He would take an antacid when he had heartburn but didn’t think anything of it.
He then reached a point where he had trouble swallowing, and that was cause for concern.
He was encouraged by his family to go to the doctor and have a scope run down this throat.
Medical officials thought they were just going to have to stretch his throat.
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But during the examination, they realized the problems were caused by esophageal cancer.
Michael Hunsucker Sr. was given eight to 15 months to live, but he lived nearly three years after the diagnosis. He died May 14, 2014.
One activity Hunsucker and his family liked doing together was riding off-road vehicles.
In the fall of 2016, as a way to honor and remember Hunsucker and raise money for a good cause, his family conducted the first Backroads Ridin’ 4 a Cause charity ride.
Riding on all-terrain vehicles, utility task vehicles and four-wheelers from Medora to south of Salem, the more than 50 participants raised $1,400 for HOPE Medora Goes Pink, an annual cancer awareness event that provides gift cards to cancer survivors.
The success of the inaugural ride encouraged the family to do more.
So May 6, the second charity ride will be conducted. This time, the proceeds will go to the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour, where Hunsucker received treatment.
The center recently purchased a 4-D CT simulator with respiratory gating, which is used to treat chest and abdomen cancers. The money raised during the charity ride will go toward helping pay off the cost of the machine, which was more than $1 million.
“Could this new scanner have made a difference in Dad’s treatment? Maybe,” Hunsucker’s son, Michael Hunsucker Jr., wrote in a donation letter. “We know for a fact that it has the potential to change the outcome for many of the over 300 patients treated at the cancer center each year.”
Funds will be raised through a $15 donation for those riding a four-wheeler, a $20 donation for side-by-sides, a silent auction, T-shirt sales and other donations.
The family exceeded its fundraising goal with the first ride, so they don’t want to put a number on it this time.
“The more we can get, the more we can help,” said Michael Jr.’s wife, Shannon Hunsucker.
“All we’re really after is if we can help one person, that’s all that matters,” Michael Jr. said.
The ride starts and ends at their home at 8382 W. County Road 75S, Medora. Registration begins at 10 a.m., and the ride leaves at 11 a.m.
The four- to six-hour ride will travel through scenic Jackson, Lawrence and Washington counties. Beans and cornbread will be served at the end of the ride.
Last fall’s ride was conducted in the pouring rain, so the event is on rain or shine.
“Last year, it was pouring down rain, and we didn’t think anybody was coming,” Shannon said. “But registration started at 10, and they were rolling in the driveway at 9:30, and they just kept on coming.”
While the ride is a time to take in the scenery from an off-road vehicle, it’s also an opportunity for the participants to think about loved ones who have been through cancer.
Michael Sr. was diagnosed with esophageal cancer July 1, 2011.
Bonnie Hunsucker said when her husband would have heartburn, he would just take an antacid and didn’t think about mentioning his problems to the doctor.
“He was just old school. You didn’t tell the doctor about it,” Bonnie said.
When her husband began having trouble swallowing, Bonnie finally convinced him to go to the doctor.
The family struggled with telling Michael Sr. he had cancer.
“He was devastated,” Bonnie said. “We all were because he was a strong man, and we would have never thought he would get sick.”
After the cancer diagnosis, he was sent to Indianapolis. Doctors told him there was nothing they could do, so he was sent back to Seymour for treatment.
“They told us that esophageal cancer, it’s one that by the time they know it, it’s in Stage 4,” Bonnie said. “You very seldom find it before it’s too late.”
Michael Sr. received radiation and chemotherapy treatments. At one point, the treatment helped, and he was able to go off of it for a while.
But once he started radiation, it caused him to suffer burns to his esophagus, which resulted in severe pain and difficulty swallowing.
Through it all, Bonnie said her husband maintained a positive attitude.
“He never gave up. He fought clear up to the end,” she said.
“He was stronger than us,” said Bonnie’s sister, Penny Shelton, who is a cancer survivor.
The family is grateful for the care Michael Sr. received from the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center.
“He thought that was the best thing for him. He loved them up there. You can ask any of them. He just thought they were the best,” Bonnie said.
“They are very special people,” Shelton said.
The concern with radiation therapy for chest and abdomen cancers is that many of the tumors move when the patient breathes. That poses special problems, and larger treatment fields must be used, resulting in irradiation of surrounding normal tissues with an increased risk of complications. If a smaller treatment field is used, the tumor may move, resulting in an underdose to the cancer.
The 4-D CT simulator with respiratory gating captures a large number of individual CT scans at various phases of the respiratory cycle and allows the radiation oncologist to watch the movement of the tumor with breathing.
“It follows along and tracks your breathing to better pinpoint that tumor, so it’s more targeted to that instead of the healthy tissue that’s around the tumor,” Shannon said.
The family is glad to be able to give back to the cancer center through this year’s charity ride.
Michael Jr. said he started riding four-wheelers when he was 6, and his father enjoyed off-road vehicles all of his life. The family formed a group known as Hillbilly Outlaws, and they try to go on a ride at least once a month in the warm months.
“It’s nice to be able to give back, knowing that (off-road vehicles) were something that Dad enjoyed and (the cancer center) was something that helped Dad, so we’re hoping to help somebody else,” Michael Jr. said.
“It’s pretty cool to know that we’re enjoying something that we all enjoy, something that Mike enjoyed and giving back at the same time,” Shannon said.
Bonnie said her husband received support from HOPE Medora Goes Pink and others who knew him.
She said he would be happy to know the charity ride is benefiting cancer patients.
“He always said that it was just good to know that somebody cared,” Bonnie said.
What: Backroads Ridin’ 4 a Cause charity ride
When: 11 a.m. May 6 (registration starts at 10 a.m.)
Where: The four- to six-hour ride starts and ends at the Hunsucker residence, 8382 W. County Road 75S, Medora
Cost: $15 for four-wheelers and $20 for side-by-sides
Activities: The event also will feature door prizes, a silent auction and a dinner of beans and cornbread
Proceeds: Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour
Information: Call 812-966-0853 or 812-569-0701 or visit facebook.com/backroadsridin4acause