Family touched by cancer gives back to Relay

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

John Brackney's reputation spoke for itself.

Whether it be his military service, the successful way in which he ran the Brackney feed mill and then the Western Store in Greencastle, or how he raised his four children, he always seemed to have the respect of the community.

However, his character, the type of substance which allowed him to twice battle cancer with a brave face, might best be illustrated in a story his wife Louise Brackney is fond of telling.

"We were here by ourselves at the store during the lunch hour, when a little boy from the orphanage came in. When he left, John knew (the boy) had a jacket on under his coat. Well, John followed him over the railroad tracks and up the hill, and when he he finally caught him, he gave him a talking to and got the jacket back. I thought it must have scared the boy to death," Louise Brackney, 82, said. "But then, years later, we were at (a local restaurant) and the boy, who had grown up, came over to John and thanked him."

It was that ability to change a less than optimistic event into something positive, which his children say probably turned around what could have been a bleak cancer diagnosis in 1973.

At that time, Brackney learned he had cancer after a visits to the doctor for stomach problems. Doctors told him they would have to operate immediately.

Louise Brackney remembered that time.

"It was a slap in the face," she said of the news.

Although the diagnosis came as a blow to the whole family, Brackney underwent surgery immediately, and to everyone's surprise, recovered fairly rapidly.

"Back then when they said you had cancer, the question was, How long do I have?'" his son Darrell Brackney, 57, explained of the turn-around.

For 29 years he was cancer free and even was able to purchase an insurance policy which covered the disease.

Which is why in 1995, his second diagnosis may have come as even more of a shock.

After complaining of pain in his legs and hip, Brackney visited an orthopedic specialist.

"The doctor said he didn't have to look at an x-ray, he could just tell (it was cancer)," Darrell Brackney said of the tumor which had appeared in his father's leg.

Despite the nearly 30 years difference in the diagnosis, doctors said the cancer was related.

"It's like it had been dormant in his body," Darrell Brackney explained.

In 1971, after the surgery to remove the tumor, there had been no follow-up with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, in 1995, doctors used Thalidomide to try and slow the growth of the cancer.

The drug, which was given to pregnant mothers in the 1960's is known for having caused birth defects in children.

"The theory was that it kept things from growing, which is why the kids had (the birth effects)," Darrell Brackney explained.

However, the medicine was not enough to keep the cancer from spreading.

It was four years later, after several more treatments with varying success that John Brackney finally succumbed to the disease at age 73.

"He wasn't going to give in," his daughter, Sheila McCullough, 54, remembered. "He should have let go long before then."

Perhaps just as her husband might have done, Louise Brackney chooses to take the positive from her family's experience with cancer.

"The doctors have learned an awful lot from him," she said of John Brackney's unique medical case.

She said she also remembers how much her husband had appreciated his treatment at Putnam County Hospital.

"He just could not say enough good things about (the oncology staff)," she said. "Even now, the nurses come by when I am there."

During his remission, John Brackney had become involved with the American Cancer Society, even sponsoring a fly-in fundraiser at the Putnam County Airport in 1969.

Now, in memory of her late husband, Louise Brackney handles memorial contributions for the American Cancer Society in Putnam County.

Also, she, as well as the entire Brackney family, are active participants in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life annual fundraiser in Putnam County.

This year the event will take place from noon-noon Saturday-Sunday at Blackstock Stadium.

"He was always coming up with new ides," McCullough remembered of her father.

"And I would follow right along behind," Louise Brackney added. "We always worked side by side. He had an idea and I would say, Okay, I'll try it."

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