Gass Family Trio Survives Cancer
Cancer has disrupted the life of Rick Gass for going on eight years. His 58-year-old body has undergone prostate surgery and subsequent radiation treatments as well as quarterly shots or daily pills to keep the malignant cells from growing. He is matter-of-fact in his explanation.
His father and older brother have both fought—and won—battles with the same cancer. All three had surgery within a harrowing five months in 2003-04. He is calm and collected in his description.
But the Maple Grove man chokes up and his voice cracks when talking about the city’s annual Relay for Life cancer fundraiser in August. That’s how powerful the two-day event is to him.
Emotions flowed for Gass during last year’s Survivors Lap, where all cancer survivors are introduced and walk around the track together to the cheers of supporters. “They read [Gass] in succession, and I remember hearing those names and saying, ‘Wow, three people,’” says Amy Peterson, an event publicity chair for Relay for Life.
But it wasn’t walking with his father, Duane, and brother, Robb, that resonated with Rick. They’ve participated in Relay for Life for at least four years apiece. It was keeping a gait with Linda Gaetke, a fellow member at Lord of Life Lutheran Church.
Wearing a handkerchief to cover her bald head, Gaetke shared how experimental treatments weren’t stopping the spread of her cancer. “She was telling me about not knowing if she was going to live or not,” Gass says, losing his even keel. “And that she has never felt as much at peace with God as she did at that very moment doing the survivor walk—very, very powerful.”
Gaetke passed away in February. She was 61. But the Gass family has been lucky. Duane is 82. Robb is 59. Rick is 58.
Duane was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, but medication kept it contained until surgery was required in September 2003.
When Rick turned 50 that year, a friend insisted he get checked out. “The doctor was pretty shocked to see a guy my age with a cancer as advanced as it was,” Rick says.
The surgery in October 2003 didn’t clear all the cancer, and he has been succumbed to various treatments—including a $2,300 shot every three months—to keep the amount of cancer cells at a manageable level. “It’s been eight years of various medications to keep the cancer from growing without total success,” Rick says.
Their mother, Donna, pushed Robb to get tested at the end of 2003, and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer as well. Robb’s cancer was successfully removed with a surgery in January 2004. “Oh my, we didn’t know which end was up,” says Donna Gass of those five tough months. “It was pretty hair-raising. If it wasn’t for our faith, we wouldn’t have made it through.”
Since the Gass family was three-for-three in cancer diagnoses, they now advocate for other men to get tested early. “When I was at the doctor at age 50, he said he had two guys on the table that day that were 40,” Rick says. “You can’t undervalue early detection. That is the only way you find out.”
Peterson, who lost her father to a rare cancer in 2007, says Relay for Life has the Gass family and other survivors “wanting to bring hope to something that sometimes feels hopeless.”
2011 Relay for Life
Participation in the 2011 Relay for Life of Maple Grove/Osseo can include starting a team, joining a team, signing up as a survivor—like the Gass threesome—or as a caregiver or just as an individual.
All you need to do is visit the Relay for Life website and click on ‘sign up.’
This year’s relay is August 5–6 at Osseo Senior High School. Call 612.695.9613 or email for more info.
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