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Minnesotan To Meet: Mary Leisses & Her Pink Flamingos

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, a Minnesota woman decided to support cancer charities and raise awareness – with a flock of pink flamingos.

Mary Leisses asks friends and colleagues for $10. If they gave it to her, a pink flamingo would go in the yard and the donation would go to the American Cancer Society. Last year there were 380. This year, she wants 400.

Flamingos in the wild can fly at 35 mph. The process of getting the plastic ones out of the garage and into the ground, however, is a little slower.

It’s fitting so many flamingos are flocking together in Lakeville.

“We can fit about 300 actual flamingos in the yard,” Leisses said.

Flamingos are gregarious birds that do not do well in very small flocks.

“We have flamingo pin wheels and wind chimes and what we can’t fit in the yard, so we put them all around the house,” Leisses said.

When asked what her neighbors think, she responded that they may think she’s a little crazy.

It all started with one little faded flamingo, which is still firmly in the flower bed for more than three years.

“After I finished my chemo and radiation I put two flamingos in the front yard,” says Leisse, “One for my mom, who is also a breast cancer survivor and one for me.”

That’s right. This funny site provides a pretty serious message.

“It’s just too much, cancer is just too prevalent,” Leisse said.

In 2010, Leisse, mom to a then 10-year-old Elain, felt a lump in the shower. Her fears were confirmed a short time later by her doctor — she had cancer.

“It’s devastating, there’s no way to say what those three words mean or how that changes your perspective about everything,” Leisse said.

That perspective turned tears into shaved heads, hugs, stories and eventually a yard full of flamingos.

“I had a friend/customer who on Facebook made a joke and said you should fill your entire yard with pink flamingos, I would pay to see that,” Leisse said.

She buys all the birds herself, at $2 apiece at Home Depot. Then it takes flight with her friends, family and strangers with their $10 donation.

“This year we’re supporting the Hope Chest and the American Cancer Society,” says Leisse.

She hopes to get 400 flamingos into the ground this year — that would be $4,000 straight to the charities.

Leisse finds both organizations vital to helping people and families move forward. Something she does each year with this pink and black tradition.

This year, these birds of a feather have even more reason to have fun flocking together.

“This fall, I am celebrating three years cancer-free. I have been out of it longer than I was in it. There’s something important about that, in my mind,” Leisse said.

Bird watchers can see the flamingos up until the Lakeville Relay for Life on July 18.

If you’d like to donate and get more in her yard before then, click here.

You can pick either the American Cancer Society or a Hope Chest link if you have a preference on where your money goes.

Leisse currently has 369 flamingos in her yard. That means only 31 more flamingos are needed to reach the goal of 400.

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