Resident paints smile on garage to celebrate father’s improving health


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A new landmark is making residents of one community smile. Matawan native Robert Walker Jr. painted a smiley face which scales the circumference of his aunt’s garage at her home in Matawan.

The black-and-yellow painting symbolizes the progress Walker’s father, Robert Walker Sr., has made since being diagnosed with cancer more than a year ago.

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Walker said his father, a retired pipefitter and icon in his hometown of Matawan, has been receiving treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, for leukemia.

According to the American Cancer Society, leukemia is form of cancer that attacks an individual’s blood cells and results in the overproduction of abnormal white blood cells.

Serving as his father’s caretaker, Walker said he remained by his side throughout the initial stages of diagnosis, treatment and what Walker referred to as the “modern miracle,” a stem cell transplant he said his father recently underwent.

The stem cell transplant, Walker said, has encouraged improvements in his father’s health.

“I was there (in the hospital) during the worst and the best times I have ever had with the guy,” Walker said.

Since the procedure, Walker said, his father began his road to recovery with a family trip abroad after being deemed fit prior to exiting the country. 

“My aunt [Phelan] took my dad to Italy. He almost wasn’t able to go because he just had the stem cell transplant. My mom and I took turns as his caregiver in Manhattan. The whole thing was nuts,” Walker said.

“The past several years have been cancer after cancer,” Walker said as he noted that his mother, Marie, had a battle with lung cancer, which she has survived.

Walker said he has been inspired to give back to a community that has provided what he referred to as one-of-kind medical attention to his father during his road to recovery at the New York City hospital.

Participating in Relay For Life, a community-based fundraising event, and other charitable works, Walker said he will continue to “pay it forward” to treatment groups which have helped tackle his father’s diagnosis. 

Walker said the American Cancer Society has transformed the way he views cancer, and has steered him from the initial stigma that is associated with the life-altering illness. 

“The American Cancer Society, they treat people like gold,” Walker said.

Speaking about the care his dad has received at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Walker said, “It’s not like a normal hospital where you are just a number. The head surgeon will sit on your bed with you and he will get to know your whole story.”

“The first month or so he [Robert Sr.] was on lockdown. All he wanted to do was breathe fresh air. When he finally was able to, we went everywhere,” Walker said.

Walker said the hospital room became an unexpected place of residency. Once his father was permitted to leave his room, Walker continued, the father-son duo set out to explore the Big Apple. 

“Every day we woke up, I was like, where do you want to go today, man?” Walker said.

Walker vividly recalled a sentimental moment the two men had while in the hospital that he said will continue to stand out in his memory. Tearfully, Walker said the duo received a phone call via FaceTime of family members enjoying a Paul McCartney concert.

Walker said the family members who were in attendance at the concert sang “All You Need Is Love” to his father over the phone.

“We were all singing together,” Walker said. “We were arm and arm. He was bald. It was crazy. Of so many horrible memories and of so many great memories from Manhattan, this is one of the best.”

Walker said the smiley face he painted on his aunts’s garage represents happiness.

“My mom is alive. My dad is alive …. [The painting] represents the hardest times and the best times,” he said.

Walker said his father will remain a familiar face in the 2.2-square-mile community thanks to help of medical professionals who he said have treated his father like royalty. 

Walker, who said he regularly performs with his band in downtown Matawan, as well as completing home improvement projects for his friends, family members and neighbors, has made a name for himself on his family’s stomping ground.

“When (a restaurant manager in town) found out I was Bob Walker Jr., she was almost teary-eyed. She was like, ‘You’re Bob Walker’s son? Everybody loves your dad! You’re dad is the best,’ ” Walker said.

Walker said his father is the epitome of generosity, a kind-hearted soul who he said has dedicated his time and handyman services to fellow members of his community for decades.

“He’s just a good guy,” Walker said. “Everyone, everywhere loves him.”

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