Community rallies around LaGarce
Longtime swimming coach diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer
It’s impossible to put a number on the amount of lives Charles LaGarce has impacted over the last two decades.
One measure that may prove accurate is the number of people who are reaching out to the longtime as the Monett WaterThrashers and Monett High School swimming coach, as he has been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones.
As of last week, more than $8,700 has been raised for LaGarce to help him meet his insurance deductible for the year as he recovers from a surgery and plans to start chemo and radiation therapy.
“All the fundraisers and the outpouring of support has been amazing,” LaGarce said. “I liken it to a wake or being at your funeral, except you get to have all the conversations in real time with people who love you and that you love. But, I am not giving up and my prognosis is good. The growth of the cancer is slowing and we will have the ammunition of radiation and chemo to clean up as much as we can.
“We are at the degree of severity that we are talking about management. It’s probably not in the cards for me to be cancer-free, but with good medicine and support, I can still have a good life and outlook.”
Amy Sampson and Angie Hunter have organized the fundraising effort for LaGarce. Sampson said she has known LaGarce for at least 17 years, and his impact is noteworthy.
“I heard through the grapevine about what was happening and one day went to talk to him,” she said. “All the words just came out, and it was an emotional conversation. I’ve known Charles for about 17 years and taught all his kids, and when I was training for my IronMan race, he helped me in the pool.
“If you’ve ever met him, it feels like you’ve never not known Charles. He is so loved in the community, and I want to do what I can to help. This is one of those things where you don’t think how or what, just why, and then do it.”
Sampson said the fundraisers are aimed at helping the LaGarce family in any way they need, and funds are delivered directly to LaGarce and do not go through a middle man.
“After the first payout we did, I remember his wife saying, ‘I can start paying bills now,’” Sampson said. “I don’t know what they owe and it’s not my business, but I’m happy to help him get what he needs.”
Hunter said LaGarce has played a huge role in her life, and an even bigger role for her son’s.
“I’ve known Charles for 20 years, and he taught my kids how to swim,” she said. “My son just turned 18 and has development issues, and he’s known Charles since he was 2. Charles helped teach him to swim and overcome his sensory issues of being in the pool.
“He means a lot to our family because he’s so cheerful and eager to help with a smile on his face. He never forgets a face or a memory.”
Hunter said along with the online donation option, there is a gun raffle going on now, a silent auction scheduled in December, and a swim-a-thon possibly in the works.
LaGarce said at the end of the WaterThrashers and pool season, he had felt a bit achy in his lower back and pelvis, but he attributed the pain to his age, 53, and possibly being dehydrated.
“I look after my grandson a couple nights a week, and my daughter noticed I was up a bit more than I was sleeping at night,” he said. “I told her about my pain and she said I should go see a doctor. She impressed upon me to go and they did a urinalysis and everything was fine. So, they followed up with some blood work. Three days later, they called me four times during practice, and when I got back with them, said I needed to come in the next day and bring my wife.”
LaGarce said the doctor delivered the news to him that his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels were extremely high, at nearly 550 when 8-10 is considered concerning.
“Dr. Scott McRae at Lisa Roark’s Clinic in Cassville was my doctor,” LaGarce said. “When he told us, he broke down, which made my wife break down, and it was a really emotional moment. They were really terrific in how they handled things.”
LaGarce was referred to an oncologist with CoxHealth, where on Sept. 1 he was administered a biopsy, CT scan and nuclear body scan.
Only 10 days after his first appointment, Dr. Ibrahim Abdalla informed LaGarce he has stage 4 abnormal cell growth in his prostate, which according to the scans, had metastasized, or traveled, into his lymph nodes, spine, pelvis, femur and tibia.
“When I met with him, I told him no matter what happens, I have too much going on and too many things to do, so whatever needed to be done to make my treatment successful was an option,” LaGarce said. “Nothing was off the table.”
For LaGarce’s situation, Abdalla recommended an orchiectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the testicles and cut out testosterone production, as the hormone is the main feeder of prostate cancer.
“Testosterone for me is like gas on the fire,” LaGarce said. “We had to stop that production, and I could have gotten injections to suppress it, but they would take too long to be effective. My wife and I talked about it, and we decided if they are taking something I don’t need anymore, and that will buy me more time, it’s worth it.”
The surgery was completed on Sept. 23, and LaGarce will start chemo this month and radiation in December.
“I am thankful for my proactive doctors and my daughter,” LaGarce said. “If it was all on me, I probably would have waited until something broke or it got much worse.”
Dealing with the diagnosis and quick surgery, LaGarce said his health was kept on a need-to-know basis, as his son was getting married and the Monett swim team’s invitational was just around the corner.
“I was on bed rest the day before the invitational,” he said. “I went, but no one let me do anything but sit and watch the boys swim. For me, I kind of needed that. Not being able to do what I love to do over the last 25 years would have been hard.”
At the practice following the meet, LaGarce delivered the news to his team.
“We had a heart-to-heart, and that was hard because of the reactions people have,” he said. “They care about you, and you care about them, and all those feelings bubbled up.
“I have now been blessed with an assistant, Alex Severs, who is the longest-swimming WaterThrasher we’ve ever had. With the help, I’m very optimistic that I can manage my health and still coach.”
LaGarce said through the experience of the last mont-and-a-half, he cannot overstate how overwhelmed and humbled he has felt from the support.
“People I have not seen for a number of years are reaching out and we are reconnecting,” he said. “People have also been amazing by giving us meals, cards, photos or sentiments online. I still feel some aches and pains but I am not on any pain medication, and I am able to do things like the Walk to School Week last week. It’s those little things that have still given me a sense of normalcy.”
A crowdfunding site has been set up for LaGarce at http://spot.fund/dfyMup, with a $25,000 goal.
Raffle tickets for the gun raffle are $20 for three tries and may be purchased from Hunter, Esther Hightower or Dustin Stellwagen, or people may go to the Monett Area YMCA and ask to buy tickets. The raffle will be held on Nov. 1 live on the YMCA’s Facebook page. The winner does not need to be present to win.
The auction is set for Dec. 4 at the YMCA, and anyone looking to donate items to be auctioned may drop them off at the facility by Dec. 1. The time for the auction is to be determined.
Monetary donations are also being accepted at the YMCA to benefit LaGarce.