Barb and Vern Rakers know all about cancer and what it can do.
Both are survivors of a disease that has taken many people close to them.
Barb was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a previously fatal form of leukemia, 12 1/2 years years ago.
Vern has had melanoma and undergone surgery on five different occasions.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“I used to wear only a hat when I rode a tractor in the past,” he said. “But I now have to watch my skin very closely. And I have to put sun screen on.”
Cancer is a curse that seems to haunt their family.
Barb’s youngest brother, Leonard Daiber, died of cancer last week. He was 74.
“Len was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in January, which metastasized to his liver and brain,” Barb said.
Leonard’s wife, Alice Daiber, succumbed to cancer in September 2013.
One of Daibers’ daughters battled back brain cancer twice.
“And it just came back for a third time,” Barb said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Barb’s other brother had prostate and colon cancers in the past.
“He is now suffering bladder cancer,” Barb said.
Her sister-in-law died of leukemia March 14, 2013. She was initially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A niece (thyroid and colon cancer) and nephew (melanoma) are also cancer survivors.
“He was going in for a physical when his cancer was caught,” Barb said.
About 75 years ago, Barb’s grandpa died from throat cancer a year before she was born. He never smoked.
“There was never an ash tray in our house,” Barb recalled. “And we weren’t even allowed to date someone who was a smoker.”
Vern’s brother, Fred, died of lung cancer, which metastasized to his brain, in 2013.
“And he never smoked,” Vern said. “But while he was in college, Fred would spray weeds.”
Fred’s diagnosis and death came as a complete shock to his brother. He will never forget when he broke the news.
“Fred called me one day, asking me to pick him up,” Vern said. “I thought he just wanted to go breakfast.”
In spite of all their heart ache, Barb said they are fortunate.
“We still have each other in their lives,” Barb said.
They their cancers in their earliest stages.
Barb was 60 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
“But I was right at the magic number when doctors said, ‘no bone marrow,’” she said.
Through it all, Barb and Vern, have kept a positive attitude on life.
“To me, catching it early (was key for both of us),” Barb said. “And then you have to get off your pity pot and deal with it… Then, you never give up.”
Some days that is still a struggle, though.
But unlike her dad, Barb said she is not scared to go to the doctor.
“I am the longest survivor of this type of cancer at Siteman (Cancer Center in St. Louis),” she said. “The last time I saw my doctor there. he said I was his ‘guinea pig.’ They said they are learning from me. I find that very comforting.”
Highland Relay for Life is July 10-11
The communitywide Relay for Life will be held at Glik Park on July 10, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. and continuing until 2:30 a.m. the next morning.
The event will feature a variety of activities and competitions to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost to cancer and raise awareness of cancer and ways to try to prevent the disease. Throughout the evening’s activities, each team keeps at least one member walking on the track.
The theme of this year’s Relay is “Luau for Life.” The committee’s goal is to raise $100,000, have at least 15 returning teams and five new teams, and 110 survivors participating at the Relay.
This will be the 31st year for Relay for Life and the 11th year for the event in Highland.
The event kicks off with a free dinner for survivors and guests at 6 p.m. The opening ceremony and survivors lap begin at 7:30 p.m. Another highlight is the luminaria ceremony at 9 p.m. Activities continue throughout the night until the closing at 2:30 a.m.
Anyone interested in corporate sponsorship, registering a team, or serving on the steering committee, and are unable to attend the Kickoff, contact Joy Krouper, event chair, at (618) 409-7864, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.