Cousins share battle against cancer

Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — For all the emotional and financial hardships that cancer can bring, it also can change a person for the better.


That’s something that 17-year-old Michael Volz has learned over the past year, and it’s something he hopes his older cousin Michael Kimmel will find out.

Volz, a student at Southridge High School, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in April 2012 after months of struggling with swelling and pain in his left leg. He began chemotherapy treatments at Indiana University North Hospital in Carmel in November, but doctors were unable to save his leg after cancer destroyed his tibia bone. The leg was amputated at the knee in February.

“I was kind of scared, because you don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future,” Volz said of the surgery. “I kept thinking about it. If so many other people can do it, I can do it.”

Volz is continuing his treatment to kill the cancer in his bones and in his lungs where it has spread. He and his mother, Stephanie Cockerham, travel to Indianapolis about three times each month. So far, he has undergone 24 rounds of chemotherapy.

It was only two months ago that Volz found out his cousin would be joining him on the long journey to beating cancer.

Kimmel, 25, who splits his time between Huntingburg and Dubois, was diagnosed with a Stage 2 brain tumor in early July after suffering a series of seizures that month. He declined to visit the hospital until one day when a family member found him disoriented after likely seizing in the shower. Soon, Kimmel was being flown to a hospital in Louisville in critical condition.

“It’s been a roller coaster ever since,” said Kimmel’s mother and Cockerham’s aunt, Rose Barkley of Huntingburg, who has stayed by her son’s side since his illness began.

Doctors performed surgery to remove most of the tumor, which had snaked through Kimmel’s temporal lobe, but to kill the problem cells completely, he will need to begin radiation therapy next month followed by chemotherapy. Though Kimmel doesn’t like to talk about his struggles and did not return several calls from The Herald, Cockerham and Volz say their experience with cancer can help Kimmel through his journey.

“We’re constantly laughing and making jokes about it,” Cockerham said. “That’s what we have to do to keep going and make it to where it doesn’t break us down. As long as we stay positive, we can help other people.”

Volz has chatted with his cousin about his fears and encouraged Kimmel to let his emotions loose to begin dealing with them.

“You can’t be negative, even when you’re doing the chemo,” Volz said. “That’s the one thing that I’ve learned about most people who have died or given up is (they had) a negative outlook on it. If you’re positive, you can get further.”

Though Volz has gone from weighing 146 pounds to 105 since his treatment began, and he is often plagued by painful mouth sores from chemotherapy and phantom pains in his missing leg, his outlook on life has greatly improved.

“I don’t like looking at old pictures with my leg. It’s not like its a bad thing, it’s just like it’s not me. I’ve changed a lot just in personality and how I think of things,” he said. “I used to be kind of a mean person, but now when I look at people getting bullied, I want to stop it. I’ve talked to a lot of people I used to pick on, and I’m good friends with them now.”

Volz has even maintained his sense of humor. He once asked the cashier at a shoe store whether he could have a discount for buying only one of a pair, he often gives his mother little scares by pretending to fall on his crutches and he still sings and dances while at home with his three siblings.

“Most people think, ”˜I feel bad for that kid.’” Volz said. “Why? I’m still getting around. I’m still hanging out with people.”

Even with positive thoughts, the financial hardships still worry the family. Cockerham’s friends organized a benefit in February and raised about $6,000 to help pay for Volz’s treatments. The money already has run out, Cockerham said, and she often is unable to work at her job at The Mill House restaurant in Jasper because of the therapy schedule. Similarly, Barkley had to quit her job working the night shift at Hurst Custom Cabinets in Huntingburg to stay available to her son, who is under strict orders not to work. The Denu Brothers chicken farm in Dubois has saved Kimmel’s former job for him.

Now, Barkley hopes to raise a few thousand dollars to help pay for her son’s radiation at a fundraiser Saturday. She and Kimmel recently moved in with her brother in Huntingburg, though Kimmel also often stays with his father, David, in Dubois. Barkley said she has not yet been able to receive any government money from Social Security or Medicaid and disability benefits have not yet begun for Kimmel.


Kimmel benefit

A benefit fundraiser for Michael Kimmel is planned for Saturday at Jasper Moose Lodge 1175, 2507 Newton St.

Barbecue half-chicken dinners with potato salad and baked beans will be served beginning at 10 a.m. Both dine-in and to-go orders will be taken. A bake sale also will be held.

The requested donation for a meal is $10. Any other donations are welcome. For more information, call Rose Barkley at 630-2930.

Contact Claire Moorman at

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