Cancer claims Carbondale man, past Relay For Life speaker |

Cancer claims Carbondale man, past Relay For Life speaker

John Palmer, right, with his friend of many years, Brad Hendrick, at the Carbondale Rodeo in July 2006, shortly after Palmer was diagnosed with terminal cancer. (File photo)

CARBONDALE, Colorado – He beat the odds for nearly three years, but longtime Carbondale resident John Palmer finally lost his battle with cancer Monday evening. He was 62.

Palmer was well-known in the Carbondale community, where he had lived since the early 1970s.

He was a former longtime member of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities board of directors and served on the Carbondale town council in the mid-1990s during a period of intense growth in the community.

He was also a founding member of community radio station KDNK, and co-founded the Carbondale Spring Talent Show with friend Pat Noel in the late 1970s. The event later became a fundraiser for KDNK.

But many beyond the Carbondale community came to know him in more recent years as the “miracle boy,” as he began calling himself after he found out he had cancer in summer 2006.

Diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer, doctors gave him three to six months to live. Instead, he discovered a new zest for life, re-established and smoothed over old relationships, and spent much of his time doing research on alternative treatments.

“There are a lot of ways you can take news like that,” Noel said. “He took it very courageously and heroically. Instead of falling into despair, he did quite the opposite.”

Palmer shared his compelling story at the Roaring Fork Relay For Life last August. Palmer was invited to be one of the keynote speakers at the American Cancer Society fundraiser.

“He really wanted to share his story, and he was so gung ho about the relay and what it’s all about,” said Julia Spencer, who chairs the Roaring Fork Relay For Life. “He offered what he could so that others might not have to go through what he was going through.

“When he spoke at the luminaria ceremony, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd,” she said.

The event includes a ceremony at dusk where hundreds of luminaria are lit in honor or memory of someone who has had cancer.

Former co-workers at Valley Lumber, where Palmer had worked for many years before his cancer diagnosis, formed a relay team, and Palmer himself joined a team of local cancer survivors for the event. Last year’s relay raised a record $160,000.

“Despite all of the misery I endured, as ugly as it was, in a lot of ways it’s been the best two years of my life,” he told Carbondale’s Valley Journal newspaper at the time. “It’s given me the chance to assess my life … I’ve traveled. I’ve skied. I’ve made my amends. I’ve forgiven others.”

He also credited a supportive network of friends and family, including daughters Robin and Aurora and stepson Othar Lawrence, and the broader community, for keeping him going.

“He was a great dad, a fun friend and good talker,” his daughter Aurora said Tuesday. “He was so tough, and always downplayed the cancer and how bad he felt. He was always apologizing for feeling sick, but he handled his illness so well.”

This past winter, Palmer skied an impressive 86 days and continued his volunteer work teaching disabled skiers with Challenge Aspen. A full obituary appears on page A40.

The Roaring Fork Relay For Life returns to Carbondale this summer, Aug. 7-8, at the track at Carbondale Middle School. For more information, visit, or call (970) 948-6350.

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