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Lesson In The Loss Of A Legend

May 18, 2011, 6:12 PM by Jaine Andrews, Katie Janssen

Lesson In The Loss Of A Legend
SIOUX FALLS, SD - The death of former Minnesota Twins player Harmon Killbrew on Tuesday is causing many people to stop and remember the baseball great.

But for one Sioux Falls man, Killebrew's death offers a positive chance to raise awareness about a cancer he knows only too well.

Killebrew didn't go public with his private battle with esophageal cancer until last December. But in the five short months since that announcement, 50-year-old Mike Holliway has had a bittersweet connection to one of baseball's best.

A life-long car lover, Holliway has always been fascinated by what's under the hood. But it took some rumbling from his own internal engine to make him take notice.

"I'm the kind of guy that used to keep a bottle of Rolaids in every car that I drove in the console and in the head of the bed because in the middle of the night I'd have the bad indigestion," Holliway said.

Just as he was getting ready to wed his new bride, Marcia, three years ago, the rumbling became a roar.

"All of a sudden I started having a pain a little bit higher than where indigestion would be. Something that I knew wasn't right," Holliway said.

It wasn't. Holliway was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Once considered rare, it's now a diagnosis a growing number of people are receiving.

"Now we realize that a lot of esophageal cancer seems to be caused by a chronic irritation of the lower esophagus, symptoms from acid reflux," Sanford cancer specialist Dr. Michael Keppen said.

Most cases aren't caught until the late stages of the disease.

"Other esophageal patients refer to it as 'the beast.'  You hear so much about breast cancer that impacts a lot of women, and men as well. But esophageal cancer is so much more deadly at times," Holliway said.

Thankfully, Holliway's cancer was caught early. Chemo and radiation, along with surgery to remove his esophagus, got his health was back on track. And while his story has a much different ending than Killebrew's, he's surprisingly grateful for their shared struggle.

"It's given me a new direction in life and realizing how short life could possibly be. I'm going to make the most of every moment going forward," Holliway said.

Killebrew's death Tuesday was one of more than 1,400 esophageal cancer deaths expected this year. Holliway is hoping the awareness his death has helped create will help change those numbers for the better.

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