Herald and Journal, Aug. 30, 1999

Cancer coloring book has local connection

By Angela Lachermeier

I had a small gathering of people in my art studio Wednesday. Each person had a common bond: Nathan Kutz.

It was an intimate group of people including myself, Lois Kutz (Nathan's Mom), Angie Kutz (Nathan's sister), Lavon Kielkucki (a close family friend) and Karla Heeter, the Wright Cancer Prescription Coordinator, who is a cancer survivor and in charge of the coloring book project.

It was Karla's first time to meet with some of Nathan's family and friends. The purpose was to discuss the progress of the cancer coloring book project.

The coloring book is dedicated to Nathan Kutz, a 12-year-old Winsted native who died of cancer in 1996.

It was our intention to keep the lines of communication open and answer any questions the family may have had about the coloring book which dealt with the sensitive topic of cancer.

The coloring book is a project of the Community Health Foundation of Wright County. It is to be used to educate children on cancer.

Cancer is a very sensitive and emotional subject, especially when children are involved. We discussed early on that cancer has no county boundaries; it is just that Wright County is where the book project will be targeted.

Karla assured all present that everyone attending Holy Trinity would receive a coloring book. After all, this is where Nathan attended school.

We had discussed different ideas to make the release of the coloring book special for Holy Trinity. Those students will be the first to receive the coloring book which is dedicated to their former classmate.

The project began last November when I read an article that the Wright Cancer Prescription was hoping to have a coloring book printed in the future. Without hesitation, I volunteered to do all of the artwork for them in memory of Nathan.

They were very surprised as they had hopes of having the artwork done by someone in Minnesota, but to have someone from their own county was closer to home than they had expected.

I was given the text to work with which covered all aspects of cancer. It included topics such as a healthy diet, exercise, smoking, skin exposure to sun, and loss of hair due to cancer medicines.

Also covered was hospitalization and how visits from family and friends are welcomed, the need for regular doctor visits, and the battle with cancer and cures.

Their mascot is a kangaroo known as "Wrighty Roo" that jumps around the county with a pouch full of resources to help you get a jump on cancer.

With the text and the mascot in hand, I began an extensive research on the subject and turned to my collection of old children's books for ideas.

I was in a thrift store sifting through its old books when a book literally fell or "jumped" off the the shelf into my hands. It was a children's book called The Shy Kangaroo. It proved to be very helpful in animating different poses of the kangaroo.

There are a lot of little things in the coloring book that many people may overlook, but those close to Nathan will notice.

A few examples are the numbers on Nathan's shirt; a number 3 represents Nathan's older brother Kyle's football number, and number 53 was Mike Kielkucki's football number. Nathan looked up to both of them.

Another example is a poster that is hanging on the wall of the hospital that reads "We Miss You! Class of 2002." Lois remarked that Nathan's classmates are now sophomores and learning to drive!

A plush rabbit toy pictured in the hospital room was a gift given to Nathan by his classmates. They were on a field trip and they all pitched in to get him this gift.

An origami of flying cranes hangs from the ceiling, an art project that his classmates made to cheer up his hospital room. A deck of cards, a football, and a basketball represent Nathan's love of sports and playing cards.

There is a sculpture outside the hospital that is located in the garden adjacent to the chapel at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia where Nathan spent a great deal of time.

The sculpture is entitled "Sovereign Son" and shows a young boy encircled by seven birds in flight. It is reflective of dreams meant to inspire and rekindle the "childlike" spirit of the viewer.

The sculpture was done in memory of Dr. John Savaryn, a well- known community physician, by the Savaryn family. The Kutz family was invited and attended the dedication of the sculpture.

An anonymous donation made it possible to print 5,000 copies of a picture of Wrighty Roo to be distributed at town events and parades.

I recently had the opportunity to "jump" into the Wrighty Roo mascot costume and distribute these coloring sheets at Waverly Daze. It was a wonderful experience to be surrounded by children and have dozens of them hugging you around the legs.

To them I was a kangaroo, not a person in a kangaroo outfit. It was great to see how excited they got to get a coloring sheet out of the pouch. They also enjoyed holding the baby kangaroo that tucks inside the kangaroo pouch.

One little girl followed me around the entire night.

Most of the children who got the coloring sheets weren't old enough to read. They just saw a picture of a kangaroo for them to color.

The message was read by the parents and older siblings and hopefully was used as a topic of discussion. It may help parents explain why a child has no hair.

Children are very inquisitive and can pick up on things out of the norm.

Karla told a story about helping young children get on their school busses during the time she had lost all her hair from chemotherapy.

A young child told her, "You lost all your hair because you have cancer!" Most shocking was when the child exclaimed, "You must smoke cigarettes!"

Karla had to explain that she didn't smoke at all, and not everyone who gets cancer smokes.

The anticipated print date for the coloring book is November. I have had many people ask me if the coloring book will be for sale. It is not the foundation's intent to sell the coloring book, but rather to make them available free to all young children.

A donation would never be turned away, but rather used to print more copies of the coloring book. I approached the Waverly Lions Club and it made a generous donation towards the printing costs.

It is amazing what can be accomplished through the united effort of a community.

For more information on this project or on making donations, you can call the Community Health Foundation of Wright County at 612-682-4621 or the Wright Cancer Hotline at 1-800-435-9786.

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