The Charles County Sheriff’s Office is exploring a different way of protecting the community they serve during this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Officer Kevin Makle’s wife, Crystal Barnes, was just shy of turning 32 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, Makle said, along with chemotherapy. It worked, and she was fortunate enough to go into remission for a little more than four years.

Then she went for a checkup, Makle said, and found out the cancer had returned. This time, it had spread to her pelvic bone. She had surgery for that, but unfortunately she was not so lucky the second time around: The cancer continued to spread to her lungs and rib cage. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation again, but still it spread to her liver.

Chemotherapy to treat the cancer in Crystal’s liver didn’t work, Makle said, and on Feb. 14 this year they were told to look at placing her in hospice care. She died March 10.

“It was just a couple of weeks,” Makle said.

To help raise awareness about breast cancer in honor of Crystal and the disease’s myriad other victims, on Friday Makle was presented with a rolling reminder to get checked out regularly in the form of a police SUV decorated with the pink ribbons associated with the disease. Makle, a community policing officer who has been on the force for nine years, will drive the car while he’s on his beat in several Waldorf communities.

With the vehicle, Sheriff Troy Berry (D) said, it was important to bring awareness to a “devastating disease.” He called the car “a reminder of those who unfortunately lost the battle with cancer,” as well as a reminder for people to perform self-examinations and attend their yearly checkups. That goes for men as well, Berry said, as breast cancer can affect all genders.

Makle, unfortunately, is far from the only person on staff at the sheriff’s office to have suffered the loss of a loved one due to cancer, Berry said.

“This vehicle is a way to bring awareness and let people in the community, and our staff, know that we support them through these most difficult times, and at the same time we’re trying to bring awareness to this disease,” Berry said. “Having a safe and secure community is one thing, but we want to have a well community too.”

Makle said the agency and his fellow officers always went above and beyond to look out for his family, both while Crystal was ill and after she passed away.

“The group I work with, they’re always helping out,” Makle said. “What we were going through at that time, they were always at my house to make sure that I was OK, the kids were OK, make sure we didn’t need anything. They’re very supportive.”

Since Crystal’s untimely passing, spreading awareness about breast cancer has become a personal mission for Makle and his three children, ages 16, 13 and 9. Crystal was “a fighter,” he said, and although losing their mom has been tough they’ve got her fighting spirit.

“When the subject comes up, they always tell the story of their mother” Makle said of the kids. “She was a fighter, and she fought til her last day.”

Makle said he’s looking forward to the conversations the car will spark. He said it’s a good tool for starting an otherwise tough talk.

“Just go get tested,” Makle said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are. Cancer basically has no age.”

Twitter: @LindsayIndyNews

Twitter: @LindsayIndyNews