About two years and three months ago, Michael Merket’s intestines seized up.
Both his brother and grandmother had died from colon cancer.
But, Michael didn’t want to go to the hospital. His wife, Glenna, forced him to. Doctors ultimately gave him the diagnosis he was dreading — colon cancer.
The next morning, they operated. Now, the Soldotna resident has a 20-inch scar on his belly reminding him of the 18 inches of intestine and baseball-sized tumor doctors removed.
The moral of the story according to his wife?
“You might want to go to the doctor,” Glenna said.
“You might want to listen to your wife,” he said with a laugh.
Michael’s cancer thankfully didn’t spread. But, the scare and experiences were enough to change his life forever.
“The thing is that you are going to die someday and you just don’t know when,” he said. “At the point I found out I had cancer, I was pretty much resigned to the fact that, ‘OK, I don’t have long.’ And then as things started happening, I found out I could live longer and it made me feel a lot better.”
For months, Glenna was a caregiver in addition to a wife. She would help wheel him around where he needed to go and brace him when he needed to get to his walker. Eventually, she helped him get back on his feet.
On Friday, Michael’s feet took him somewhere he’d never been — around the track of Skyview High School for the 2011 American Cancer Society Relay for Life of the Central Peninsula.
Dressed in a purple “survivor” shirt, Michael said it felt good to take the first lap at the event.
“What feels better is when you look around and see all the people that have survived,” he said. “All these same people have been through that same torture you went through.”
In total, 37 teams and more than 400 people signed up for the Relay — an overnight walk around the track to raise both awareness of cancer and raise money for cancer research. The event raised more than $60,000, an organizer said.
“This is a good thing,” Michael said looking around the event. “It took cancer to bring us all together this way and feel this way, but that’s OK.”
Michael used to be a teacher. Because of his experience fighting cancer, he now works in the health care industry helping others.
In addition to the new job, Michael got a new perspective on things he used to take for granted, the most memorable of which came at a wellness seminar he attended.
“He had you first (write down) all the things you were grateful for,” he said. “So everybody there had about 15 or 20 of them that they were grateful for.”
Michael thought the group would then share their list with the class.
“He goes, ‘No, I just want you to reflect right now on the things you wrote down and how you feel about them,’” he said, looking at Glenna with tears swelling in his eyes. “Everybody there felt pretty good. So each day we take a little time to be grateful.”
Glenna developed a different perspective on the idea of “fighting cancer” during the time she helped her husband through his recovery.
“It is all about looking for the good in everything else but cancer,” she said. “It is just better if you don’t dwell on it.”
“The things you should look at are right here,” he said. “If you look out on all of those people that have the purple shirts on … you see faith. You see hope. You see charity. And, you see love.”
Those looking out on the race might have found it tough to miss another survivor — Peg Rogers — dressed from head to toe in pink.
Rogers is a 15-year survivor of breast cancer.
“Thus the pink,” she said showing off her clothes and pink flamingo sunglasses.
She started attending Relays annually about 11 years ago. When asked why she keeps coming back, she had a quick answer.
“I can,” she said. “I can, that’s the biggest thing. A lot of my friends can’t do this.”
Everyone at the event — new acquaintances or old friends — constitutes “one big family,” she said.
“Some of these people I haven’t seen since the last Relay,” “But, it doesn’t matter. It is like they are your best friend again. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve all been friends and neighbors for years.”
When asked what the event meant to her on a deeper level, Rogers said it was about survival and hope.
“I have an uncle who is not doing well right now — diagnosed with melanoma — and is probably not going to make it through the summer, but he has been fighting it for years,” she said. “I have another friend just diagnosed with breast cancer — stage four — and it’s metastasized to her lungs. We’ve still got such a big fight in front of us. But, this research the American Cancer Society does is so important.
“Every day they make gains and I think that’s huge. I think that is what Relay is all about is making those gains.”
June 21 is Rogers’ birthday. The day is also marks the day of her last cancer treatment about 15 years ago. Each birthday she remembers that fact and each birthday is a gift itself, she said.
“That’s why I Relay because I want people to see that, ‘Hey it is possible and you can beat this,’” she said. “New people that are diagnosed sometimes don’t have a lot of hope but you see people out there ... and it works.”