February 8, 2023 at 5:55 p.m.
Kerfeld relishes memories of her mom
When Torry Kerfeld dons her No. 11 Mainstreeter jersey and exits the locker room, there is a crowd of spectators anxiously awaiting to cheer on the home team.
But, one person is noticeably absent from the bleachers.
That person is Kerfeld’s mother, Mary.
Kerfeld and her siblings, Madelyn and Jackson, and their father, Dean, said goodbye to their mother and wife Dec. 27, 2022, after a five-year fight with ovarian cancer.
Now, more than a month after losing her mom, Kerfeld – whom her mom nicknamed “Hollywood” – is carrying on her education as a senior at Sauk Centre High School while finishing her college general courses through Alexandria Technical and Community College in Alexandria. Kerfeld balances coursework with her commitment to the girls’ basketball team all while grieving her mom, who she said never complained during the course of her illness.
“It was never, ‘Why me? Why not someone else?’ Kerfeld said. “She just went through it, and she was always positive about it.
The family motto has always been, ‘Worry about today, today and tomorrow, tomorrow.’ She put outings and things together as a family whenever she could just to keep family life going as normal as possible for us kids and as long as we possibly could.”
Life for the 18-year-old drastically changed the moment Mary was diagnosed.
“There hasn’t been a normal for five years for us,” Kerfeld said. “Our life circled around Mom, her treatments, trips to Mayo Clinic, and how she was feeling and how she was doing. We tried to help with anything we could as much as we could so she didn’t have to worry about things.”
The difficult journey started in 2018 when Dean and Mary were traveling home from Arizona. Mary began enduring pain in response to every bump and jostle along the road. An emergency stop and a weeklong stay at a hospital in Nebraska resulted in the devastating news.
“When they got back from their trip, we all sat down in the bedroom, and they told us; that was really hard,” Kerfeld said. … “Whenever they had something to tell us, we’d all sit on Mom and Dad’s bed.”
At the time of Mary’s diagnosis, Jackson was 9 and Madelyn, 14.
“At that age, it’s just so hard to comprehend what cancer really means,” said Kerfeld, who was 13. “At that point in our lives, we didn’t know anything about cancer. You just know it’s a bad disease some people get.”
From the first conversation with their children, Dean and Mary’s bedroom would become the inner room for family conversations for the next five years.
The room was where Mary went to rest when the treatments wore her down and where Mary would spend precious time visiting with her children, playing cribbage and often simply snuggling with her children while she slept. The room morphed into Mary’s video room to cheer on her daughter when she was too weak to attend Kerfeld’s games in person. And, the room eventually cradled Mary when she began hospice care and bid farewell to her family forever.
“Just sitting in the bedroom and talking to Mom or while driving home from somewhere; I would call and talk with her,” Kerfeld said of the moments she cherished during those years. “Just being able to tell her everything that’s going on in my life.”
As Mary’s treatments progressed, the physical signs of cancer overshadowed her.
“That is when it really started hitting home because we could notice she didn’t have as much energy as she usually did,” Kerfeld said. “She couldn’t get out as much as she always did. … It was really hard watching her figure change, and losing all her hair was really hard. She was unable to get out of bed without help. And at that point, it really started setting in.”
Mary attended as many of Kerfeld’s cross-country meets and basketball games as she could. Mary’s presence in the stands bolstered Kerfeld’s spirits.
“Hearing her cheer, that really meant a lot to see her up there, knowing she’s always been a huge supporter,” Kerfeld said.
But, when Mary became too weak to attend, she watched the events from her bedroom.
The Kerfelds gained respite in October 2019 when Mary finished treatments and doctors began monitoring if the cancer was at bay. For a short, seven-month period, Mary was not receiving treatment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“We were kind of finding that normal again,” Kerfeld said. “She’d go on car rides with Papa (Dean) and Jackson and go to car shows, and we went to Yellowstone.”
Kerfeld said Mary lived to do things with her family. They often packed up the car and would go for a trip or simply a drive. Spending time on the pontoon at the lake was one of Mary’s favorite pastimes. Mary, too, loved her dogs, Coco and Brini.
The Kerfelds’ newfound yet short-lived normal faded away in May 2020 when they learned Mary’s cancer was no longer in remission.
“It was really hard when she found out again, because we knew that sickness and all those hard times were coming back,” Kerfeld said. “She couldn’t get out. She couldn’t work.”
Mary traveled to Mayo Clinic one last time where she spent seven days in the palliative care unit in December 2022. When she returned, she entered hospice care in her home.
“That was one of the hardest moments we went through,” Kerfeld said. “That really changed the dynamic, because we just wanted to spend as much time with her, and we didn’t know how long it was going to be. I wanted to be around her as much as I could to hear all the stories she had to tell.”
On Christmas Eve, Dean was able to position Mary in a wheelchair, and she spent time in the living room to watch the kids open their presents.
“She had a smile on her face the entire time,” Kerfeld said.
During that time, simply sitting with her mother on her bed, Kerfeld reveled in her mother’s words. She learned the story of how Mary and Dean met and married. She gained a mother’s advice. She heard her mom say how proud she was of her and their family.
“She left us all letters hidden in a drawer and said she was so proud of us,” Kerfeld said. “She said she’ll always be with us; she’ll always be right beside us even when we can’t see her.”
Kerfeld, one of three seniors on the team, said she carries her mom with her before, during and after each basketball game.
Despite the hardship of losing her mom, Kerfeld has been on the court where she averages around eight points and four rebounds for the team that is 14-6.
During the singing of the national anthem, Kerfeld lifts up a prayer. At the sound of the final buzzer, Kerfeld gives thanks.
“I say, ‘Thanks, Mom, for always being with me and keeping me going through this game,’” Kerfeld said. “You know, I think about how hard she fought. I can fight hard too.”
Kerfeld said she is reminded of her mom’s presence in every beautiful sunset and every sighting of a feather. She is reminded of her mom’s goodness by the people who share supportive words and mourn along with her.
“It’s the little things that I think, ‘Oh, Mom’s here; she would help me through this today. I need to be strong for her,’” Kerfeld said. … “She’s always been inspiring to look at.”