Local courage: Man upbeat while battling rare cancerIn seven years, cancer has claimed Gary Dick’s voice and right eye. But friends and neighbors say it hasn’t claimed his spirit. Dick, Ypsilanti, was diagnosed with a cancer so rare, many of his dozen or so doctors told the family they’d never seen cancer of that kind before, said Sally Dick, Gary’s wife.
By: Katie Ryan, The Jamestown Sun
YPSILANTI, N.D. — In seven years, cancer has claimed Gary Dick’s voice and right eye. But friends and neighbors say it hasn’t claimed his spirit.
Dick, Ypsilanti, was diagnosed with a cancer so rare, many of his dozen or so doctors told the family they’d never seen cancer of that kind before, said Sally Dick, Gary’s wife.
Since his diagnosis in 2002, Gary’s undergone about four surgeries to remove growths in his face, nose and neck. In five months, the couple have made nearly 20 800-mile round trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“This has been a tough haul on all of them,” said friend Beejae Erickson of Gary’s wife, children and granddaughter. “And he is just so upbeat.”
Gary doesn’t say much these days after a surgery in April left him with a tube in his throat and not even a whisper in his mouth.
Instead, Gary communicates with hand signals, mouthed lips and markers on a dry erase board.
But he says a lot without speaking a word when he cradles his 10-month-old granddaughter, Holly, and brings her a new, warmed bottle before she even finished her first one.
“When you’re naughty, you get to be grandpa’s girl,” Sally said, holding the flailing, teething toddler. But with her grandfather’s reach, Holly fell silent and smiled.
“She’s like her grandpa, she’s a fighter,” Sally said.
Gary’s personal battle with cancer began in 2002 when his eye care specialist sampled a film that had developed over his eye. The film tested positive for cancer.
But the family’s battle with cancer began years before.
The couple’s 23-month-old daughter, Samantha, died of brain cancer in 1990.
“You just feel like you did something terrible in your life,” Sally said of the family’s battles.
And while he eats from a feeding tube and gets tired quickly, Gary said it’s from Sally and the couple’s five other children, Corey, 26, Neal, 22, Mackenzie, 17, Brady, 15, and Savanna, 10, where he finds the strength to keep fighting.
“From my family and friends,” he scribbled in black ink on a marker board gray from use. “Not ready to leave them yet.”
Of all the adjustments Dick’s had to make — giving up gardening, taking fewer walks, never running errands or staying home alone — his job as equipment operator at Scherbenske and Sons, he said, is what he misses most.
“Every time he was back to work as soon as he could,” said his former employer, Nick Scherbenske, saying Gary never complained in the 40 years he worked for the company. Not even when he was sick.
Sally attributes part of her husband’s strength to his “don’t worry about it because you can’t change it,” attitude.
“Our kids draw from that,” she said.
Gary’s next medical appointment is set for early July. Doctors plan to implant a flapper in his throat and teach him to use a mechanical device that will help him regain a voice.
To help with medical and transportation costs, Ypsilanti’s 50+ Club and Community Club, as well as area business and residents are holding a benefit today. The dinner begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Ypsilanti Town Hall with an auction to follow at 6 p.m. Freewill offerings will be accepted.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at email@example.com