Rick Sparks looks forward to every day

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rick Sparks of Manila, father of two daughters and grandfather of three, said every day for the last four years has been Father's Day for him.

"Every day I get up and I thank the Lord I made it through the night and look forward to what the day has to offer," Sparks said. "They are usually pretty eventful."

Sparks doesn't know exactly how he will celebrate Father's Day 2009, but he is positive it will be a good day.

Rick Sparks and family.

Sparks is a four year cancer survivor.

"I'm here thanks to the determination of my wife and daughters, the prayers of my friends, and the strong family support I have received," Sparks said.

He and the former Dianne Bruce have been married 38 years. They have two daughters, Angie Gipson and Jennifer Jackson. Angie is married to Kris Gipson and they have one son, Matthew, 6. Jennifer is married to Jeremy Jackson and they have two children, Connor, 6, and Emma Claire, 3.

Manila is home to all of the family giving Sparks the opportunity to spend plenty of time with his grandchildren.

Mr. and Mrs. Sparks graduated from Manila High School, both their daughters graduated from Manila High School, and now their two grandsons are students at Manila Elementary.

Mr. Sparks has always been active in the community and school. He has served on the Manila City Council, coached his daughters elementary basketball teams, coached their softball teams in the summer during their growing up years and was always there for school events.

In 2005 Mr. Sparks was going about his life as usual, running his own insurance business, and supporting the Manila High School.

He had overcome four heart attacks, having his first one at the age of 43. He underwent quadruple by-pass and two different episodes with stints.

Sparks said the heart problems did not prepare him for the news of his cancer.

"Nothing compared to the news of my cancer," Sparks said. "I had never felt the sense of helplessness I had. I couldn't have made it without Dianne and the girls."

In February 2005 Sparks was announcing play by play basketball games during a regional tournament held at Manila.

He had been having some back pains and was being treated for kidney stones for several weeks before the tournament began.

One night of the tournament he announced two games but the back pain became so severe he had to leave the game and go home. Later that night he went to the emergency room and nothing showed up to indicate he had kidney stones. A cat scan with contrast showed he had five tumors in stage four cancer.

He was soon diagnosed in Jonesboro as having pancreatic cancer.

"We were told I had four to six weeks," Sparks said. "I was so heavily medicated I really did not now what was going on. I only woke up long enough to get more pain medication. Dianne and the girls got together and found a place to take me for a second opinion, Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis."

It was there, after a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began treatments.

He returned to St. Louis every three weeks for a fairly new chemotherapy.

"With each visit it appeared the tumors were shrinking," Sparks said. "After six treatments, tests showed the tumors were gone and I have had no signs of tumors since."

His cancer has been classified as in clinical remission.

"Later this month I will go for more tests," Sparks said. "If there are no signs of cancer for another year (June 2010) it will be a cure."

Sparks said it is sad but he lost a good friend to cancer undergoing similar treatments as his own.

"There is no answer why some cancer responds to treatment and others don't," he said.

Sparks says busy. He babysits with his granddaughter but it is hard to tell which one of them takes care of the other.

"Emma takes care of Papa," he said. "I never thought I would have my fingernails painted but she likes to fix my hair and paint my fingernails."

Sparks also enjoys watching his grandchildren play sports on the summer leagues. He became a photographer and home movie buff when he started having children. He helps his daughter Jennifer in her business, Jennifer Jackson Photography. He enjoys doing the editing and helps with ordering. He enjoys converting home movies and VCR tapes to DVDs and restoring old pictures.

He has read more books over the last four years than ever before. He has enjoyed trips with the family.

In addition to his wife, daughters, and grandchildren, his sister and niece, Sandra and Shonda Sparks, have been a big part of the family and have been very supportive over the last years.

"I've learned more about living and the importance of family and faith in the last four years than all of the others put together," he said. "Don't miss the little things of life."

Sparks agreed to share his story in an effort to encourage others facing life threatening decisions.

"Always get a second opinion, never give up, and enjoy each day of life," Sparks said. "Learn to depend on your family and never take them for granted."

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