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Family’s battle underscores need for cancer awareness

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The Bossier Parish community will gather for a night of remembrance and celebration tonight as Relay for Life 2014 kicks off at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs.

Relay For Life is an opportunity to not only unite the community to honor cancer survivors, but to raise awareness on ways to reduce cancer risks and also raise money for the American Cancer Society’s fight against the disease. The American Cancer Society Relay For Life movement is a symbol of hope with a shared goal to end a disease that threatens the lives of many people, including Bossier Sheriff’s Deputy Preston Parker.

In December 2006, Parker experienced pain in his groin and spent months visiting doctors to find a diagnosis and relief. Finally, a trip to the urologist began putting pieces of the puzzle together.

“They made me take a pregnancy test. I thought that was weird, but I did what they asked me to do,” he said.

Parker was told to immediately go to the hospital for an ultrasound. He and his wife, Emily, waited for what seemed like forever for the results.

They were taken into an office and given the news – Preston had cancer.

“We were devastated,” he said. “I had testicular cancer…it was very similar to what Lance Armstrong had.”

Parker spent the next week undergoing multiple tests and surgeries. Two weeks after his diagnosis, Parker received his first chemotherapy treatment.

“Chemo is pretty rough,” he said. “I had the typical nausea, but stayed pretty sick the whole time.”

He received treatment over a 12 week period and, in that time, found himself facing many obstacles.

“I didn’t want anything to eat,” he explained. “I went in weighing 180 to 190 pounds just out of the police academy and  dropped down to about 120 pounds after treatments.”

Then his kidneys stopped responding and they came very close to complete failure. His immune system was practically gone, too, which segregated him from visitors (except for his mom and wife, who wore protective clothing and masks to see him).

Doctors said his next step would be a blood transfusion, a critical point in his treatment.

“They told my wife that if I made it through the night, I would survive,” Parker said.

That’s when, Parker said, his family pulled together and started praying harder than they ever had. Although he doesn’t remember much from the 10 hour procedure, Parker said he vividly remembers his wife praying over him.

Things started turning around for the better.

“God opened another door for me,” he said. “I woke up feeling like a new man…like nothing had ever happened to me.”

His road to recovery began with donuts and a quart of chocolate milk. Parker had, in fact, survived cancer.

However, he and his wife received more news that, Parker said, was even more devastating than a cancer diagnosis. Doctors said it was unlikely they would ever have children on their own.

“We had the desire to have children of our own and we believe in a God that is much bigger than any science,” Parker said. “We kept our faith in God and trusted his plan.”

In September 2011, Preston and Emily welcomed their first child to the world, a son they named Luke. Now, almost three years later, the couple is expecting their second child in October.

Preston’s wish is that his story might simply be an encouragement to someone else battling cancer.

“I came so close to death’s door,” he said. “Trust your doctors, but lean on God more than anything. Put your trust in him and everything will fall into place as it should.”

He also said a strong support system is also what got him through the toughest times.

“If it wasn’t for the unconditional love and constant prayer, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “My wife and parents were so crucial in getting me through this.”

Relay for Life of Bossier Parish will begin Friday, April 25, at 6 p.m. in the parking lot at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs. Relay for Life events are an overnight community fundraising walk with activities throughout the evening, including a survivors lap, luminaria ceremony after dark and a fight back ceremony.

This event is in a family-friendly environment and open to the entire community. Survivors, caregivers, and supporters are invited to participate in the annual event.

For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org.