Church family prepares fundraiser for member with rare skin cancer

Don and Reon Altgilbers walk along North Sheridan Drive before going out to run some errands. Reon has been fighting a rare form of melanoma that cost her the sight in one eye. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jun. 18, 2013 9:51 am Updated: Jul. 2, 2013 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A rare skin cancer has caused Reon Altgilbers to see the world differently.

The 51-year-old Quincy woman focuses on what she still has rather than what she's lost. When damaged nerves impaired her sight in one eye, she thanked God she could still see clearly from the other.

For the past two years, she's had 15 surgeries and innumerable medical procedures as she received care from 16 specialists throughout the Midwest in a battle against melanoma in her cranial nerve. Reon takes the medical hardships one day at a time, and her faith, family and friends have helped her cope with her disease, known as desmoplastic melanoma.

"All of the thoughts and prayers ..." Reon said. "It's hard to believe how much you do hear from people. They've been very generous."

Reon's church family at the Lutheran Church of St. John have asked the community to embrace that generosity, too. The congregation has planned a silent auction with food and children's activities at 11 a.m. June 30 at Town and Country Inn and Suites, 110 N. 54th.

The event will help the Altgilbers with growing medical expenses. Reon's husband, Don, estimates that his wife has received care costing nearly $975,000. Insurance will cover much of the total, but Reon hasn't worked at her job in home care at Blessing Hospital since her diagnosis.

Don has worked sporadically as he's cared for his wife.

"We're at the mercy of the physicians in St. Louis," Don said. "We're down there twice a week."

The trouble began in 2011. Reon had survived skin cancer two decades before, but two years ago she developed a spot on her face 5 millimeters in diameter. Reon said the cancer most likely came from a childhood sunburn. As an adult, she's never spent much time in the sun.

That small spot above the surface was the size of a half-dollar under her skin. Dr. Louis Quintero, a dermatologist with Blessing Physician Services, sent Reon to St. Louis University.

Now the couple travel to St. Louis University for most procedures, but the Altgilbers also spent two months in Bloomington, Ind., as Reon received proton therapy at the Indiana University Health Proton Therapy Center.

The Altgilbers hope doctors will declare Reon cancer-free in the coming weeks. As she waits, Reon is hopeful, prayerful and grateful for what she has left.

"I've learned to take one day at a time instead of looking toward the future," she said. "It doesn't do any good to dwell on the negative."