Beverly White, Jaimie's grandmother.

Reller said knowing Jaimie meant knowing she would want to help others in the way the organization now will.

Local families in need learned of through word of mouth will also be considered, Eide added.

Beyond the Rellers, Eide and White, the board of directors also includes Jenel Boller, Carolyn Reller's lifelong friend, and Chuck Cogger, a family friend who met Jaimie shortly after she completed treatment for her first bout of cancer. The group has big goals for the foundation, including a planned 5K run, a "sip and shop" event and general awareness raising through parade appearances.

But its first event, the golf tournament, is set to raise about $5,000 to start the new foundation off, said Rhonda Mareck, an organizer with Pink Links for Cancer. Mareck said Jaimie's Purse was selected as this year's nonprofit charity because of its local connection.

"The ladies golfing are from the Brainerd lakes area," Mareck said. "To see their money go somewhere where maybe they can hear about a family they knew, that's just awesome."

Mareck is expecting between 100 and 150 women to golf in the June 28 event, taking place at the Legacy golf courses at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. There is still time to register for the event by visiting www.craguns.com/golf-events-tournaments/pink-links-cancer-2016-golf-tour... or emailing pinklinksgolftourney@gmail.com. Mareck added they are still seeking donated items for the silent auction and business sponsorship opportunities exist.

Those interested in donating to Jaimie's Purse directly may visit www.jaimiespurse.org/donate, where a Paypal link is available, or may mail a check to Jaimie's Purse, 14646 Lynnwood Drive, Baxter, 56425.

Reller said they'd need volunteers for events they are planning for the future, and those interested may email info@jaimiespurse.org.

How to help

• Participate in, donate silent auction items for, or become a business sponsor for the 2016 Pink Links for Cancer women's golf tournament. The tournament is June 28 at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. Visit www.craguns.com/golf-events-tournaments/pink-links-cancer-2016-golf-tour... or email pinklinksgolftourney@gmail.com to register or for more information.

• Send donations to Jaimie's Purse via its website, www.jaimiespurse.org/donate, or by mail to Jaimie's Purse, 14646 Lynnwood Drive, Baxter, 56425.

• Become involved with Jaimie's Purse by volunteering. Email info@jaimiespurse.org to express interest.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

(218) 855-5874
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