WILLMAR — Naomi Mahler, an associate pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Willmar, has been named one of two honorary survivors for this year's Relay for Life in Kandiyohi County.
In December of 2015, Mahler was diagnosed with breast cancer. She began treatment in January 2016.
"I discovered a lump in my breast myself," Mahler said. "I think I pretty much knew right away it was going to be something."
Mahler's treatment began with hormonal therapy to combat the growth of her type of cancer, which is sensitive to changes in hormones, later having chemotherapy and surgery. She received treatment from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and from local doctors.
"I feel like I had the best of both worlds," she said. "You get the world-renowned expertise of Mayo, but you get the real love and care and connection from the local people here."
Mahler took a medical leave from Calvary Lutheran Church from December 2016 until May 2017.
"I was very grateful to be in a position that I could do that, that the church supported me in that," she said. "That was really good, to go through all that without having to worry about working, because I know so many people don't have that luxury."
During this time, Mahler said she went to the Willmar YMCA and worked out every day, which she believes was one of the most important parts of her healing process.
Mahler's twin 13-year-old daughters were the main motivation and challenge for her throughout her treatment. She often worried how her daughters were going to cope with her disease.
"They're middle-school girls," she said. "So when your mother loses all her hair and is completely bald, you feel worried about what people are going to think."
Her daughters, husband and the church were her biggest supporters, Mahler said.
"It's amazing the support you have that you don't even think about," she said. "Those little things of sending a card that you don't think is a big deal, or just calling someone and saying 'how are you feeling today?' Those are huge things. We can all do that for each other."
Doctors told Mahler she is now cancer free. She has returned to work at Calvary Lutheran Church.