Sam Geib is accustomed to keeping meticulous notes to document crucial information for his job as a senior construction superintendent. But, these days he’s adopted the same approach to a much more personal goal – helping his wife, Michelle (Barrick) Linhardt-Geib, survive breast cancer. The Blue Springs couple took a devastating diagnosis and forged forward, adopting the approach, “it’s treatable, it’s beatable.” The 48-year-old’s advice? “It’s hard, don’t get me wrong,” Michelle said. “But, don’t let it stop your life.” Sam, 49, said Michelle is “pretty strong. After all, she’s married to me,” he joked. But, Michelle gives Sam credit for her strength. “He keeps me going,” she said.
Despite a mammogram last year that detected nothing, Michelle discovered the lump by accident as she scratched an itch. The triple negative variety, with which she was diagnosed this past September, is the most aggressive form of the disease. Without treatment, Michelle was given only a few months to live and would now be facing the end.
Although this form is especially hard-hitting, the news came with a lucky twist – it’s the most reactive to cancer’s most popular treatment – chemotherapy. A recent doctor’s visit at St. Luke’s East in Lee’s Summit, where her cancer is being treated, showed the tumor was responding to the treatments, shrinking from about 12 centimeters at diagnosis to its current two centimeters.
The couple has forged ahead, completing eight chemotherapy treatments of 20, to be followed by surgery to remove lymph nodes and a double mastectomy, hopefully in May. But the timeframe will depend on her overall health throughout the process. Radiation will be the final stage of treatment. Michelle said she would be further along in the treatment process if not for low blood platelets and low white blood cell count that lead to chemotherapy delays. Michelle said she hopes to return to work in June, following her surgery. Doctors have explained that most people can manage to work during radiation treatments.
“It’s a lot of work,” Michelle said during a recent interview, adding that keeping a positive attitude helps her cope, but is also sometimes a challenge. “That’s the only way you can get through it,” she said.
Sam, who developed his note-taking techniques nearly three decades ago when he began working for Cornell Roofing and Sheet Metal in Independence, now uses the technique to track Michelle’s appointments, procedures, treatments and side effects. So far, he’s filled nearly 25 handwritten pages. The information is beneficial medically and physically, but an unexpected component makes it relevant emotionally. Sam admitted he sometimes journals about the emotional toll of cancer, both for himself and for Michelle.
The Geibs draw strength from their Christian faith, which helps guide them and provides a critical form of support and comfort. Sam said he knew when he and Michelle were married 15 years ago, their relationship was lifelong and takes to heart the vows, “for better or for worse,” hoping the worst is Michelle’s cancer battle. “God has a purpose for everyone,” Sam said and added, “This might be my purpose.”
While the two credit each other with the support they offer each other during the process, they admit the complicated process takes a village. Two childhood friends, who graduated with Michelle from Blue Springs High School in 1989, have held a series of fundraisers attended by the rest of their support system – friends, the couple’s combined three children, five grandchildren, other close and extended relatives and neighbors.
Michelle said she and Sam were surprised by the efforts of her friends who planned the events. “We were shocked,” Michelle said of Suzette (Hedges) Parks of Lee’s Summit and Keri Gillpatrick of Kingsville, Mo. “They just took over.”
In November, Michelle’s friends held a live jazz music event featuring a drawing, food, drinks and a silent auction. Earlier this month, the couple attended the latest in a series of fundraisers at Tamashi Black Belt Academy in Lee’s Summit. The fundraiser drew about 40 people, mostly family and friends, who learned basic self-defense techniques, which they practiced on each other during the class.
Combined, the events have raised nearly $6,000 of a $10,000 goal. In addition to the events, the friends turned to an acquaintance who custom designed T-shirts that feature a drawing of Rosie the Riveter and the word, “Believe.” They’ve sold about 300 shirts, both at events and via a Facebook page the friends created titled “Fighting With Michelle.”
The fundraisers are intended to offset the reduction in the couple’s income since Michelle’s disease prevents her from working her job as an escrow processor at Alpha Title in Kansas City.
“We hope everything we’ve done has relieved some of the pressure for them as a family,” Parks said. “But she’s not in the clear yet,” she added, adding that more fundraisers are planned after the holidays.
Without treatment, doctors gave Michelle only a few months to live. If she had opted out of treatment, instead of planning her future, she would be facing the end. But, Michelle said her diagnosis has brought affirmation of what’s most important.
“I’m glad I was living life to the fullest before this,” she said. “I could have missed a lot of life.”