Man turns cancer fight into positive new purpose

Bob Berry of Waterloo strums a guitar inside his home on Monday. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Music is a powerful thing. It makes you feel. It is therapeutic.

For Bob Berry, 52, of Waterloo, there has been an intense passion for music since he started playing guitar at age 10. All these years later, after playing in well-known wedding bands and teaching guitar lessons — and now fighting cancer — the love for music remains.

Now, Berry wants to share this passion with children dealing with long-term illnesses such as his own, offering music as a means to help them fight through the same adversity he has experienced over the past six months.

“I can’t imagine being a child and having to go through something like this,” Berry said. “If nothing else, I’d just like to give them something else to think about for a while.”

When Berry was diagnosed with rectal cancer last November, his daughter, Linze Zarzeck, recognized her father’s musical passion and came up with the idea to have the family wear guitar pick necklaces in support of his battle.

The Berry family soon created a “Pick On Cancer” support page on Facebook, offering a place for friends to share pictures of themselves wearing the necklaces as Bob continued treatment.

Former St. Louis Cardinals baseball player and current coach Jose Oquendo wears a “Pick On” guitar pick necklace. (submitted photo)

The idea soared in popularity much like a perfect rock song rapidly climbs up the music charts. Bob’s wife, Chris, said more than 400 guitar pick necklaces were distributed before “Pick On” officially gained nonprofit organization status last month.

Even well-known St. Louis athletes and personalities have gotten into the act, with Facebook photos recently posted of St. Louis Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo, Cardinals mascot Fredbird and others wearing the necklaces.

Bob and Chris say the intention of “Pick On” is to raise enough funds through sales of these colorful guitar pick neck- laces to purchase guitars and autoharps that can be donated to area hospitals for youngsters to play — with the aid of guitar teacher Bob and some of his musical pals.

“I want to get them to play, if they’re able,” he said. “Others, I’ll go slow with.”

The necklaces sell for just $3, and can be purchased by sending donations to PICK On, P.O. Box 392, Waterloo, IL 62298. The necklaces will also be available at Ms. Middy’s Salon & Tan, Waterloo Automotive and Columbia Animal Hospital as soon as next week, Chris said.

For more information on the necklaces, call 939-7716 or email pickoncancer@gmail. com.

“Bob is looking forward to beating cancer and seeing the look on those children’s faces when they play their first song on a guitar,” Chris said.

Working in construction most of his life, Bob had dealt with his share of aches and pains without much thought.

“I was the healthiest guy. I never spent the night in a hospital in 52 years,” he said.

Bob had experienced hemorrhoids on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t until one particularly painful day on the job last year that caused concern.

Bob’s wife made him get checked out at MidWest Hemorrhoid Treatment Center in St. Louis.

“I’m glad I went,” Bob says now.

During his second treatment at the center, something serious was detected. A large tumor required immediate removal.

“This came that quick,” his wife said with a forceful snap of her fingers.

Working with the medical staff of St. Luke’s Hospital, Bob successfully completed the first round of chemotherapy and underwent successful surgery to remove the tumor. He now must wear a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

“It’s been pretty intense,” Bob said. “The support from everyone has been amazing. I’m indebted to many.”

As with anyone diagnosed with cancer, however, the battle continues. Bob began his second round of chemotherapy on Tuesday.

“It’s an ongoing fight,” Chris said of her loving husband. “That’s why you have to continue to ‘Pick On.'”

The Berrys also want to use this ordeal as an opportunity to spread awareness for rectal cancer.

“Once you hit 50, get that colonoscopy,” Chris said.

Other possible warning signs, in addition to family history, include fatigue and abnormal blood in the rectal area.

For more information on this and other types of cancer, visit online at

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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