Cancer survivor turns struggle into strength

It was Valentine's Day six years ago, and Hinsdale's Bob Klinger had just recovered from prostate cancer surgery.

He eagerly anticipated his first post-op outing: Wellness House's annual Valentine's couples dinner. Mother Nature had another agenda.

"It was a blizzard, so they called all the couples and said, 'We might cancel the event,' " Klinger recounted. "I told them, 'I will crawl there in the blizzard because I need this.' They said, 'OK, well, I guess we'll have it.' That's how much I needed (Wellness House's) support at that time."

Klinger will continue his practice of returning the favor by participating in this year's Walk for Wellness fundraiser on Sunday, May 7 (see Page 22 for details).

"I think (my family and I) have participated in the walk almost every year since we moved here," the 20-year resident said. "We love doing the walk."

Until becoming a cancer patient, the yearly procession of people by his house was about all he knew of the organization.

"We would see this local event and thought, 'Oh, we could do this,' " Klinger remarked. "I just never knew what they did or never needed their services."

In the shock following his diagnosis, he joined Wellness House's men's prostate cancer support group led by counselor Michael Williams.

"I was 54 and the youngest guy there by over a decade," he said of the group that became Team Crown Royals for the walk. "I think the biggest thing for me is they were able to help me personally with social and emotional support, which I didn't know I needed. We just formed a great friendship."

Klinger sought out ways to volunteer, whether handing out T-shirts or with the Memory Tree that honors loved ones who have passed. His wife Sylvia, a registered dietitian, began teaching healthy cooking classes in English and Spanish.

"She always practices healthy eating, I just never paid attention until recently," he said.

"I learned it's kind of a grief process, but I became a better person," he said. "It's not a setback, it's an opportunity for growth and becoming a better person and helping others.

Although it was difficult to tell his two children about his cancer, having Wellness House's resources for patients' family members was invaluable.

"They immediately got on board with Wellness House, and as a family we learned how to navigate the new journey that we were all on," Klinger said.

He later connected with the nonprofit Imerman Angels that provides one-on-one cancer support, serving as mentor for others on the path.

"You just have this instant connection. You've been in the war together, you just know what each other is going through," he related.

An avid traveler, Klinger endeavors to take two international trips a year. "We were just in Tokyo, and my wife and I going back to Portugal later this year," he said.

But next month's walk is definitely a calendar highlight, as more than 50 Crown Royals' members gather in solidarity.

"People bring their spouses and friends. My wife and children walk, too," said Klinger, now five years cancer-free. "The best part is just reconnecting with the guys and putting on our purple T-shirts.

"It's like a party, that's what I look forward to most."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean