A Steamboat sergeant’s fight with cancer | SteamboatToday.com

A Steamboat sergeant’s fight with cancer

Benefit is Saturday for Dale Coyner

Zach Fridell

Steamboat Springs — Sitting in the home his father built on River Road, police Sgt. Dale Coyner said there are some things he doesn’t want to know. — Sitting in the home his father built on River Road, police Sgt. Dale Coyner said there are some things he doesn't want to know.

— Sitting in the home his father built on River Road, police Sgt. Dale Coyner said there are some things he doesn't want to know.

He recalled a time he was talking to a doctor, not long after he was diagnosed with widespread cancer, when his wife Judy asked how long he would live. He threw up a time-out sign with his hands.

"I don't want to know because it's not relevant to me," he said. "I'm not anybody else, and nobody else has my body."

He knows it's serious. Diag­­nosed with stage-four esophageal cancer, Coy­­ner said he has done the research and has read that only 5 percent of people with his diagnosis live more than five years. He knows it has invaded his organs and his bones, and it's not showing any retreat despite early chemotherapy treatments. But that's not the point.

"I don't want a black date on the calendar that I'm going to mark with a big black 'X' and watch it approach every day," he said. "This thing, it might get me. But it's not going to get me today, and I don't think it's going to get me tomorrow."

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Steamboat roots

Coyner and his family are emblematic of Steamboat Springs. His grandfather was a homesteader in the northern part of the county, and his father worked as fire chief on and off for 21 years.

When he was at Steamboat Springs High School, Coyner was on the only Steamboat football team that had made it to the state championship until 2009, and he qualified to go to state wrestling his junior and senior years.

He went to college in Virginia but said he was missing the mountains and his family, so he came back to stay. He started as a deputy at the Routt County Jail in 1998 and stayed for eight months, until he was hired on to the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

Detective Nick Bosick, who worked with Coyner at the jail and transferred to the Police Department at the same time, said his friendship with Coyner has grown as their careers have advanced together. At first, Coy­ner was more reserved, Bosick said.

"You could not get him to swear," Bosick said with a laugh as he told his story in the lunchroom at the department. "It was probably a month to six weeks working in the jail, he finally said his first swear word in front of us."

Beyond his vocabulary, Bosick said Coyner also stood out because of his unusual compassion toward the inmates.

"When Dale and I worked in the jail together, he was not afraid to go in and sit down with the inmates. That was one of the things that sort of set him apart," Bosick said.

While other deputies would use the intercom system, Coyner would walk back into the living areas and have conversations.

"It's what made him successful even as a police officer, he would develop this rapport with people who have made bad decisions and got locked up in the Routt County Jail."

When Coyner applied for the Police Department, his future bosses saw similar qualities.

Joel Rae, now the patrol captain and still Coyner's direct supervisor, was a part of the hiring team with then-Assistant Chief Art Fiebing.

"I remember interviewing Dale, and when the interview was done, I remember Art and me looking at each other and almost simultaneously thinking, 'We're not going to find anybody better than him,'" Rae said. "And obviously, we haven't been disappointed, and we were right."

Still working

Coyner continued working at the Police Department and was promoted to sergeant in June 2004. He said he's had a constant battle with heartburn and reflux and was a regular user of antacid.

In July of this year, he realized he had been losing weight. At first, he attributed it to some healthy diet changes he and Judy were making together, but he also was losing his appetite and had some pain. He said he has had colonoscopies every five years after his father, Delmar Coyner, died of colon cancer. At this checkup, his doctor recommended an upper endoscopy, as well.

"I expected them to come out and say, 'You have an ulcer. Stop staying up all night drinking coffee, orange juice or whatnot,'" he said.

Instead, the doctors couldn't even fit the scope all the way down his throat because of a large mass in the way.

They took him for a CT scan within an hour, and a few more tests confirmed that the cancer had spread to his liver, kidney, hip and lymph nodes.

As Coyner describes his diagnosis, he doesn't mince words or shy away from the hardest facts. He talks about all the reasons why he's not in the highest risk group — he wasn't a smoker or heavy drinker, he's battled weight issues but exercised regularly and ran 10K in June — without showing resentment or anger. He just says he doesn't understand it.

Coyner said when he moved to Virginia for college, he went to Liberty University, "the world's largest Christian university," according to the school. He was considering going into the clergy but decided that wasn't quite right for him. The switch to police work wasn't a drastic one, he said, because he still could help people at their lowest points.

He said he also has had some long-standing questions about religion.

"I have a lot of questions about faith and about a creator's role in all this, and even now, with everything going on, I'm still somewhat undecided," he said.

The diagnosis and learning about the number of people — especially children — who die of cancer every year have raised even more questions, he said.

"There's a lot I don't know," he said. "Maybe there's a rhyme or reason."

Friends rally

Coyner has been surrounded by friends and family since the day of the diagnosis, he said. He had eight people in the room with him as doctors told him the bad news that the cancer had spread from the esophagus, and he has friends lining up to drive him to radiation treatments on the Front Range. His Facebook page, with candid but always upbeat updates on the highs and lows of treatment, is filled with comments and support.

His son Daniel, 20, and daughter Rebekah, 16, who live with their mother in North Caro­­lina, are making trips to see him, and his coworkers are even donating their time off to help him out.

Rae and Coyner explained that the city has a long-term disability plan, but that takes time to kick in, as long as several months. In the meantime, officers can use up their paid time off, and other city workers can donate some of their vacation time into a bank, for a maximum of 160 hours.

Coyner said he's seen the community rally before. His second wife, Jodie, died of liver cancer in 2005, and he saw help from their neighbors. Even so, the level of support came as a shock, he said.

"It's been very touching to see everybody come forward, and it's really reinforced our belief in this community and the fact that people really do come together and rally together when times are tough," he said.

His family and friends will hold a rally at 6 p.m. Saturday at Old Town Pub at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue to help raise funds to cover the medical treatment and to help the family in the time before permanent disability kicks in. The cover charge is a suggested donation of $5, and there will be door prizes donated from businesses across the Yampa Valley.

Marty Rotz-Kilhefner, who works alongside Judy at Yampa Valley Medical Center where they are nurses, has helped organize the event. She said she's hoping the donations will help carry the family through the hardest financial challenges, and donations also are being accepted through an account at Mountain Valley Bank.

Coyner's sister Connie Davis said businesses have been coming forward and already have donated $2,000 to $3,000 in merchandise.


Davis said her brother's strength and optimism have been with him throughout his life and have become more apparent in the past couple of months. She said the fundraiser, in addition to helping the family financially, also would be a chance for friends to surround him and personally offer their support.

Rae said he expects Coyner to keep his optimism, based on everything he has seen from their 12 years of working together.

"It doesn't matter what's going on with his life or in his professional life at work," he said. "We can have the most screwed up situation going on or the most mundane situation going on and Dale will be … full of energy."

Now, as Coyner faces a daunting diagnosis, Rae said it's time for that karma to come back.

"Dale, like I've said, has been a pillar, an example of community service almost his entire life," Rae said. "From the time of him playing on that only state championship football team … to coming back and serving this community for well over a decade, now it's time for this community to give back to Dale."

If you go

What: A fundraiser for Sgt. Dale Coyner to help with medical expenses related to his cancer diagnosis.

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Old Town Pub, Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue

Cost: Cover charge is a $5 donation, and there will be music from the Brian Smith Band, drink specials and door prizes.

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