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Families, friends bond through hope and love

Pain and sorrow brought together the three women who stood among a sea of unlit Relay for Life luminarias lining the sidewalk around University Park late Friday afternoon.

Pain and sorrow brought together the three women who stood among a sea of unlit Relay for Life luminarias lining the sidewalk around University Park late Friday afternoon.

But love and hope binds them.

The three women -- Ann Vossekuil, Susan Scott and Jayne Nieman -- became close through the patient Web site CaringBridge.org, sharing personal stories about each of their child's battle with leukemia.

Ann's daughter, Taylor, died in November after an eight-month battle. Jayne's daughter, Savanna, died in June 2007 after a seven-month battle. Susan's son, Will, is a cancer survivor.

This year, at least 300 of the thousands of luminarias in the park bore Taylor's name.

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To support Ann this weekend in Grand Forks, Jayne traveled from Calvin, N.D., in Cavalier County; Susan traveled more than 1,000 miles from Union, S.C.

Thursday was the first face-to-face meeting for Ann and Susan. It was a long awaited one.

"Ann had planned to come to South Carolina this summer with Taylor; unfortunately, that didn't happen," Susan said, emotion rippling through her voice. "One part of me is incredibly happy; Will is in remission. But then, my heart is broken for Taylor."

The walk Friday was extra special for Taylor's family and friends.

Friday would have been her "Sweet 16" birthday. Event participants sang Happy Birthday.

Stored in Susan's cell phone are dozens of text messages from Taylor.

"I'd ask her how she was doing," Susan said. "This day," she pointed to a message, "she said she was having a rough day."

She read through the messages Friday afternoon, laughing out loud when she came across a message she'd written to Taylor about singing to her. "I've kept all of them; I like to read them sometimes," she said.

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Ann and Jayne say they have a lot in common, such as May birthdays. But, they have an even deeper connection. Their children were in the same hospital. And each woman has endless sleepless nights. At times, they will log onto their child's CaringBridge site and write out the sleeplessness.

"It's a release, an outlet for our feelings," Jayne said.

Each woman has a Relay for Life story to share.

Jayne, a middle-school teacher in Belcourt, N.D., said her team has raised $5,000 for the Rolette County event, which is set for July 11.

Susan said Will was an honorary survivor in her town's event last year, cutting the ribbon to kick off the traditional survivors walk.

For Ann, last year was the first year she missed the Grand Forks event.

"Taylor couldn't walk and wasn't well," she said. Instead, Ann spent the day on the couch with her daughter. "I didn't mind that at all," she said.

Ann now works to give back to those who gave help and hope while Taylor was sick, including making care packages for sick children.

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"I even started doing crafts," she said. "I'll make magnets, frogs with hearts and with Taylor's name on them."

The frogs are symbolic of Taylor's hope for her mother, Ann said. After her diagnosis, Taylor received a card in the mail that read "Fully Rely on God," Ann said.

"She told me, 'when I die, you have to Forever Rely on God,' " Ann said.

Reach Nadeau at (701) 780-1118, or (800) 477-6572, ext. 118, or by e-mail snadeau@gfherald.com .

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