Never Be Defeated Recipients
2021 Never Be Defeated Award Reciepient
Not only are Deb Fuller and Jodie Murphy sisters, they are lifelong best friends. Through the years they have shared all the ups and downs of life, and as of this spring, they now share the experience of fighting breast cancer together. Deb and Jodie grew up in Missouri and Crystal Lake and both lived many years in Woodstock with their families. Deb and her husband Jay now live in Wonder Lake. They have a grown son, JD, and their daughter Hope is in heaven. Jodie and her husband Rob live in Cape Coral, Florida near their parents, Sandy and Dough Howison.
Jodie was the first to be diagnosed in January 2021. As soon as Deb, as self-described ‘information junkie’ heard the news, she read everything she could to educate herself about the invasive lobular carcinoma and even joined Jodie’s doctor appointments via Zoom to give support and learn further about Jodie’s illness. She has been a fierce advocate for Jodie as she has navigated her treatment journey. In April, Deb noticed a lump on her breast and immediatley had it checked. She learned that she also had invasive lobular carcinoma and began her own cancer treatment journey. Jodie now is Deb’s strongest supporter and as been a wealth of information and advice. Deb is curently being treated at Rush University Medical Center and Jodie continues her treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida. Although their treatment plans are not alike, the fight is the same. Deb and Jodie both know that to win this battle they must stay focused on educating themselves, trusting their medical teams and putting everything they
have into getting well. Most importantly, they know they will face this together and fight hard for each other.
This is not the sisters’ first fight with cancer within their family. Deb’s husband Jay has had several bouts with skin cancer, the most recent was surgery to remove large patch on his neck during the summer of 2020. Covid definitely added some challeges to the journey through treatment, but Jay found the medical care that he trusted and followed the protocols needed to get through his surgery and follow up. Jay is doing well now and thanksfully is cancer-free.
Their family lost their sweet and sassy girl Hope to DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma), a highly aggressive childhood brain cancer when she was just 12 years old. During Hope’s illness, Deb, Jay JD, Jodie, Rob and the rest of the family had incredible support from their families, friends and their community. Many fundraisers and events were planned to help the Fullers through the hardest experience of their lives. Our whole community came together to show Hope that she was loved and cared for. From t-shirts being printed to ‘Always have Hope’ vehicle window decals, to concerts and school murals, the people of Woodstock and surrounding communities out did themselves. In the 11 years since Hope’s passing friends and family have continued raising money and awareness in Hope’s memory- including an annual Christmas sock collection for hospital patients, a yearly meat raffle, an annual family ‘Run for Hope’ road race, and several St. Baldricks events. Much of the funds raised have benefited DIPG research and treatment. The Fuller family has been steadfast supported of ‘The Cure Starts Now’ and Hope’s beloved Dr. Stew of Lurie’s Children’s Hopsital in Chicago.
When the City of Woodstock started their yearly Summer in the Park event they offered to Gavers Community Cancer Foundation the opportunity to handle the beer tent. The foundation said ‘Yes’ because that would mean more money going to fight cancer. The foudnation then ask the Fullers if they’d take charge and that all the monies raised would go toward DIPG. A definite ‘Yes’ by Deb and Jay. Deb and Jodie jumped right in and began to organize the staff for the ber tent fo many years. To date, Gavers Community Cancer Foundation has donated over $144,500 to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in memory of Hope Fuller and finding and cure of DIPG.
As a family has learned through Jay and Hope’s illnesses, and now Jodie and Deb’s, the know support is so important throughout diagnosis and treatment. Once again, their family, friends and communiies are there for them, and they are each other’s best advocate. They push each other to keep fighting and never be defeated. When one is having a rough day the other will rally and help with whatever is needed.
Even though the miles may be many between the two families, they have each other’s backs as if there right next door.
2019 Never Be Defeated Award Recipients
Christy Schoepp Miller
This is a story about my dear friend Christy, who I met in 3rd grade, and I called her Chris, Christy is the funniest person you will meet, her huge personality and jokes will keep you laughing for hours. She is also a huge dog lover, and has rescued numerous animals, and would do anything for her fur babies.
She was born and raised in Madison Wisconsin the daughter of David and Shirley Schoepp and also has a brother Doug. In the 1980”s she moved to Arizona where she lived for 30 years, got married and raised her 2 children there, her son Ryan, and daughter Jenna. Years later she decided to move back to Madison to reside in her hometown, wanting to be closer to her parents and family. After a few years she then moved to Sarasota, Florida with her boyfriend Kevin, to where her parents had a second home.She was loving the beach life and planned to spend time with her dogs and parents and work as a real-estate agent.
Christy had a nagging cough that she had for quite some time that just wouldn’t go away. She went to an urgent care where they sent her home with antibiotics and said she needed rest, and called it a day. In March of 2017, her cough got worse and persisted, so she decided to go to the emergency room, they did a chest x-ray and found that she has a mass on her lung. That day they said she needed to be admitted immediately, she said I can’t I have dogs (her babies) at home and they need me! They said, then we will see you tomorrow, you have to be admitted. Christy showed up the next day, they did further testing and found that she had stage 4 lung cancer. The doctors also told her that it was inoperable and that she would need chemotherapy and medications to prolong her life. Telling her that she might have 6 months to live, with her parents by her side, she said she was so scared and all she could think about was” I can’t leave Ryan, Jenna and my pride and joy Kade” her adorable grandson.
Through numerous appointments, she started treatment and is still fighting this fight. Battling this cancer like a warrior, a group of us high school friends came up with a tagline “Christy Strong”!!!
BUT THIS IS NOT WHERE HER STORY ENDED
During her days of doctor’s appointments and treatments she got a phone call from Kevin that she was not expecting. In November of 2018, her boyfriend Kevin was diagnosed with stage 4 Pancreatic cancer.
Without any hesitation she asked that he move in with her so that she could take care of him and that he could take care of her. When she loves, she loves hard, and this just showed to all of us, the selflessness she had to take on this battle with him. Since Kevin’s diagnosis, his request was to live out his last days in his
hometown of Madison Wisconsin.
On July 6th Kevin lost his battle with the horrible disease and passed away in Hospice care.
With her courage and selflessness, she is a fighter and is continuing treatment with the encouragement of her brother Doug, she has started her care at UW Madison Carbone Cancer Center with her family & friends at her side.
Ike & George Athans
George and Ike Athans were brothers built for adventure. Originally from Stoughton, WI, these two were inseparable for most of their lives, shared a love of flying, an appreciation for life, and a desire to always do better. George and Ike grew up in a large family where hard work was a way of life. When they lived in Crystal Lake, IL their father delivered chicken eggs to downtown Chicago when the only route was US Rte. 14. Not an easy trek. George was a guy that was determined to provide for himself and his family. He was a man that would work all day then go to school at night in order to better himself. He and his brother, Ike shared the same visions and partnerships that stood the test of time. George was the visionary in the partnership with Ike being the one implementing the manpower to make the dreams a reality. One was right; the other was left. Like any great partnership, one just doesn’t seem to work without the other.
Athans Cartage began with a couple of trucks that George and Ike had purchased and started hauling gravel. They eventually branched out into the fuel-delivery business and other convenience store staples with approximately 17 trucks out on the road at one time. Built from the ground up by two brothers with a dream, Athans Cartage became an industry leader and was eventually purchased by Citgo. The brothers also delved into the gaming industry in 2012 with Triple 7 Illinois, which George had said was, “as much or more of an entertainment experience as it is a gaming experience.”
George and Ike’s nephew, Dean, described the brothers of his father (Jim) as cool uncles that were always into the latest gadgets, especially planes. One of Dean’s favorite memories of the two was when they flew one of their planes right outside his house on Lake Geneva, just about eye level, to rouse him from a New Year’s Day slumber. Dean remembers George always staying positive, even through his cancer diagnosis and treatment. His symptoms were being managed and he remained in good spirits. He continued working to the very end, up until his recent passing on May 2, 2019 at Mayo Clinic.
Ike has described his brother George as a selfless warrior who put others before himself. This same title can also be credited to Ike, who put his brother George’s needs ahead of his own while he served as his caregiver during his cancer journey. Steve Gavers has known these guys most of his life. “They’re like family to me; I was blessed to know these guys.” Like many in the trucking industry are aware, you don’t give up when winter comes and the trucks freeze up. You don’t wait around for someone else to get the job done, and these two demonstrated that. They knew what they wanted and made things happen for themselves, which can be an inspiration for us all. Thank you, George, for your memory of positivity through perseverance.
Thank you, Ike, for your continued dedication to the family name and the legacy of what a true partnership can create.
Defeat’ is not a word in Connor O’Leary’s vocabulary. With his father, David, also a cancer survivor, by his side, they started off strong in Season 22 of The Amazing Race in 2013. Unfortunately, Dave tore his Achilles tendon during the race and it quickly became clear that it would be almost impossible to win the Race. Not giving up, the pair did end up winning two legs of the Race – with Dave on crutches. They eventually pulled out of the race in Hanoi in order to allow Dave to have surgery on his torn tendon. Perseverance did pay off, though, and the two were invited back for The Amazing Race: All-Stars in 2014 and became the first father/son team to win the Race.
Connor O’Leary, a Salt Lake City, UT native, has been described by many as a ‘superhuman.’ At the age of 19, Connor was a professional cyclist competing in Europe when he discovered a lump on his testicle. Not aware that someone at that age was even susceptible to testicular cancer, he brushed it off and continued racing. The lump got bigger over the next few months and he ultimately returned home to see a urologist that diagnosed him with stage 2A Testicular Cancer. He immediately had surgery (Orchiectomy) and followed with 3 rounds of BEP Chemotherapy protocol.
Like most 19-year-olds, Connor had thought he was bulletproof… invincible. He was healthy, fit, and active, and thought there was no way something like cancer could affect him. He felt like his body had betrayed him, but he was determined that cancer was not going to defeat him. Even though cancer and chemo had temporarily robbed him of his competitive focus, he gained awareness that his time and energy were now more effectively focused on a new goal: defeating cancer.
In dealing with a cancer that most commonly affects young males (ages 15-34) that are not tuned-in to their bodies, or are perhaps too embarrassed to talk about it, it became clear to Connor that it is something that needs to be talked about. Breaking down the stigma associated with this disease, educating men, parents, and the general public, Connor took on the mission to bring awareness and education to the forefront. He became the Chief Mission Officer of The Testicular Cancer Foundation, which is where Steve Gavers met him. He continues to reach thousands of men each year on the phone, online, or in person with his clear message of tenacity, zeal for living, and compassion for others. He is a survivor that has labored through this battle; he understands the setbacks, as well as the triumphs and can easily relate with patients to guide them through their own journey.
Connor’s focus on displaying compassion and demonstrating love for others is why Steve chose him as a recipient of the “Never Be Defeated” honor this evening. Steve had the extraordinary opportunity to spend time with Connor during last year’s Utah fishing trip. It was during that time that Connor’s quality of character and how much he has accomplished in such a short time became clear. Connor, thank you for continuing to inspire others with your endurance, persistence in pushing limits, and refusal to let cancer create barriers to experiencing the best that life has to offer us.
“Is this guy for real?” That was Steve Gavers’ first impression of Jonny Imerman when he was introduced to him at the 2017 Testicular Cancer Foundation Summit in Austin, TX. This guy was full of energy, enthusiasm, and exuberance that was absolutely over-the-top, non-stop, and at first, may take you by surprise. Jonny has an unrelenting energy about him that is fueled by his desire to put the needs of others ahead of his own. He has a mission to demonstrate the power of empathy, especially for those experiencing adversity. He wants to give those fighting cancer the assurance that they are not going through this alone and that there are others that have walked this journey who can impart knowledge, experience, hope, and encouragement that life is worth living. That is why he is being recognized tonight as a “Never Be Defeated” award recipient.
At 26 years old, Jonny Imerman was diagnosed with testicular cancer and began his fight against the disease. Throughout his experience, Jonny was lucky enough to have loving support from his family and friends but had never met anyone his age who was a cancer survivor. He was seeking a connection with someone he could relate to; someone who truly understood the same pain, fear and uncertainty that he was going through. This was the beginning of Jonny’s vision and in 2003, it became a reality when he founded Imerman Angels. Jonny’s belief that no one should have to face cancer alone and without support is evident in his mission ‘to provide personalized connections that enable one-on-one support among cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers.’
Through Imerman Angels, a cancer fighter is uniquely matched to a survivor or caregiver who is the same age, same gender, and most importantly, has battled the same type of cancer. The cancer survivor serves as a “Mentor Angel” – walking, talking, living proof to inspire the fighter with hope that he/she can overcome this disease. The service is absolutely free and helps anyone touched by any type of cancer, at any cancer stage level. at any age, living anywhere in the world. These one-on-one relationships give a cancer fighter or caregiver the chance to ask personal questions and get support from someone who has been there before. Mentor Angels can lend support and empathy and help cancer fighters and caregivers navigate the system, determine their options and create their own support systems. Frequently, caregivers experience feelings similar to those of the person facing cancer. Mentor Angels can relate while being sensitive to the experience and situation.
Jonny’s belief in excellence and never settling for being “good enough” is what allows him to set and exceed the highest standards in helping as many people as he can that have been touched by cancer. Just like us, he is driven by a goal to bring awareness to the reality of the disease, that no one is alone in their fight, and that there is hope. Cancer is an equalizer with no room for ego. Jonny, you are definitely ‘Da Man’ and are very much deserving of the “Never Be Defeated” award this evening. “Stay Well, Be Well!”
2018 Never Be Defeated Award Recipients
For the last 16 years, the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation has been one of our favorite customers. Each year we get to see the great impact they make in seeking to eradicate an enemy that affects far too many lives. At every Barndance, while serving each of you, we get to not only share our love for food but we also get to see what a party with a purpose is all about. Little did we know that the mission of The Gavers Foundation would impact us as a family until March, 2015, when my wife, Amanda, was diagnosed with Paget’s Disease, a rare form of Breast Cancer.
Since many of you don’t know Amanda, I want to share a little about the woman I get to call my wife. She is a loving wife and selfless mom who is active in our church and community. As a mom of our three boys — Noah, 15; Joshua, 12; Luke, 10 — Amanda invests her time making sure everyone in our family is taken care of. Whether it is proofreading homework assignments, managing our home, playing chauffeur and cheerleader at the multitude of sporting events and activities, subbing at our boys’ schools and even heading up the Women’s Ministries at our church, Amanda stays busy serving others. She does all of these things with a deep concern for those around her. She exudes a joy even in the most mundane of tasks and brightens the day of everyone she comes in contact with. We are blessed to have her as part of our family. She is the BEST!!! There is no quit in Amanda, and that was seen in the fall and winter of 2014 when she began to feel a great amount of fatigue and overall malaise. She chalked it up to some winter blues and knew that Chicago winters aren’t forever and with some sunny days things would get brighter.
What took place is nothing less than a picture of God’s providence and care for us. Against Amanda’s wishes, I participated in my High School Alumni Basketball Game, where I injured my knee and needed to see a doctor. While I was the patient and my knee was our main concern, the doctor noticed Amanda didn’t look her normal self. He wisely asked her some questions and gave orders for a complete workup to be done. The winter blues were not the problem, but severe anemia was to blame. This led to more doctor visits and check-ups with one being a mammogram.
For a 40-year old with no family history of breast cancer, this seemed like nothing too serious or concerning. What we thought was a routine procedure would radically change our lives. The mammogram would show malignancy throughout her breasts with the only remedy being a double mastectomy. The doctors were concerned by the widespread nature of the cells in the breast tissue. In less than four weeks, Amanda would undergo the first of many surgeries to address this cancer and put her on the road to full recovery. While this road would be long and difficult, Amanda would learn the full extent of her impact as family and friends from our church and community sought to do all they could to be a blessing and encouragement to our family. Amanda would say it was her faith in God and her family that helped sustain her through recovery and the anxious moments as new scares have come our way in recent days.
Amanda is doing great now and is active in serving all those around her. We are thankful for the great doctors and nurses who care and monitor her and for the fine people of The Gavers Foundation who champion and strive to help families like ours in finding a cure. Now a cancer survivor and with limited side effects with her ongoing treatment, Amanda is once again busy serving others. You will find her cheering her boys on from the bleachers and helping many others in our church and community as well as using her own cancer experience to serve others. She is a calm and warm friend who listens to the concerns of others facing their own cancer struggles, seeking to give them hope and help as they navigate the difficult road cancer brings to far too many. So now, catering the Barndance has taken on a special significance for the Badal family.
First, it is a reminder of why events and groups like Gavers are so badly needed in our world and second, it is a time to thank God for His protection and care of Amanda and finally, to do all we can to promote ways for people to help join the fight to eliminate this disease. Thank you to Steve and the entire foundation for all they do. Enjoy the party, but do not forget its purpose. We have learned this and will never be the same as a result.
Patti Devinger is a life-long resident of Woodstock, IL. She has spent that lifetime establishing deep roots in the community and fostering innumerable friendships. If you know her, she will be a fierce friend to have in your corner and loyal to a fault. She also has a close-knit family – husband Dave and daughter Tess, along with many family members living close by, including her father Bill Hansen, a Gaver’s Foundation Board member since its inception. Patti has always been an active outdoors-person. She loves jogging, hiking, kayaking, snow-shoeing, skiing, and many other activities.
With so many friends and family members, it will come as no surprise that she has seen many suffer from the ravages of cancer. For example, family member and friend Deb Brady- Hansen was diagnosed with breast cancer, which spread to her brain and ultimately took her life too early. Her good friend’s young daughter, Hope Fuller, was diagnosed with a rare childhood brain cancer. At a time when she should have been thinking about dances, boys, the prospect of high school and an exciting future, she was fighting what would end up being a losing battle to a non-discriminating disease. There is no question that cancer has made an unwelcome appearance in the lives of so many and it also goes without saying that cancer stinks.
Six years ago, cancer made an unwelcome appearance in Patti’s own life. She was an annual volunteer and attendee at the Gavers’ Barndance and took the often-repeated advice to get routinely checked. Her routine mammogram exposed a suspicious spot, which turned out to be breast cancer. The spot itself was deemed low-level cancer because it was encapsulated, and a quick recommendation of a lumpectomy was prescribed. Having been involved with Gavers Cancer Foundation for so many years and having witnessed others go through it, Patti sought a second opinion at Rush University. Rush took a series of additional x-rays and discovered another patch of aggressive cancer that was not encapsulated. It was situated close to her lymph nodes, where it could have easily spread to the rest of her system. With the new information from the second opinion, a double mastectomy was undertaken. Since the procedure, Patti has been cancer free for six years.
Patti remains a strong advocate for cancer awareness. She has been active with the Barndance for 19 successive years. She hopes to continue promoting awareness and providing support to those that are navigating the difficult road that a cancer diagnosis has forced them to travel.
Margie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006. At that time, her 3 children were ages 5, 4 and 10 months. The tumor was small but aggressive, so Margie fought it aggressively with a double mastectomy and 4 months of chemotherapy. At that time, we were hopeful that the cancer hadn’t seemed to spread. Four years later, a large tumor recurred and fractured the base of her spine and quickly left her unable to walk for 6 weeks. The cancer was now metastatic, and this meant a diagnosis of incurable disease, but treatable. However, this also meant more chemotherapy. Over the next 8 years, Margie was treated with chemotherapy multiple times and supplemented with a constant mix of targeted therapies, oral chemotherapies, and two rounds of radiation treatments to her back and brain to attack the progression.
Margie has been married to Tom for almost 18 years and they have 3 amazing children. It is not easy for children to grow up almost their whole life with a Mom who has metastatic disease. But Daniel (17), Kathleen (15) and Caroline (12) are very special kids. They have adapted to the unstable world around them with profound grace, joy and fortitude. They have taken on roles and responsibilities ahead of their years. They have a great role model in Margie, who lives life to the fullest and does not dwell on sadness or negativity. Even when she’s not feeling well, she’s quick to joke, laugh and make their world fun, “as it should be,” she says. “They’re kids, they should be without constant worry and deserve the same happy childhood I had.” Margie attributes her strength to seeing the faces of her three smiling children every day and knowing that she wants to be in their lives for as long as she can. She has said many times that her three children are what makes her fight harder than she ever thought possible.
Margie’s strong Catholic faith has guided her through her journey these last 12 years. Margie knew this was a cross she would bear for life, after watching her sister carry her own for a dozen years (they share the BRCA2 gene mutation). Margie’s constant prayer was that if there are any graces from this suffering, may they spare her daughters this disease. She knows God has set the path before her. In that, there is some peace that we will all be taken care of in His love. Margie’s ability to understand God’s greater purpose has allowed her to provide counsel to other women going through breast cancer. Whether it was the women next to her during chemotherapy or a family friend, Margie was there to share her experience and provide guidance in what to expect and how to find the inner strength to face breast cancer every day.
We are so grateful to the Gavers’ Foundation for their donations to Rush University’s Brian Piccolo Cancer Research fund for breast cancer. Margie has been treated at Rush for the past 12 years, by the best doctor we could ask for; Dr. Melody Cobleigh and her remarkable staff including Teri Dougherty, NP and all the clinical nurses.
Kariann (Hill) Schuster was born on December 19th, 1988 and is the second youngest of six children. Her parents raised a family of athletes and Kariann would certainly be no exception. Name a sport and Kariann dominated it. She found her true passion playing softball and basketball. Given her talent for both sports, Kariann graduated high school and went on to play Division II Basketball at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She eventually transferred and played both basketball and softball at Blackburn College.
This paved the way for Kariann’s next venture in life, which was becoming a police officer. Her dream for connecting with the youth of the community became a reality. Kariann was regularly found engaging in “pickup” games of basketball in driveways throughout the city while in full uniform. The kids adore her. She is routinely recognized for the effort she puts forth in working with the youth in her community – she is credited with establishing her department’s first “Youth Citizen’s Police Academy.”
It was while on the job that Kariann met her husband Tim, a fellow police officer. Tim proposed to Kariann back in November of 2014. Only a few months after their engagement, Kariann confided in Tim that while completing what she referred to as a “self-check,” she found a lump in her right breast. She was 26 years old.
Convinced it was only a cyst, she went forward with making a doctor’s appointment but was ultimately referred to Gavers Breast Center for further evaluation. It was learned that Kariann needed to undergo a biopsy. On Friday, March 13, 2015, Kariann was diagnosed with stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (Breast Cancer). Although unexpected, Kariann and Tim would experience “in sickness and in health” before their wedding day.
Kariann’s family is credited with instilling perseverance and tenacity early on in her childhood. Unbeknownst to Kariann, these ingredients, fueled with the love and support she received from family and friends during this time, helped her navigate what stood before her.
Kariann underwent 6 months of chemotherapy with another 6 months of “maintenance” chemotherapy and had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. Kariann will be declared 3 years “cancer free” as of August 27th! In case you were wondering, Kariann and Tim were happily married in September of 2016 and will be looking forward to having little ones running around within the next couple of years.
A special thanks to Kariann’s team of Doctors (Dr. Liu, Dr. Schwaab, and Dr. Bushnick), Gavers Breast Center, First Descents, and GRIT!!
Matthew Kischuk was a loving husband and a devoted father to Isabella and Joshua. His family was his greatest pride and joy. He enjoyed his time with us to the fullest, never taking for granted how precious life is, and he treasured every moment. Despite Matt’s difficult battle with cancer, he drew his strength from God, never gave up hope, and made his family proud. When Matt was first diagnosed, he attempted to do it alone, without relying on his faith. He went through about a year of treatments without turning to Jesus, trying to do it under his own strength. It was a year of literal living hell in every possible way for us. He was so full of anger, resentment, fear, sheer terror of the unknown, lashing out at me and the kids and all those he loved, with impressive gusto shall we say. He could not get any joy out of life because of the crushing panic that consumed him.
Matt’s experience taught me several things about what marriage vows really mean. It means we don’t give up on our spouse, PERIOD. I was able to forgive him during that time because I love him and because God opened my eyes as to why he was reacting like this. So, instead of responding with anger, I could respond with love. And I never gave up on him or our marriage.
Matt has always been a stubborn man and was lukewarm if anything when it came to his faith. I could sometimes nag him to come to church with us but that was about it. After struggling through one year of cancer treatments on his own without seeking help from God, he had finally hit rock bottom. This was when he was told he only had a year left to live, if that. This is what it took for him to finally be desperate enough to turn to God for help.
But once he did, it was like a light went on. Almost instantly, his heart changed. For the first time in our lives, we prayed together as a couple and many may be surprised to hear that he started to read a daily devotional book that was given to us. We began to read the Bible every night together, which was an amazing blessing as a new bed time routine for us. Listening to my husband thank God for me and pray for our family was a profound experience and really strengthened our marriage, our faith, and our family. When we openly invited Jesus into our relationship every night in this way, there was definitely a marked difference in our married life from that day forward. It allowed us to give God our fears, worries, and anxieties, releasing us from that burden. It allowed us to enjoy all the good times we had together.
Matt suffered from a lot of anxiety and panic attacks over the years during his illness. When nothing else would calm him, including some very potent prescription drugs, I prayed out loud for him and read scriptures; it would instantly calm him. God’s Word transcends all suffering, 9 pain, and fear. People always ask me how I do it all and how I’m always so upbeat and not an emotional wreck dealing with all this. It’s no lie when I tell them it’s Divine Intervention. There’s just no other explanation.
God gave us an additional 2 ½ more years with Matt feeling relatively amazing, given the many treatments he went through. After all the things his body endured, he should have been bedridden. Instead, he was able to enjoy the extra time he was given to the fullest. He got to see Isabella learn to ride her bike. He got to watch Joshua play his first T-ball game (and by this I mean he got to watch Josh fill his mitt with dirt as the ball rolled right by him, but it was still pretty cute to see him all decked out in his uniform). We enjoyed so many family outings and adventures during this time.
At the end of this journey I heard a still voice in my heart say that this was never about healing Matt’s body, it was about healing his soul, and use this to glorify My Name. And that is what I intend to do. I know without a doubt that Matt is ok now and he is in the City of God. Regarding Barndance, Matt always loved coming to hear all the victory stories of people going through similar situations. He really valued how important all the fund raising was for research as without his two clinical trials he had great success. He had 34 tumors that metastasized to his brain and lungs when he was diagnosed but that didn’t stop him from battling like a warrior until the end, enduring many surgeries, countless chemo, clinical trials, and radiation. But never gave up hope for a cure. I myself work as a Pediatric nurse downtown and know from my professional as well as my personal experiences how important hope is. You need hope to keep going and I feel like that’s what this event gives people. He leaves behind his legacy, a 6 year old daughter and 4 year old son that were granted more time to know their father due to the grace of God and all the medical advances that events like this help to make possible.
They received more time to see for themselves what a hero he truly is, as summed up by our daughter’s recent school paper:
This hope will stay with her and I hope it stays with you. It is new advances in medical treatments made possible from fund raising and people all coming together toward one goal that lead to treatments that continue to give hope for a cure. That is why I truly value the work you all do so just felt like you should all know. Thank you. Laura Kischuk
2017 Never Be Defeated Award Recipients
Billy deCicco has always been a devoted family man and an outstanding member of his community. At the age of 89, he still works, runs his own company, and shows no signs of slowing down. Billy also has a passion for cancer awareness and research. A passion that sparked in him after losing a dear friend, Brian Piccolo, to cancer at the young age of 26.
Brian Piccolo was a running back with the Chicago Bears in the 1960s. He played only four short seasons before being diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that eventually took his life. Brian left behind his wife, Joy, and daughters Lori, Traci and Kristi. Soon after Brian’s death, Billy helped gather family, friends and NFL team mates with the goal of establishing a fund in Brian’s name. When Billy sets his mind to something, he makes it happen, and so The Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund was launched in 1970. What began as an impromptu fundraising initiative is now a thriving nonprofit organization that has raised more than $8.3 million for cancer research, including the establishment of endowed chairs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute and Rush University Medical Center.
Over the years, Billy has dedicated an immeasurable amount of time to directing and overseeing the Piccolo Fund. He can also be credited with starting a golf outing and 5K run in Brian’s name, two very successful events. Billy somehow managed to accomplish all of this while also running his own business, coaching his children’s sports teams, and even playing on a men’s soccer league until the age of 65. With no paid employees, the Piccolo Fund relies on its terrific volunteers, and much of its success to date is thanks to Billy’s dedication and hard work.
The Gavers Community Cancer Foundation has been an incredible partner to the Piccolo Fund, committing more than $1,000,000 to support breast cancer research, much of which is raised through the annual Barndance. In his true fashion, Billy volunteers at Barndance each year, along with his family. You can probably find him at registration or handing out wristbands, and when you do, please thank him for all that he has done and continues to do for cancer research
THE IVERSON FAMILY
LYNNE | BROOKE | BROCK
Grateful for the support of the Cary community through the Brock Strong campaign and of the Harvard community through the Blue for Bart benefit, Lynne Iverson has strived for ways to give back some of the support her family has received over the last several years. This includes volunteering for the Barndance last year, coming full circle to a night when Steve sat with Lynne’s husband Bart, encouraging him to fight and to never rule out second opinions, even as he and Lynne were still shell-shocked that his cancer had come back so quickly and ferociously.
Lynne Podpora was raised in McHenry; Bart Iverson was raised in Harvard. He joined the Marines and served our country during Desert Storm. They met on a softball diamond and married in 2002. They had two children, Brooke and Brock. Diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2009, Bart battled for almost two years and was even in remission for a brief time. Bart and Lynne began to create a “Bucket List” when it became clear he would not win this battle. Sadly, Bart passed away February 27, 2011, before they could tackle any of the items on their list. Bart and Lynne’s desire to give back some of the support they’d received throughout his fight against colon cancer led to several donations. Supporting colon cancer research was important to them. The promise that some of the money raised at the benefit was Bart’s only condition in agreeing to let it go on. To that end, some of the money raised was donated in his name to colon cancer research through the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation. Proud of his service in the US Marine Corp, an honorarium was established to be awarded to graduating Harvard High School seniors who enlist in the Marines.
Lynne began life as a single mom with the support of her Harvard and Cary families. The kids kept busy through football and cheerleading, baseball and horseback riding, among many other activities. They had settled in to a new routine, and Lynne had established a new normal for her family, balancing her work with the kids’ school and activities. Eight-year old Brock came down with congestion and sore throat repeatedly, going through many rounds of antibiotics through the late fall and early winter of 2014. Following the appearance of the “red dots,” a diagnosis of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia was made in February 2015. Less than four years after losing her husband to this horrible disease, Lynne was again leading a fight. The all-too-familiar routine of tests, hospital stays, doctor visits and copious amounts of medications began all over again, only now for her, it was as mom rather than wife. They headed for Lurie Children’s Hospital to meet with an oncologist, and Brock began chemo within a few days of the diagnosis to begin a three-year treatment plan. She worked hard to convince Brock that people DO survive cancer; his only experience was with his father, and he believed he was going to die just as his father had. Brock’s had a PICC line and then a port. He, and his family, have endured many rounds of steroids. He’s lost and regrown his hair, had blood transfusions, and has had countless chemo treatments – some out-patient and some in-patient.
They are now two years in to a three-year treatment plan. Lynne’s fight and determination continues to provide as normal a life as possible for her family while living with another cancer diagnosis. Through it all, sister Brooke now 13, has remained Brock’s steadfast supporter and is sometimes the glue that holds things together. While Lynne Iverson herself is not a cancer survivor, she has survived and is surviving cancer. Twice. She refuses to let cancer defeat her or her family.
If you need to connect with Brian Loprino, look no further than the Public House of Woodstock. There, he can be found socializing with customers while making certain everything is served at its finest. When he’s not leading the talented team of Public House, or visiting with customers who often become friends, Brian may be out on the open road, savoring his love for motorcycles. More often, he’s off somewhere with his beautiful family. With his wife and business partner Kathryn, they may be traveling to Canada where their daughter Madison (18) is attending college at Brock University. And yet more often than not, Brian can be found on the sidelines watching son Hunter (16) who plays both Lacrosse and Football for St. Viator High School and on college prep travel teams. Of his many roles in life, Brian is most happy when he’s the proud father. He grew up in the Chicagoland area, yet now calls Woodstock home where he serves as an engaged community resident and businessman.
Sadly, life hasn’t always been without worry or loss for Brian. At the influential age of 22, Brian lost his mother to breast cancer. She was only 49. During her battle Brian’s life role was then caretaker; and he cared for his mom through to her final day. Once married
with life back on track for Brian, the ugliness of cancer returned, this time for Kathryn’s mother who was only 56 when she passed away from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While Kathryn returned home to Canada to care for her mother, Brian’s lead role was dad as he kept their young family in routine. Years later, cancer happened still again when Kathryn’s father was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. Thankfully, that battle plan included surgery for Kathryn’s father and resulted in a cure for his condition.
Many married couples have shared experiences that make them stronger. Thankfully, few include losing mothers to cancer. While Brian and Kathryn were able to support one another during those challenging times, they never imagined the reality of facing cancer head on as they did when Brian was diagnosed over a year ago. One day Kathryn told Brian she had noticed he wasn’t himself. He had been expressing feelings of fatigue, frustration with struggles to lose weight, and various other symptoms that just didn’t add up to Brian’s “normal.” He agreed and scheduled a doctor’s appointment with a full blood panel. Thank goodness Brian performed the role of good listener, because the result of this health review was Stage 3 aggressive prostate cancer. Within moments of the news, Brian said to Kathryn, “I will beat this!” Weeks that followed were filled with multiple doctor visits, numerous consultations, and some big decision-making. Ultimately, those decisions lead Brian and his family to the doors of Rush University Medical Center. With the kind gesture of a supportive call from friends at Gaver’s Community Cancer Foundation, the journey to cure Brian’s body of this disease began. A robotic-assisted da Vinci surgery was performed. Following that, early pathology reports confirmed that the cancer had spread outside the prostate, so radiation was Brian’s next step. With 40 treatments of radiation, Brian felt fatigued and overwhelmed, yet he remained strong. If asked, he was fighting to be cured – free of cancer. Brian’s strength could be witnessed when just one day out of the hospital, determined and strong-willed he attended Hunter’s football game. Brian could do this because he believed he was given a second chance at life, more time with his beloved family, and his mind was set on winning. This personal battle was the most important role of his life. With four months passed and two doctors’ visits since Brian’s last radiation treatment, all counts have been rated zero ~ a winning score in this case! Brian will continue with bi-yearly check-ups for the next four years.
This story didn’t just end with the news of clear tests. A new story actually began when Brian declared his will to heal his body from cancer and commit himself to a healthier life. He earned his second chance. With his victory, Brian has truly embraced the complete embodiment of health, committed to a healthier lifestyle with successful weight loss and overall good health practices. A corresponding dedication to his own health and wellness is to share his experience with others. Brian is a promoter for “getting
checked,” and can often be heard advising others to make that important appointment when asked what can be done to support his efforts. He shares his new found understanding of the importance of listening to your body, asking the right questions, and addressing concerns. Brian and Kathryn feel so blessed and thankful that their story has a happy ending. Because of their journey, they are determined to continue in this most important life role – raising awareness; supporting fundraisers; service to community, family and friends – to ride our world of cancer, permanently.
313 days ago my mom did not have Cancer. She had just driven 16 hours from Illinois to Colorado to help me begin a new adventure. Adventurous actually describes my mom extremely well. Last May she went to Hawaii and hiked 87 miles there. Not only did she hike; she kayaked, climbed waterfalls, cliff jumped, and dove out of an airplane. My mom is full of adventure and I know that nothing will ever stand in her way.
Upon returning from Hawaii, my mom found a lump in her left breast. She went in for an exam and mammogram in which nothing showed up. The lump continued to grow and so an ultrasound was done in July. Again, nothing found. She continued to feel uncomfortable and so did her gynecologist. She was advised to go and have a biopsy done just to triple check and make sure everything was really ok. On September 6th, 2016 my mom began her scariest adventure. One that none of us ever thought she would have to go through. She was diagnosed with stage 2 Breast Cancer. She had just moved me out to Colorado and my brother Ryan was back at UW Stout for school. She wasn’t alone, but I can imagine it felt something like that. She had her husband, Randy, her brother Mike, and an amazing support system to help her because Ryan and I weren’t physically there for everything. She also had an angel looking down on her from heaven to help her persevere.
With some help from some very close friends, my mom ended up at RUSH with a wonderful team of doctors. Rush is amazing in the fact that everything they do there is a team decision. This helped immensely with stress and anxiety. After her initial visit everything seemed to happen so fast. She began Chemotherapy in less than 3 weeks and it would continue for 4 months. Thank goodness for good friends who would go get her cotton candy blizzards when the Woodstock DQ was closed! Then she would go on to have a double mastectomy in February. This was a scary obstacle and furthered her journey when we found out the chemotherapy had not completely killed all of the cancerous cells. The cells were removed in surgery, but we then knew she would need radiation. Her cancer had progressed to Stage 3. Radiation was a 6 week process, which was not like going to the tanning bed at all. My mom is now a badass and has four tattoos because of it. She ended radiation on June 5th and is looking forward to getting back to normal after some final surgery in November. She has already been hiking and kayaking again. She is fearlessly moving on to her next adventure.
For those of you who know my mom, you know how much she has gone through and lost in her life. However, today is not about what she’s lost, today is about what she has gained and the strength that she has shown over not only the past year, but throughout her life. Kelly Redemske is a selfless and compassionate mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend. She has 3 kids who all love and care for her very much. She has always dedicated her time to her kids and put them before herself. My mom continues to put others first everyday. Whether it’s looking after her own mom, driving others to appointments, or visiting relatives in the nursing home, she devotes so much of her time to caring for others. She has been a part of the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation since 2005 and is now the Treasurer of this great organization. She whole-heartedly believes in everything Gavers is about, especially getting checked.
~Written by Kelly’s daughter Jenna.