Survival with a flair, a smile and a very healthy sense of humor
To get to know well-known islander Kip Buntrock, you need to meet at least one of his many friends — and his father, too.
Sherri Kubesh is the practice administrator for Regional Breast Care and Gulfstream Urology, divisions of 21st Century Oncology in Fort Myers. She’s been there a year and a half, “and I plan to work here until I retire!” she said with a laugh, “not any time soon. It’s an amazing organization, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
She met Kip Buntrock in 1989 when she was executive director of the local American Cancer Society (ACS) unit and he had just gone through a bout of testicular cancer. Kip was elected to the Lee County ACS board in 1970 and they’ve been friends and worked together on cancer issues ever since.
Soon after she was hired, Kubesh was given the charge of working up a brochure on 21st Century Oncology. The company started with just two physicians — Drs. Katin and Dosoretz — in Fort Myers 28 years ago. There is now a staff of 2,000 with over 200 facilities in 17 states.
She felt it was important to not only feature the physicians and staff, but actual survivors.
Dr. Hanus, a radiation oncologist in Naples is one of the features along with his father who is a prostate cancer survivor, thanks to his doctor — who is also his son — curing him. A striking black woman on one of the center pages of the eight-page brochure, Sybil Edgar, is a breast cancer survivor. “An amazing woman,” Kubesh said, “who’s part of the Reach to Recovery team and as strong an advocate against breast cancer as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
But for the cover, Kubesh had someone special in mind.
“Kip’s personality is just larger than life — I wanted him and I wanted his dad, too, to show that cancer doesn’t just affect the patient but the patient’s family as well. I asked them if they’d be a feature, but I didn’t tell either one of them that they would be on the cover!”
“Kip and his mother, Arly (one of the original Three Crafty Ladies) were both in the hospital with cancer at the same time,” Bob Buntrock said. “My visits to the hospital were like those of a doctor making rounds!”
Arly was diagnosed in November of 1986 and Kip in June of 1988. She lost a lot of weight, he said, but she never lost her hair; and she slept a lot.
Arly died in November of 1988.
“We’d compare notes on who was the sickest,” Kip commented, “and what’s making us sicker — the chemo or the cancer?
“One thing I’m so thankful for: I got to spend a lot of the last five months of Mom’s life with her.“
Kip’s diagnosis came on the heels of Bob’s having bought a small Bed & Breakfast in Northern Minnesota. His kids — Kip, Robin and Dave — went up to help clean out and finish the get-ready stage. A couple of days before they left, Kip, took part in a “neighborhood” softball game during which he ran smack-dab into another runner, winding up with a very sore testicle, for some reason. He went to the doctor when he got home, had some tests, and the physician gave him a pregnancy test — no, he wasn’t pregnant, but he did have cancer. Apparently that is (or was then) the test of choice for male genital cancer.
Now, two decades later, Kip just received his 20-year pin from the American Cancer Society and has been named an Honorary Life Member of the Lee County Unit of the American Cancer Society board, which means two things — he’s a survivor (the most important) and he no longer has to go to every single board meeting!
That’s not to say he won’t continue to advocate for ACS — no way! — he goes whenever he’s needed to wherever he’s needed — to speak, to offer encouragement to other men when they’re diagnosed (especially young ones — Kip was 27 when he got his diagnosis — unusual for testicular cancer which is rather rare itself), to do whatever they need. “It’s very special to have a ‘friend’ to talk to though an episode like this — I wouldn’t trade anything for the friend I made just over the phone who called me when I was first diagnosed.
“Dad was always a public speaker when I was growing up,” he continued, “and I just thought that was what I’ve gotta do.”
He’s good at it too.
And just to give you an idea of that larger-than-life personality Kubesh mentioned and where it may have come from, when Kip was diagnosed, Bob (a several-times-over National EightBall Champion and developer of Loggerhead Cay condominiums in 1972) sent him a one-ball key ring!
Kip’s response was to call his dad and ask what he thought about his getting the fake one they’d offered to replace what was removed. Bob’s answer? “No. Get two fakes — then you’ll have three!” Best pick-up line ever, according to Kip.
It’s a little easier to believe after reading that, but the most popular speech that Kip delivers lasts about 20 to 25 minutes and is called “How much fun I had having cancer!”
Kip isn’t the only one who is available to charitable organizations to help raise money and offer encouragement. Bob does his part, too. He’s organized 8-Ball exhibitions in which he takes on all comers and shoots one-handed against the opponents’ two hands. If he get beat, he doubles the opponent’s contribution. If the opponent loses, he or she doubles his or her contribution. In his past six exhibitions he’s raised more than $7000 to aid in the fight against cancer, winning 220 games while losing only 37. Kip may take after his father in the public-speaking arena, but “definitely not in pool” says Bob. “He’s strictly my Event Manager!”