Joe Geraci, John Huggins and Bobby Lowe live in different parts of the Commonwealth. It’s unlikely they’ve ever crossed paths, yet all three have one thing in common: They belong to a club they did not ask to join. All three have been diagnosed with cancer. They admit it changed their lives, but through the American Cancer Society, they have come out as winners. Here are their stories:
Joe Geraci Edgewood
Joe Geraci, 65, is no stranger to cancer. His mother died of breast cancer when he was in seventh grade. His sister died from breast cancer in 2003. His wife, Marsha, was diagnosed with it in 2000 and beat it. So when he came down with pneumonia in 2003, his wife didn’t hesitate to take him to the hospital.
“I had an X-ray, and they found a small spot on my right lung,” said Geraci, who recalled that further tests couldn’t determine what the “spot” actually was. “Further X-rays found that it had grown a little, so I had surgery to remove the spot. Two weeks later, I got the very disturbing call that I have cancer.”
A second surgery soon after that call resulted in Geraci losing the top right lobe of his right lung. That was in 2004.
“Only 15 percent survive past five years,” Geraci said. “I was very lucky and fortunate it was detected early. By the grace of God and the help and support I received, I am now an eight-year survivor.”
That support came not only from his faith, family and friends, but also from the invaluable assistance he got from the American Cancer Society. When he was first diagnosed, a friend encouraged him to call the society’s hotline, 1-800-227-2345. Putting aside the proverbial male ego, Geraci made the call, asking for help. Since that call, he has not only beaten cancer, but he’s also devoted much of his valuable free time to volunteering to help others with the disease.
“All my volunteer work has come about” because of that call, Geraci said. “I’ve made a lot of close friends … met a lot of people throughout the country. A majority of people volunteer because they have been touched personally. There’s a real passion there.”
Caught up in that passion, Geraci has participated in Relay For Life events in northern Kentucky and has traveled to Washington, D.C., to walk in the Relay there. He also serves on the ACS Mid-South Division Board of Directors.
“A large percentage [on the board] is medical-oriented, and they can see what ACS has done,” he said. “Half of our board in our Mid-South region are medical doctors or nurses who volunteer away from their offices. It’s just amazing to me.”
Because Geraci had lung cancer, he is constantly asked if he smoked. He said always replies, “ ‘No, but I was around heavy secondhand smoke for years at my workplace.’ I then ask them, ‘With so much information about smoking causing cancer, why do people still smoke?’ No one has an answer.”
So for Geraci, the fight continues, to make people aware of what can cause cancer and how people can avoid it.
“I’ve always felt blessed in my life and always felt that God has been taking care of me and my family,” he said. “There was always my family. That’s how my wife and I both got through these episodes—family, friends and faith.”
John Huggins Louisville
John Huggins has been an educator most of his life. So it stands to reason that once he fought and won the war against cancer, he would spend the rest of his life teaching others how to prevent the disease.
Huggins, now 68, was diagnosed in 1994 with colorectal cancer. After radiation and chemotherapy, he was able to beat the disease and move on with his career in Jefferson County Public Schools. Then he got involved in Relay For Life, eventually becoming event chair and remaining so even when all of Jefferson County’s Relays combined into one annual event. He has chaired a Relay For Life event for the past seven years.
“I retired from work in 2005, so I had some free time,” Huggins said. “I wanted to do what I could to promote fundraising, promote awareness and promote the idea of education … about cancer and what you can possibly do to reduce your opportunity for getting cancer. Relay For Life was one of the ways to do that.”
So while many men of his generation would endure the disease and then never speak of it again, Huggins took his experiences and made sure people in his community knew what they could do to fight cancer.
“I’m truly grateful and thankful for what the Lord has done for me,” he said. “I take the idea that you are blessed to be a blessing to others. So sharing my story and also my experiences and a little knowledge that I have, I can possibly help other people.”
Huggins takes his story to group gatherings and to individuals who are willing to listen. He said many people suffer because they don’t know what to look for. That’s when he implements his personal acronym: AVA—awareness, vigilance and action.
“If you become aware of something, then you can be vigilant about that situation, and if something is occurring within your body, the next step is to take some action, “ Huggins said. “If you can help to raise the awareness of people in the community, then they have a better chance of reducing their opportunity for disease.”
Bobby Lowe Owensboro
Bobby Lowe doesn’t like to be idle. So when prostate cancer knocked him off his feet in 2005, he was reluctant to admit his weakness.
“They told me to take it easy, and that it would take a while to get my strength back,” he recalled. “I laid around for a couple of weeks, and then I thought I could do anything I wanted to. So I tried to cut the front yard. I soon went back into the house and hit a ‘brick wall.’ ”
After that humbling experience, Lowe put aside his pride and took it easy … for a little bit longer.
“I had 102 radiation seeds implanted,” he said. “It’s good for six months before the radiation wears out, and you don’t have to take chemo. But it does take about six months to get back to normal. Makes you weak and you think you’re ready, but you’re not.”
But when he was ready to tackle the world again, Lowe returned to his beloved volunteer activities with the Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief Team, his church and, ironically, his work with ACS Relay For Life in Owensboro. In fact, it was exposure to Relay that led to his cancer diagnosis. His wife had convinced him to take the free prostate cancer screening at Owensboro Mercy Hospital seven years ago.
“It changes your life,” Lowe said. “It knocks you down.”
Since his cancer was detected early, he had several treatment options. He chose radiation seeds.
“I know people like to wait for a while,” he said. “I just wanted to go ahead and get rid of it.”
Now, he’s cancer-free. He can resume traveling with his wife, Marilyn, both leisure travel around the world and travel to disaster areas to help those who have lost everything—including victims of Hurricane Katrina, tornado-ravaged Alabama and flooded regions of Kentucky.
It’s a life he was hard-pressed to give up while recuperating.
“But through family and friends, we just made it through,” Lowe said. “It made it easier to accept help.
Now I have a regular life.”
— Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley