Mike Hill watched and smiled at his wife, his high school sweetheart, from underneath his camouflage baseball hat.

Hill hung back from the crowd as his wife scurried around the makeshift outdoor stage at the Harvey County Relay for Life, making last-minute preparations of the cancer benefit.

Mike’s wife’s, Callie, has been a Harvey County Relay for Life participant and organizer for years, and she had walked with family members and friends.

Callie is a 17-year survivor of Hodgkin’s disease.

But this year was different.

This year, Callie almost lost Mike. This is the first year they would both wear purple survivor shirts and walk the opening survivors lap together.

As the sun dipped in and out of clouds and cast shadows on the Newton High School track, there were few signs of the struggle the Hill family had been through in the last year, except for the six-inch scar on Mike’s neck, mending underneath his summer tan.

In December, 10 days before Christmas, Hill had a brain tumor the size of his fist removed.

Callie, 35, and Mike, 38, were born on the same day three years apart and met when they were teen-agers.

Callie was in high school and Mike was going to school in Kansas City when Callie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1990, an illness usually found in men in their 50s.

“It was January, and there was ice and snow on the trees,” Callie said whipping tears from underneath her sunglasses. “My sister Carla compared me to the trees. She said I might bend, but I wouldn’t break.”

Callie had to quit basketball in the middle of the season to start radiation and chemotherapy.

“I had to grow up very fast,” Callie said.

Mike came home on the weekends and helped take care of Callie when she got sick from the chemo.

“He would hold my puke pan when I would get done with chemo,” she said. “I was pretty sick, but he stuck with me the whole time.”

Mike discounted the idea being Callie’s caretaker was heroic.

“It was harder on her. I was in Kansas City going to school. I didn’t have to deal with everything. ... I knew she was the one,” he said.

Callie and Mike were married 11 years ago. Although doctors told her she might not be able to have children because of the cancer treatment, the couple now have two girls, ages 9 and 6.

Callie and Mike live with their two daughters in Whitewater.

Callie is a social worker, and Mike works for the city of Whitewater.

Callie attends yearly visits with her oncologist, and there have been no signs of the cancer returning.

Life seemed to be going well for the family.

Then Mike started having headaches. By late fall, they had become so severe he was having trouble functioning. He was treated for high blood pressure, but when the headaches persisted, he was sent for a CAT scan, and then an MRI.

The tests showed a mass on Mike’s brain.

“It brought some memories back,” Callie said. “I remember being so fearful for him and my family.”

Because of the location of the tumor, doctors feared Mike could have a stroke.

He was in surgery the next day.

“I thought Merry Christmas to me,” Mike said. “I was scared, but I had to put faith in the man upstairs.”

The surgery waiting room was filled with about 65 people waiting for word and wishing the family well.

When all the doctor came out of surgery, he said, “Are all these for you?” Callie said.

“Mike is very much loved,” she said. “It is awesome to have all that support.”

The headaches had all but disabled Mike. Little had been done to prepare for Christmas.

His oldest daughter came into the SICU after his surgery with one of Mike’s friends and said, “Now you will be able to put up the Christmas lights.”

When Mike came home from the hospital, a gang of his friends were on his roof putting up Christmas lights.

“Words cannot describe it,” Mike said. “What have I done to deserve this for me? It is a debt I can never repay.”

His friends and family came through for the family for Christmas, loading their living room and tree with gifts and cards.

The family would not find out until a couple of weeks later the pathologist report said cancer, but the doctor was optimistic he had gotten the whole tumor.

Scans six weeks later confirmed Mike was cancer free, and he was spared Callie’s agony of chemotherapy and radiation.

Callie said she strongly believes God had a plan for the couple. She thinks her cancer prepared the couple for their reversal of roles in December.

“I think this experience has brought us closer as a couple,” Callie said. ... “We have grown in our faith. We were pretty faithful before, but I thank God everyday I have him.”

Six years ago, Callie became active in Relay for Life. She gradually became more involved. This year she was activity chairwoman, and next year she will co-chair the event.

The Hills’ family and friends continue to support them. They organized five teams to walk in the Relay for Life on Saturday in Newton.

Mike and Callie said they are thankful for each other, thankful for their lives and thankful for all the support they have received. Mike said he was humbled to walk the caregiver’s lap at the relay with his mother and Callie.

But both also said they there are still fears about the future and the lingering question — will the cancer come back?

“It is very scary. I have my husband whatever happens,” Callie said. “We have to rely on the strength the Lord has given us, but it is scary it might come back. ... I think our biggest fear is not necessarily the treatment. I have been through that, and with the relay I know there are so many medicines to help cure cancer. It is the fear of losing the battle and not being there for my family and friends. But you can’t live your life in fear.”