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Haugen walks for family and others

Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen will walk in the Relay for Life July 21 in honor of his father and his wife. He lost both to cancer. “We are far from certain and far from good when it comes to do with anything having to do with cancer,” he said. Kara Hildreth / Contributor

Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Jay Haugen will walk proudly in memory of his wife during this year's Farmington Relay For Life.

Haugen will join a team of Farmington School Board and Farmington City Council members.

"This has been quite the time in my life, and ever since I have come to Farmington, I have been thrilled to be in the community and found such a home," Haugen said.

Six years ago he joined the district and during most of his tenure has spent his personal life being a caregiver to a loved one fighting cancer. Months after he joined Farmington School District, his father was diagnosed with liver cancer.

The former farm kid who grew up in North Dakota, Haugen spent weekends driving back and forth to visit and care for his father. The plan was to move his father to Minnesota so he could live with them, but his father wished to live on his farm.

His father, 74, died in August 2013 only 10 months after being diagnosed.

One month after the loss of his father, Haugen and his wife received horrible news: Janet had terminal breast cancer. She was 51.

"The news came fairly quickly, and the surgeon came in and said there is nothing we can do," Haugen said. "I apologized to her right away because she was going to have to go through this publically and not privately since I have a public job."

Right away, the couple decided to communicate with family, friends and the community of Farmington via CaringBridge. The online site became a way to keep all updated on Janet's care and condition. It also served as a way to share words and feelings about the cancer.

"It was good for her and I took it over when she could not, and I think people recognized that I wrote it at the end and I had her review it," Haugen said.

"When you are a superintendent, you become very invested in the communities you serve and I jumped in fully in each community and Janet would, too," Haugen said.

The breast cancer traveled into her liver, bones and her lungs.

"That is how we found out. She was working at an Apple Valley bank and she was having chest pains, so I ran up and took her to the emergency room where they found it," Haugen said.

Janet fought the cancer hard with chemo and brain radiation and the couple traveled to seek treatments. In fact, because she exhibited strength and was young, Haugen said there was some hope. She was approved to take part in an experimental group.

"We thought maybe her cancer would go into remission or even a cure with this trial," Haugen said. He explained how 50 percent of the patients in this trial group would have been given the experimental treatment and the other half would be administered a placebo. She agreed to become part of the trial treatment. But a few months later, she found out her cancer had traveled to her brain and she could not be a part of the trial treatment.

"She lived way longer than she thought she would, and you learn how many people go through it, and you sit in the infusion centers with families, and you sit around all those who are so sick and at some point just do not return anymore, and eventually, that was Janet, too," Haugen said.

"She said her goodbyes — she was done, she was not going to take anymore chemo," Haugen said.

Janet, 55, died March 19, 2017.

Haugen said his wife was very good at living a quality of life every day of her life, but most especially at the end of her life.

"If there was anything she could teach someone, it was quality of life and she worked with her oncologist and she never got herself in a place where she could not enjoy things," he said.

That includes quality time with children Christopher, 32, Kaetchen, 29, and Kimberly, 24.

Because of her caring and shepherding ways, Haugen said his wife acted in motherly ways to many children in her life.

"Janet had a lot of kids because all the friends of her children would call her Mama Janet, and they would be there all the time and they all came to see her in her final days to hang out in the room," Haugen said.

As a great mother who did not want to miss any of her children's milestone events even after her death, Haugen said she wrote letters to her children. They can open them when they meet that special person and have their first child.

Haugen said in the past years it would have been too difficult for him to walk when his wife was battling the cancer. This year he's ready for the Relay For Life.

"I imagine I will spend the rest of my life doing these sorts of things and trying to be a support to others and part of it is raising money for others, because at times it just makes you mad that we have worked so hard at this for so long, and we are good at so many things and this is still so devastating for so many people and outcomes," Haugen said.

When he was younger, he considered becoming a pastor. Today his faith has kept him grounded, along with support from close friends and two pastors.

Seeing his wife pray daily was an inspiration to him as a grieving spouse and a man.

"She would pray like no one else," Haugen said.

Today Haugen continues where his wife left off in praying for others. "I want to try to continue the work she began."