DeDe Furseth knew it was a tough time for the family, but didn't truly grasp it fully until she read her son's English paper.

Then it struck her.

"It hit him harder than I thought," she said, referring to the fact that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2010 and Jonathan, a senior at Desert Vista, later wrote about it for class.

As much as they openly talked about it, even though they found a way to joke about it, and despite the fact that the family had already been through a scare with her mother, it wasn't enough.

It rarely is with cancer.

It is one of the reasons why the Desert Vista boys cross country team hosted a car wash at the Yoasis yogurt shop in Ahwatukee Foothills on Oct. 1 as the program wanted to raise some money and bring additional consciousness to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"It is something we all wanted to be part of," said Jonathan, although he didn't actually participate because it was held the same day as the ACTs. "We have seen how it can affect a family and the more awareness there is about it, the better."

DeDe, whose mother and Sierra Vista resident Neva Chun was diagnosed about a year before herself, was impressed with how a group of young men could step up and do something so adult-like.

"I am completely amazed by this generation," she said. "They want to change the world, and they are there for each other. It is a heartwarming generation.

"Really, the DV cross country folks were wonderful at the time (of being diagnosed) and helped Jonathan get through it."

The program has two families that have gotten to know Susan G. Komen more than they probably would have liked and dealt with the reality of breast cancer.

The McDonnells know too well that all it takes is one visit to the doctor's office to halt everyday life.

Laura McDonnell was diagnosed in 2005 and the family went through all of the ups and down until she was told she was cancer free.

Her husband, Bernie, is an assistant coach on the Thunder cross country team and her son, Reagan, is a senior on the team.

The approach the family took in response to the news was key, and set by Laura.

"When you are faced with that type of situation your whole world changes and there are two ways you can handle it," Bernie said. "You can either crawl into a ball and feel sorry for yourself or you can thank God every day for what you have, and Laura inspired the latter.

"It really set the tone for how we were going to handle it. Of course there were times she had bad days and we had to pick her up or vice versa, but she did an incredible job of making sure everyone continued their life. She insisted that I kept coaching and made all of my team commitments."

In the long run such adversity, especially when it ends with a positive outcome, brings the family closer.

The Furseths, along with Jordan (Jonathan's younger sister), are committee members of the Relay for Life and have a better appreciation for family and life itself.

"There is no question we came out of it a stronger family," DeDe said. "When you are going through it you really lean on each other, and once you come through the other side it allows you to see things differently and appreciate the little things."

For Jonathan, one of the Thunder's top runners, the paper he wrote was a little bit therapeutic and, in reality, showed him what a prized life he had lived until finding out back-to-back that his grandmother and mother were in a battle with cancer.

"I had lived such a sheltered life up until that point," he said. "We have a nice house, I had everything I needed, went to a good school with good friends, and never really had to deal with adversity.

"When it was happening it was dream-like."

It is reality for about 195,000 women each year in the United States. Every person and/or family deals with it differently and even when you are being proactive, as the Furseths were, the effects can still lie deep below the surface.

"We joked about it, talking about my hair or using the ‘cancer card' to get out of things," she said. "We were open, but you never really know how much it is bothering someone."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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