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Jackie Caplinger raises pancreatic cancer awareness while caring for husband

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- When the Milwaukee Brewers head to spring training in Arizona next month, Roger Caplinger will be there.  Caplinger has been with the Brewers organization for 30 years and currently serves as the team’s senior director of medical operations.

“We're all here to try and win a championship for Milwaukee,” he said.

In his decades with the team, he’s learned how important team work can be.

“We're all looking forward to a new season,” Caplinger said. “We're trying to build a better and stronger club.”

As the Brewers’ medical director, it’s his job to watch over the health of the players. So when he started feeling sick a little more than two years ago, he paid attention.

“I just felt like maybe I had the stomach flu, maybe I ate something wrong,” he recalled.

He called his doctor and after ten days of tests, a very different diagnosis came back. He had stage one pancreatic cancer. Caplinger’s wife, Jackie, quickly became his team manager, cheerleader and MVP.

“We were very blessed with stage one,” Jackie said. “It was caught very early.”

Caplinger is in remission now, but it was a very difficult journey consisting of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

“It's a team effort, and if you don't have your team around you, the optimal outcome may not come,” he said.

Jackie Caplinger said there were things she was faced with that she didn’t think she’d be able to do, but she surprised herself.

“You don't really know how strong you are until you have to be,” she said. “And I just went into it at 110%, and I'm like, whatever I need to do for him, and for this family, I'm going to do.”

Jackie said watching her husband’s battle gave life new perspective. She wears a purple ribbon necklace, which represents pancreatic cancer, as a constant reminder of what they’ve overcome.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” she said. “So that was one of the things with Roger, we want to pay it forward.”

She started volunteering at Kathy’s House, which is a place patients and their families can stay when they have to travel to Milwaukee to get treatment for medical problems.

“That is one of the things Roger and I had talked about many times when he was going through his treatment here in Milwaukee,” Jackie said. “How would that feel if you weren't able to be at home, and this place represents that.”

Now, Jackie can be found in the office or in the kitchen at Kathy’s House, doing whatever needs to be done.

“I work in the office. I do data entry. I've folded laundry, and worked in the kitchen, and just working and talking with patients and caregivers,” she said.

The couple has also thrown themselves into fundraising. Roger Caplinger created the event, “The Purple Tie Guy.” With the help of the Brewers, the event raised $51,000 its first year. The money will stay in Wisconsin, funding pancreatic cancer research at The Medical College of Wisconsin.

“We had a fundraiser at Miller Park with all of our major league players. Craig Counsel was gracious and Ryan Braun, and Christian Yelich, all of our guys showed up to support the Purple Tie Guy,” he said.

The Caplingers have also raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network through its annual Purple Stride walk at Miller Park.

“That's what our aim is, to help promote this disease in our state because it's the second leading cause of cancer in our state,” he said.

It’s a fight they’ll continue together.

“It's really important for a family to be together and a unit, sticking together in the toughest fight,” Jackie said.

Roger is thankful and proud to have Jackie on his team, and to see her now helping others.

“Based on her experiences with me and giving me care or just giving someone a hug, or rubbing their back, to tell them it's going to be OK,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Caplinger said he’s feeling good and working every day to get stronger. The Brewers play their first spring training game on Feb. 22.

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