MARCO ISLAND — When “Disco” Dave Bierbrauer was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in October 2008, doctors gave him six to 18 months to live. Nearly three years later, Disco Dave turned 56 on Aug. 19. Anyone who’s life has been touched by cancer knows that birthdays are a big deal. For “Disco,” it was the best day of his life. After going through seven painful surgeries during the past three years to remove more than 46 tumors from his face and neck, the local DJ and golfer knows he is a survivor.
“I have been told that I was cancer free eight times in three years,” Bierbrauer said. “I beat it eight times in three years.”
Bierbrauer was declared cancer free for the last time on June 24.
Anyone who knows Bierbrauer, knows that he pushes himself to live because of his love of golf. So it was no surprise that he spent his birthday playing in a Southwest Chapter of the South Florida PGA event. He finished second in his division with a score of 76 net 66.
“It felt like a million bucks,” Bierbrauer said.
Bierbrauer works as outside service at Lely Resort. He calls his fellow workers and his members “family.” It was one of his members that convinced him to go to the hospital three years ago because of a lump on his face that had been there for a year.
“There was a lump on the side of my face and I let it go for over a year and if it was not for one of my members I wouldn’t be here today,” Bierbrauer said. “He told me to come in and seem him because he was a surgeon at Physicians Regional. The next thing I know, two weeks later I was under a seven hour surgery.”
During that surgery Dr. Jay Roberts removed 15 tumors from Dave’s face, neck and behind his right ear. Two weeks after surgery, he was going through his first rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
“I didn’t work for about 10 months at the club,” Bierbrauer said.
After that he was cancer free for nearly two years before the cancer came back. Since then he has had six more surgeries and chemotherapy sessions lasting from four to six weeks combined with 24 to 46 radiation treatments.
“I literally went through hell; experimental drugs, my last treatment was 46 radiation treatments on top of five weeks of chemo,” “Disco” said. “I don’t think anyone would go through what I went through.”
During the past three years members at Lely have seen Bierbrauer come to work straight from the hospital following his radiation treatments. When he contracted an infection from third degree burns from radiation treatments, he still came to work wearing a bonnet on his neck.
“I had to (work) to keep me going; to survive you have to do what you have to do,” Bierbrauer said. “You have to believe that you are going to beat this shit and I believe it.”
The will to get better and to live, despite stage four cancer, comes with extremely high medical bills. Bierbrauer has no health insurance, like many Americans (46.3 million according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control). Once he was diagnosed with cancer he could not buy coverage due to cancer being considered as a pre-existing condition. So, he is left to pay out of pocket for his extensive surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. Even with insurance, cancer costs are extremely high. Nationally, the cost of cancer treatment in the U.S. in 2010 was $124.57 billion, according to the National Cancer Institute. The most recent statistics for head and neck cancers only was 2006 and stated that $3.1 billion was spent. Spending varies per patient based on number of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and pill therapies.
Bierbrauer is left with mountains of bills from his extensive treatments. Though he continues to work at Lely and as a DJ with his partner Steve Reynolds, the bills are overwhelming.
On Saturday, locals will play golf for “Disco” Dave in a scramble at Lely Resort.
Organized by friends Jim Goodall and Jim Shelton, the scramble sold out in 11 days. The friends had played in an American Cancer Society golf tournament earlier in the year that they thought would help Bierbrauer, but the money was for the American Cancer Society.
“We wanted to do something for Dave and Dave only; the financial burden is outrageous and it is wrong,” Goodall said. “Dave has been a friend of mine ever since I moved here 20 years ago and I have played golf with him many times. We couldn’t figure out a better way to help him.”
The scramble had entry fees and hole sponsorship available and will have raffles and other fundraisers to raise more money. After expenses, which Goodall said were kept as low as possible, all money will be given to Bierbrauer.
“The response that I’ve gotten is overwhelming,” Goodall said. “Dave has been fighting this for quite a few years and he is doing a damn good job of it. All he wants to do is play golf.”
According to Bierbrauer his story is a successful one because he says many people would have already given up.
“I can’t express my feelings on what Marco Island and the members and guests at Lely have done for me,” “Disco” said. “I feel that when you live on Marco Island and there is a problem, everyone says ‘what can we do for them.’ Everybody sticks up for each other and I just want to say thank you for all that they have done for me in the past three years.”
An account has been set up at The Bank of America on Marco Island for those wishing to donate money to “Disco” Dave’s cancer care.