Farmington neighborhood rallies for one of its own
Cancer diagnosis grew bonds
by Laura Adelmann
Kris Baumgard marvels at the hundreds of greeting cards, notes, plants and gifts sent to her during the past two years.
“This just came in the mail today, and I don’t even know who it’s from,” said the 43-year-old Farmington wife and mother, holding a book about healthy eating for cancer patients.
If good wishes were all it took, Kris would be healed of the ovarian cancer diagnosis she received in April 2010.
Instead, the middle school teacher is battling cancer with her husband Gary, daughter Kaylynn, 6, and a battalion of friends at her side.
Her fight started with a jolt. Just hours after learning she had cancer, Kris was whisked into surgery.
Her doctor advised her to put her affairs in order and do the things she wanted to do in life.
The exhaustion, stress and hospitalizations have demanded the family accept help, money and gifts from other people that they still are not comfortable accepting but grateful to have.
Initially, Kris and Gary decided not to share the news with others so they would not be a burden to anyone.
But, they had to call in absent to work, and the news spread when a few neighbors began bringing dinners to their door.
Soon, friends, colleagues and even strangers who heard about their situation were asking what they could do to help.
After Kris told her neighborhood book club friends she didn’t have the energy to keep up with housework, they paid for a housekeeper once a month.
The Baumgards eventually took over the monthly payments, but even the housekeeper wanted to help.
“She came in an extra time and ripped up the check,” Gary said.
Kris and Gary’s neighbor, Wendy Appel, with her sons set up an online password-accessible calendar at www.carecalendar.org to organize volunteers.
Using the web-based system, people sign up to provide services like babysitting, cleaning, driving and walking the family dog.
“When Kris got sick, we felt helpless, but we wanted to help,” Wendy said, adding postings for help are typically filled within a day.
On the calendar, Wendy posts updates about Kris, who has endured sometimes harsh treatments and multiple surgeries.
Through it all, friends have found ways to rally for the family, holding fundraisers in the neighborhood and at the Baumgards’ church, Farmington Lutheran.
Neighbor Cheryl Watson, who is Kaylynn’s Girl Scout leader, hosted several parties to collect donations, including a pajama party at the church that raised $4,600 to help cover insurance deductibles and co-pays.
Cheryl said she was overwhelmed when the party attracted about 150 guests and money raised was over twice what she expected.
At the event, Kaylynn and her friends wore pajamas and played carnival games. There were raffles and a silent auction for adults.
“Lots of businesses donated,” Cheryl said. “And Gary … put a lot of his sports collection up on auction.”
Kris’ family donated craft projects, Gary’s sister collected donations from friends and church members sponsored booths or prizes.
“We put up signs by the booths with the (sponsor’s) names … so Kris and Gary could see other people who were not there were still participating,” Cheryl said.
She purposefully arranged an event that was “light-hearted and fun” to build memories and encourage Kris and Gary.
“What is more fun than being in your pajamas?” Cheryl said.
Staying upbeat does take determined effort by Kris, whose focus is on being a good mom.
Most difficult were the days when Kris would be so sick she was forced to rely on the kindergartner to get her into bed.
During an interview, Kaylynn begins to cry as discussion turns to Kris’ medical struggles.
Kris cheerfully invites Kaylynn to cuddle with her so they can peruse pictures of their February 2011 Disney World trip, a dream award gift to the family from Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance.
Kris was in remission at the time of their week-long visit.
“We had always promised Kaylynn a trip to Disney World,” Kris said. “Treatments took a lot of our savings.”
Friends are well aware of the financial burden the Baumgards face; Kris’ prescriptions cost between $15,000 to $20,000 per week.
Significant challenges have faced the Baumgards’ neighbors, who throughout Kris’ ordeal suffered losses themselves.
Some lost jobs, and many of their homes were damaged during the August 2010 tornado that ripped through Farmington.
Despite their own losses, they still found ways to help Gary and Kris.
The Charleswood neighborhood’s depth of caring was exemplified at a block party to celebrate repairs in the year after the tornado.
Kris thought money the party raised was to pay for the event but was instead donated to them so they could go to the Wisconsin Dells.
The couple tried to turn it away, but their friends insisted they take it.
“It’s been a real lesson in humility for us… It’s so much easier to say, ‘Here, let me give you the donation,’” Kris said.
Cheryl said Kris’ ordeal has brought the neighborhood and families closer than they were before her illness. Those relationships have let them know they are not alone.
“I really feel like we could call hundreds of people, and they’d be here in a moment’s notice,” said Kris, hugging Kaylynn and smiling. “You hear about so much bad in the world, but I think there’s way so much more good.”
Laura Adelmann is at email@example.com