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Community rallies around Marengo cancer patient

February 20, 2008
Almost everyone in Crawford County knows the pretty lady with the contagious smile. During 20 years of serving coffee and meals to people in the community, she has made a lot of friends. Now, Becky Byerly has begun a fight for her life, and many of those friends are helping her in the battle.

Becky Byerly looks through her collection of get-well cards that she has received since being diagnosed with lung cancer in January. Byerly, who, with her husband, Scott, owns the Ol' Marengo Diner, believes that with help from God, family and friends, she can beat the disease. (Photo by Lee Cable)
Byerly, who owns the Ol' Marengo Diner, had a birthday celebration for her youngest daughter on Jan. 7. That night, she spit up some blood. She went to work the next day and felt fine, but late that night, she began spitting up blood again. Her husband, Scott, insisted that she go to the hospital and took her to Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services.

"They admitted me when we got there," Byerly said. "Right after that, I spit up blood again."

The hospital ran several tests on her and discovered that the blood was coming from a tumor on her lungs. Two days later, after more tests, she was informed that she had lung cancer, a type known as small cell lung cancer.

"They gave me radiation to close the tumor and stop the bleeding," Byerly said. "The oncologist told me that I was in bad shape and needed chemotherapy as quickly as possible. I was depressed when I realized how bad it was. I never even knew there was anything wrong. I had been a little tired lately, but I had been working seven days a week.

"I have been walking with a little bit of a limp, my right hip was a little sore. But they told me the cancer was in, not only my right hip, but my left one also. I guess I should have taken better care of myself."

Byerly, 37, was raised in English and went to Crawford County Junior-Senior High School. She worked as a waitress when she was young, liked it and stayed with it. Through the years, she has worked at several area restaurants.

"I've always liked what I do," Byerly said. "I love people, and when I'd ask a customer, 'How are you?', I meant it. I enjoy keeping up with what's going on in people's lives — who's sick in their family, and how they're feeling."

After the tornado hit Marengo in 2004, the previous owner wasn't interested in the Ol' Marengo Diner, and Byerly took it over in 2005.

"I miss it," Byerly said. "Scott has been laid off for a while, so he's been running the restaurant while I'm off. He does the cooking, and we've been able to keep things going. My sister, Amy Henderson, also helps out there."

Byerly started radiation treatments soon after she was diagnosed with cancer. She will receive a total of 25 treatments, and now has five more to go. She also began chemo treatments last week. She was told that she may lose her hair, which she had let grow for years, due to the chemo treatments and decided to have her hair cut off. She donated it to the "Locks of Love" program, which makes wigs for cancer victims.

Now, several friends and favorite customers have gotten together to plan a benefit for Byerly. Every Thursday morning, they meet at the restaurant and update everyone on the arrangements that have been made and to kick around new ideas. The event is planned for April 12 at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park. They have already lined up bands to play music, and there will be a silent auction, a fish fry and games for children. Every week, new ideas are added.

Holiday World, the English Jay C Store, Derby Dinner Playhouse, Van's Restaurant in Marengo, El Nopalito restaurant, Old English Golf Course and other businesses have already contributed to the benefit and many others have indicated that they would also make donations.

"They say that I'm at stage four now," said Byerly, who has five children. "And the doctors indicated that a cure is remote. But I'm not giving up.

"It was really hard on the kids at first. My 8-year-old is really worried," she said. "But I have a lot of support. Seven ministers visited me when I was in the hospital. I feel there's hope. People help a lot. The more I talk to my friends and the people of the community, the better I feel. The phone rings almost non-stop. Everyone I know is concerned and checks on me. But I'm doing OK.

"They say that the third day after you start chemo is the worse. This is my third day, and I have a stomach ache, and I'm a little uncomfortable, but it's not all that bad yet."

Byerly lost her mother to heart problems when she was just 3 years old. Her sister, Amy, was just two months old at the time. Then, in 2000, she lost her step-mother, who helped raise her, to cancer.

"I'm a little scared," she said. "And some days, it bothers me more than others. I say prayers every day. And I think I'll beat it. Between God and the herbs that I'm taking, I'll get through it."

Anyone wishing to help or donate to the benefit can call Karen Waterworth at 365-9354 or Carla Batman at 365-2207. Donations can also be made at 1st Independence Bank in Marengo to the Becky Byerly Benefit Fund.

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