After a year of loss, Lake Harriet moms walk for cancer

School community lost three to breast cancer in less than two years

LINDEN HILLS — In George Bavolak’s opinion, his wife, Terri, was an excellent massage therapist.

“I’m biased, but she was real good,” Bavolak said.

“When we first got married, she opened a studio in our house,” he recalled. “She went from nothing — and this was in 1993 — to [earning] $50,000 a year in three years.

“She was a go-getter and she was really good — which, you know, if you’re good, people keep coming back.”

Terri Bavolak died last September at age 47, about five years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was one of three mothers with children attending Lake Harriet Community School to succumb to the disease within the last year and a half, parents at the school said.

The deaths were a call to action for a group of nine mothers at the school. Along with three other women, they aim to raise nearly $30,000 for the Twin Cities Breast Cancer 3-Day in August.

“When people with young kids experience this disease, and then you lose somebody who’s the parent of a young kid, you can’t just sit still,” said Sara Wuest, one member of the Lake Harriet Happy Hoofers for Healthy Hooters team — known as the Lake Harriet 4-H Club for short.

The 60-mile walk over three days in August is the Twin Cities leg of a national series that raises money to support breast cancer research, education and community health programs. Last year, the Breast Cancer 3-Day was held in 14 cities nationwide and raised more than $110 million.

Tough questions

Sara Chechik said she knew Terri Bavolak ever since their daughters — who were in fourth grade last school year — entered kindergarten at Lake Harriet. In recent years, the two of them helped out with the girls’ Girl Scout troop.

The Bavolaks had two other children at Lake Harriet last year, boys in the second and eighth grades.

“[Terri’s death] did ripple through most of the school,” Chechik said. “The loss of a parent is such a scary thing.”

The American Cancer Society reports a woman has a one in 8 chance of having invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. About one in 35 will die of the disease, although advances in early detection and treatment are driving that rate down.

Still, the incidence of breast cancer increases with age. The women on the Lake Harriet 4-H Club team said they are learning of more and more women in their peer group diagnosed with breast cancer.

“These aren’t 60-, 70-year-old women, it’s 40-year-old women with young kids,” Chechik said.

Several of Chechik’s teammates are breast cancer survivors, women who have already faced down the tough questions that follow a diagnosis.

Peggy Kjorstad-Kaatz said she was going through chemotherapy at the same time as one of the Lake Harriet mothers who died of breast cancer. By coincidence, they both had children named Spencer.

“It was like, ‘I could be that mother,’” Kjorstad-Kaatz remembered thinking.

Small steps

While organizers of the Breast Cancer 3-Day don’t release details on the route for the 60-mile walk, they have posted a general description on the event’s website. Walkers will gather at Southdale mall in Edina on the first morning and walk north toward downtown Minneapolis.

The route will take them along the Chain of Lakes, possibly not too far from Lake Harriet Community School.

George Bavolak expected that, for the women walking in memory of his wife, the hardest part of the 3-Day would be the weeks leading up to the actual walk.

“In this economy, people are worried about their jobs more, and less giving money to a cause,” he said. “… So, I really appreciate their small part, what they’re doing.”

Ask the Lake Harriet 4-Club team members about it, and they will acknowledge their contribution, in the grand scheme of things, is small. But that doesn’t make it any less important.

“One little step that you’ve done might help this huge, huge thing to occur,” Kjorstad-Kaatz said. “I think that’s worth the blisters.”

Find a full list of Lake Harriet 4-H Club members and information on donating to the team at