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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 27 2010

Gifts of Generosity: Car wash helped cure loneliness

Pam Knapper can vouch for how a car wash can scrub away heartache.

In August 2007, the Breckenridge, Minn., woman was in Houston, getting radiation and chemotherapy to battle breast cancer.

The family’s finances were battered, and it didn’t look like money was there for a visit from her husband and children.

Then came the car wash.

“It was just so overwhelming, the way the community came together and just wrapped their arms together around us as a family,” she said.

In December 2006, Knapper was diagnosed with Stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer.

She had a double mastectomy and endured five months of chemotherapy.

When tests of her lymph nodes came back positive for cancer, she was transferred in July 2007 to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for another two and a half months of radiation and chemotherapy.

In the midst of the regimen, Knapper ached to see her husband, Marv, and her children, Danae, then 15, and Derek, then 13.

Mel Herder, the mother of one of Danae’s friends, heard of Knapper’s wish and put on the car wash that August at Breckenridge Amoco.

It was a dose of love that Knapper needed.

“Just hope. When someone’s down and out, how someone can give another family so much hope … is just amazing,” she said.

“I was told people just stopped to contribute, not even getting a car wash. I would have given anything to be able to say ‘Thank you’ to these wonderful people,” Knapper said.

Knapper is still checked for cancer, but shows no sign of disease. She now gives some of her time to benefits for others.

She calls it payback to friends and strangers “that acted with their heart and made a mother’s wish come true. Because of you, I will continue to pay it forward any way that I can.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583