For Owatonna woman, battling cancer while working the fair
Call it shear dedication, stubbornness or whatever you want, but Beth Bogen isn’t about to let a cancer scare stop her from doing what she loves. Make that three cancer scares.
On the morning she was set to operate Torey’s food stand at the Steele County Fair, she was at Mayo Clinic in Rochester having cancerous spots removed from her brain. She went to Mayo at 5:30 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m., she was back in Owatonna ready for another fair, something she has done for the past 17 years.
This was the latest in a series of health scares for the 46-year-old Owatonna woman who leads an active life with three teenagers, a full-time job as a physical education teacher in Waseca and a part-time gig with Torey’s.
In March 2020, Bogen was diagnosed with sarcoma, which is a relatively rare form of cancer, in her back. The softball-size mass that was resting on her lungs was removed, and she went through four cycles of chemotherapy.
Frustration took over Bogen’s life when she found out about the cancer. “As soon as you say cancer, you think you are going to die,” she said.
The second battle came in June, when she began experiencing significant symptoms that resembled a stroke. “My thoughts were very scattered in both speech as well as written,” she said. She had three masses removed from her brain.
Then on Aug. 12, she found herself with yet another scare. Two more spots were found on the other side of her brain. She had them removed on Aug. 17, the first day of the fair.
“My thought is the third time is a charm,” Bogen said. “Things happen in threes so hopefully this is it.”
Bogen recalls her first round in the fall of 2019. She said she experienced a cough, which she initially dismissed because she has allergies. “The cough got worse, so I decided to go in and get it checked out,” she said. “I wasn’t sick other than the cough. I was extremely fortunate that it didn’t make me sick.”
Doctors decided to check
It wasn’t until doctors performed surgery in March of 2020 that they discovered the mass was cancerous. Bogen’s hospitalization took place right at the start of the pandemic. “The hardest part was being in the hospital with no visitors,” she said.
She bounced back to complete the 2020-21 COVID school year. After school ended in June, the next whammy hit Bogen. “I was unable to process whatever I would say,” she said, adding she also became extremely tired. She knew something was wrong when she went into the outfield at her kids’ sporting events to lay down in the grass and rest.
“I was unable to come up with words,” Bogen said. “I looked at a glove, but couldn’t say what it was.”
She suffered significant swelling in the brain. Bogen opted to do gamma knife radiation, which is a one-time radiation followed by surgically removing the masses in her brain.
She knew there would be risks. “Any time they are in your brain, it’s not a good thing,” Bogen said. “There is a huge chance you won’t get thoughts or speech back,” she added.
After she returned home, she regained everything she lost within a short time. “It took a little bit for my thoughts to get together, but I feel it came back pretty quickly,” said Bogen.
When the latest scare came a few weeks ago, Bogen had a choice of doing an early or later surgery on the opening day of the fair. She chose the early. “I told them I got to get to the fair,” she said.
With a high energy level, Bogen stepped right in to make chicken and other roll-ups at Torey’s booth like nothing ever happened.
“The fair and working for me is a distraction from the cancer,” Bogen said. “I try to keep everything as normal as it can be.”
Bogen, who grew up in Wisconsin, is set to embark on another school year. She has been teaching in Waseca since 1999.
She credits the “amazing support” she has received from her family, church family, school families and the Owatonna community for pulling her through this battle. She is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna. “It has been extremely overwhelming, the support I have received,” Bogen said.
While Bogen hopes the cancer stays away, she knows it has become a part of who she is. “I think about it all the time, because forever it will be a part of my life,” she said, adding she doesn’t want it to dwell on it and affect her husband, Pat, and their three children.
For Bogen, working has always been intense. She credits her parents and grandparents for instilling a strong work ethic in her.
Despite the cancer scares, Bogen knew one thing was certain. The thought of missing the fair never crossed her mind.
“I was determined to be at the fair,” she said. “It teaches you to be thankful for any time you have.”