Relay for Life chairman is a survivor

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2007

By Sarah Light, staff writer

He is a man of inspiration.

As an honorary co-chairman for the Freeborn County Relay for Life this year, Albert Lea resident Larry Bergo has been through the worst and risen victorious.

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&8220;With God and my wife taking care of me, it&8217;s keeping me in line,&8221; Bergo said. &8220;With the help of modern medicine, my children, my grandchildren &8212; because of them, I&8217;m here today.&8221;

As a survivor of one of the most rare forms of cancer, Bergo said he hopes to spread a message of optimism to others who might be going through a similar experience.

His own battle with cancer began in 2003, when he said he had continual pain. Eventually that pain got so bad, he couldn&8217;t even support himself, he said.

He was admitted to St. Mary&8217;s Hospital in May of 2003, and within a few hours, doctors told him he had Stage 4 multiple myeloma &8212; or cancer of the plasma, a very rare form of cancer.

Doctors said it had been building up in his body for years when it was found.

His wife, Jean, said she was shocked to hear the news of her husband&8217;s diagnosis.

&8220;Never take life for granted,&8221; she said. &8220;I always said that Larry would never have cancer because he ate six fruits a day. I never even thought that I would hear the word cancer.&8221;

Shortly after, however, her husband was transported to the Rochester Methodist Hospital and started on oral chemotherapy medication.

&8220;It was almost three weeks I spent in the hospital that I have very little recollection of,&8221; Bergo said. &8220;I didn&8217;t know what was going on.&8221;

At the end of September that same year, he received a stem cell transplant, which kept the myeloma in remission until August of 2004.

Then his cancer came back, and he was put back on oral chemotherapy. Even to this day, he is on three different cancer medications and has monthly checkups in Rochester.

But despite all he continues to go through, Bergo said he&8217;s a firm believer that out of everything bad comes something good.

&8220;I&8217;ve always said life is good,&8221; he said. &8220;And it is &8212; life is good.&8221;

Because of his cancer, he has renewed many old friendships, while also making many new friends. He has also drawn closer to his family.

&8220;&8216;I love you&8217; is a common word,&8221; he said. &8220;It&8217;s something that is used all the time. You feel good saying &8216;I love you.&8217;&8221;

As co-chairman, he said he hopes to get across the message that everybody knows someone who has been touched with cancer.

&8220;Cancer probably should have been a four-letter word, but it isn&8217;t,&8221; he said.

&8220;I&8217;ve always said, &8216;It&8217;ll be OK,&8217; and that&8217;s what they tell me, &8216;It&8217;ll be OK.&8217;&8221;

The co-chairman, a lifelong area resident, said he was honored to be selected for this new position, and on the night of the relay, he hopes to be there as much as his health will permit.

&8220;It&8217;s nice to be recognized anytime by your peers, but when you get to be the honorary co-chair, it&8217;s indeed an honor,&8221; he added.

Nikki Schumaker, a co-chairwoman with the Relay for Life committee, said Bergo was nominated by a fellow committee member for the honorary position because he is outstanding in the community, active in the Relay for Life and a great supporter of cancer research.

He is an inspirational and optimistic person.

Bergo and co-chairwoman Judy Popp-Anderson have been working to promote the relay, which takes place on Aug. 10.

This will be the fifth Relay for Life annual event for the county.

This year, the American Cancer Society celebrates its 22nd year of Relay for Life since the first event was held in Tacoma, Wash.

Since its inception, the American Cancer Society has raised more than $1.85 billion through the Relay for Life event to further the society&8217;s historic progress against cancer.

For more information on how to participate in the relay, contact Schumaker at 377-3356 or 383-0975 or visit