'One of the good guys'
ZUMBROTA -- For Sara Krage, the last year of high school was supposed to include schoolwork, college planning, a few extra-curricular activities -- like speech -- and her part-time job at Zumbrota Ford.
But in early December, the Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School senior discovered a lump near her collarbone. Krage went into the local clinic and was quickly moved on to Rochester for scans, an ultrasound and a biopsy.
Two days later, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
"It was very strange," she said. "I had to take on this whole thing without warning."
Over the next several months, Krage went through four rounds of chemotherapy, with each round lasting three weeks. She underwent radiation as well.
Now, as Krage gets ready to walk across the stage at commencement Saturday evening, she said she's glad for what her illness has taught her.
"Before chemo, I never considered that I'd be thankful for being able to breathe really well ... I had no idea how bad it can get," she said.
That positive and upbeat attitude was evident throughout Krage's treatment, her teachers said.
"I don't know that you handle cancer well, but ... she certainly did a tremendous job with coping with it and dealing with the issue," said Darin Raasch, Krage's sociology teacher. "It was impressive to watch her handle the situation."
Not even two weeks into chemotherapy, Krage's hair fell out -- something she said would be a difficult experience for many teenage girls. But Krage, 17, said she viewed it as proof that she was getting better.
"I felt like I was moving forward in my treatment," she said. "I felt like I was beating it."
Krage's illness caused her to miss a lot of school. She spent Christmas in the hospital and was in the hospital other times when her blood counts would fall after her chemo treatments.
"I wasn't fit to be outside of the hospital," she said.
Eating became next-to-impossible for Krage as her treatment made her throat incredibly painful and brought on nausea. During those times, Krage said she would begin feeling sorry for herself
But while at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, Krage said seeing other sick children there would put her illness in perspective.
"They make hospital gowns for babies," she said. "That was the worst, seeing other kids that were way sicker."
When she was able to make it to school, Krage said dark circles under her eyes, her pale complexion and bald head made her stand out. She was "officially a sick person."
"I'd look worse and worse," she said. "You can't but help notice people look at me. You can't blame them. ... I'd get the same questions. But I was always glad they were asking me."
"She was very forthright and honest about the treatments," Raasch said. "She would answer any questions that anyone would have."
Krage, the daughter of Kristin and Martin, said Hodgkin lymphoma is very receptive to chemotherapy and, from the beginning, she had a positive prognosis.
"It was never any question whether or not I was going to be OK," she said.
"As of now, I'm in remission," Krage said in early May.
Looking forward, Krage has enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She said she's considered studying "a million things," but is currently leaning toward psychology. Still, Krage admits she has "truly no idea" what she will end up majoring in.
But no matter what she decides, Raasch said he has no doubts that she will do well.
"She is engaging, intelligent. She's very understanding of her opinions, of the opinions of others, of society. She has a certain maturity for a high school kid," Raasch said. "Sara's future is limited by Sara's imagination. I really think she has all the talent and tools to do really whatever she wants to do."
Raasch added that he's thankful that Krage is healthy again.
"You definitely count her as one of the good guys," he said. "She's a good student. She's a good person."
Class of 2013
What: Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School graduation
Who: about 70 students
When: 7 p.m. June 1
Where: Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School gym, Zumbrota