Kansas Biggest Rodeo

Phillipsburg, Kansas

August 1-3, 2024

Tough Enough to Wear Pink

Gary Conner is feeling better, after having completed cancer treatment in January.

The Phillipsburg, Kansas man was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in August of 2022, after finding a lump in the thyroid gland in his neck.

Doctors removed the cyst in September, and he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which wrapped up in January.

A native of McCook, Neb., he moved to Phillipsburg in the 1980s, when he married Starla, a native of Phillipsburg.

He is self-employed, doing construction and carpentry work, and because of treatment, hasn’t been able to work since September. He’s tried to do little projects, but doesn’t always feel good. “Some days I feel better than other days, some days I feel terrible,” he said.

Gary received funds from Hope in the Heartland, the not-for-profit organization that gives monetary donations to people in the area battling cancer. Hope in the Heartland raises its funds primarily through the Phillipsburg Rodeo’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink night, held on August 3.

The money really helped. “It was useful,” he said. “It helped us buy gas to go to treatments, and it helped us with bills. It was sure nice and very much appreciated.” Paying medical bills has whittled down the family’s savings.

He and Starla’s blended family includes five kids: Scott Eller and his wife Abbey, Phillip Eller and his wife Haley, Tiffani Killion and her husband Pete, Allen Conner and Natalie Conner. They have nine grandkids.

The family struggled with the emotions of Gary having cancer, Starla said. All kinds of things went through their minds, including that Gary “wouldn’t be around for the kids and grandkids,” she said.

“There was a lot of worrying going on for a while,” Gary said. “But we sat down and talked. We are a Christian family, and we did a lot of praying.”

With treatment over, Gary is focused on healing.

He lost more than 25 lbs., in part because of difficulty in swallowing. Towards the end of treatment, Gary wasn’t able to take in much more than liquid nutrients. He’s been able to eat and begin to gain back his strength.

This year, Tough Enough to Wear Pink night at the rodeo will mean a lot more, and he plans on wearing pink.

“I’ll definitely wear a pink shirt and support the heck out of it. They supported me.”

The Phillipsburg rodeo raises money for Hope in the Heartland funds by donating one dollar for everyone wearing pink to the rodeo on Thursday, August 3. Funds are matched by these local sponsors: A&A Distributing, Amber Wave, B&B Redimix, Inc., Farmers State Bank, and Rodgers & Associates.

Since the rodeo began its Tough Enough to Wear Pink night in 2006, over $135,000 has been raised.


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