Tempe cop with cancer hopes others will learn from his story - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Tempe cop with cancer hopes others will learn from his story

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:59 pm | Updated: 10:25 am, Tue Oct 25, 2011.

Many press releases involving fundraisers and benefits often fill my email inbox, but when I saw the words on one forwarded to me Monday, I flinched at the familiarity.

The subject line: “Bustin’ Perps and Fighting Cancer, benefitting Tempe Police Detective Tim Barber.”

The Tempe Police Officers Association is hosting a barbecue fundraiser 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Apache Substation, 1855 E. Apache Blvd., to help Barber and his family with his mounting medical bills.

On June 29, 2009, Barber, then 40, was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer that was treated into remission — but now, the cancer has returned.

Inspiring many of his colleagues as he continues to fight his condition with a positive outlook, Barber, now 42, again is facing more uncertainty. Members of the Tempe police family are hoping for a large turnout for the fundraiser as Barber again is facing the battle of his life, going through weekly chemotherapy after a recent series of an FDA-approved treatment, Provenge, failed. On Tuesday, Barber underwent the third of six chemo treatments, and after the sixth week, he will be tested to see whether they were effective.

Barber’s wife, Autumn, is expecting twins in January. His daughter, Brittany, 20, is a junior at Northern Arizona University majoring in elementary education.

Following his initial diagnosis of prostate cancer, Barber underwent surgery in July 2009. Then, beginning in January 2010, he began the first of 40 radiation treatments. The cancer was in remission until it reappeared this past January. Now it has spread to other parts of his body and bone marrow, and he routinely needs blood transfusions and platelets, his wife said.

“He just maintains a positive attitude,” Autumn Barber said. “We call him ‘Mr. Optimistic.’ While he was undergoing radiation treatments the first time, he only missed two weeks of work. He’s proud of that.”

Barber served with the Tempe Police Department for 10 years, mostly investigating property crimes. When he joined the department, he made quite a career change — from store director for the ABCO supermarket chain. But he came to love police work, a job he had to leave two months ago because of his condition.

“It’s been difficult for him not to be on the job,” Autumn Barber said. “That’s what he does. That’s who he is.”  

I don’t know Detective Barber. In fact, I had never heard of him until I saw his picture on the press release.

But, I do know someone who had prostate cancer and died from it because he didn’t find out he had it until the cancer had spread and it was too late to do anything but treat it.

About four years ago, Bruce Stiver, one of my cousins by marriage who was in his mid-50s, learned he had prostate cancer.

I first came to know Bruce when he and my cousin Molly started dating and I was in second grade. Like Barber, Bruce worked for a grocery store, the Dorothy Lane Market in the Dayton suburb of Kettering. Family called him “Bruce Produce.”

After Molly and Bruce married in 1974 or ‘75, Bruce and I always seemed to find ourselves sitting across from each other at Sakal family weddings and reunions because we joked that we were the only half-sane ones there in a large group of Hungarians.

Shortly before Bruce died at age 56 in May 2009, he retired from Wright State’s University Media Production Services Department after working there nearly 30 years and was honored with the school’s President’s Award For Excellence in Human Relations. I still laugh at one of the online videos one of his former co-workers emailed to me a couple days after Bruce died; it was of Bruce and a co-worker in the early 1990s poking fun at what many were predicting would be the downfall of mainstream media and become all the rage: multimedia.

Now, we’re living in an age of multimedia to the point hardly anyone seems to talk face-to-face anymore or look up long enough from their BlackBerry or iPhone to count their blessings around them.

On Thursday at the Tempe Police Department’s Apache Substation, people will get a chance not only to sit down and eat some good food, but also to talk face to face while helping a family in need.

Barber will be there, sitting in a comfortable chair, his wife said.

And if you turn off your cell phone or iPod long enough and just listen, you might learn something.

“Tim is always wondering how he can affect someone with his story,” Autumn Barber said. “He hopes that all men will get their prostate checked by age 40 so if they have prostate cancer, it can be detected early enough before it spreads.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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