Ruth Courier was given a collection of hats which she displays in her office.

It’s obvious she has kept a sense of humor in spite of the cancer she was recently treated for.

The last nine months have been hectic for Ruth Courier, this year’s honorary chair for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

She just completed treatment for cancer in the parotid gland.


Courier was born in Iowa, moved to McGrath, then to Mora where she graduated from high school. She double-majored in business and English at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.

After college, Courier worked for a few years for a wealthy woman on the east coast. She returned to Minnesota, working for the Census Bureau that summer and helped her mother move to Aitkin in 1979.

She met her husband, Joe Courier, who was farming in the Aitkin area, and they were married in 1986.

“No children,” she said, “just cats and a dog named ‘Gump’ by Joe in honor of a past Northstar’s hockey goalie, although most people think it’s after Forrest.”

Joe Courier died in 2012 from cancer which started in the parotid gland, the same place Ruth’s did.

Not good news

Ruth found a lump in her salivary gland in October 2017.

“Because my husband’s cancer was in the same spot, I sought immediate medical treatment,” she said. “It’s been a hectic nine months since. I have to say I wasn’t surprised when the PATH report said it was cancerous, probably because my husband’s cancer started there, plus my mother died of leukemia and I have a sister who had thyroid cancer.”

The treatment

Surgeons attempted to remove Ruth’s cancerous lump through surgery but were unable to because it had invaded the facial nerve that controls the left half of her face.

She had three chemotherapy treatments – one day a week for three weeks.

“They started with a Benadryl shot,” Ruth said, “and that practically put me in a coma for four hours. By the third treatment, the fatigue/ inertia set in where I couldn’t muster much energy to even twitch for a few days. But overall, God was good and my symptoms were manageable and best of all, I didn’t get nauseated. I was able to work much of the time.”

A PET scan in April came back good, but the oncologist recommended radiation. She had daily radiation treatments for four weeks ending June 28.

“Now I am waiting for the side effects to dissipate which may take up to six weeks,” said Ruth. “My worst side effect from radiation is messed up taste buds. Most foods taste like sawdust plus my mouth is very sensitive to citrus or acidic foods. Hoping to lose some weight since there should be a perk somewhere!”

Moving forward

Ruth’s advice for cancer sufferers is to follow medical advice.

“I did absolutely everything they suggested for managing symptoms even starting before I actually began treatments,” she said.

“And I kept it up even when it was hard, days when walking the mile became ‘slogging the mile.’”

Ruth naturally has a great sense of humor and she recommended that others in her situation “hone up on that sense of humor and use it often.’”

“Don’t let people do things for you unless you absolutely need to because doing it yourself makes you get up and stay active which is a mantra in the health literature I have.”

Ruth suggested giving yourself a reward at the completion of cancer treatments.

“I went to California and stayed with friends for a few days,” she said.

And she’s back to doing what she likes to do in her spare time – reading, traveling and trying unusual foods.

The Relay

This year’s Relay for Life will take place on Friday, July 27. For more than 100 years, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has been committed to fighting cancer. Community members of Aitkin County come together each year to support ACS’s work through the signature event, Relay for Life. The event will run from 5 p.m., Friday, July 27, to 1 a.m. on Saturday, July 28, at the Aitkin County Fairgrounds.  Coordinators are currently seeking volunteers to help with the event, as well as donations for silent auction items, sponsorship. Teams are welcome to sign up. Teams can be groups of one to 25 people. Contact Cathy Olson at  218-851-5056 or

As honorary chair, Ruth will give a short speech and walk the survivor’s lap.

“The Relay for Life is a great way to honor survivors and those who didn’t and the friends and families of both,” said Ruth.

Relay for Life schedule

Relay runs from 5 p.m. July 27 until 1 a.m. July 28 at the Aitkin County Fairgrounds.

5-6:15 p.m. Survivor Registration

5:30 p.m. Light supper provided by Riverwood Foundation

6:30 p.m. Opening Ceremonies – Color Guard, Pledge of Allegiance & National Anthem

Survivor Recognition

Team Recognition

9 p.m. Fight Back

Luminaria Lighting at Dusk

1 a.m. Closing Ceremony

Silent Auction will run from 5 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. – items will need to be picked up that night!

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