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Bill Dixon doesn't like to talk about the pancreatic cancer that has spread to his liver and most likely will claim his life in the near future.

The former Niagara-Wheatfield High School wrestling coach and longtime volunteer with Niagara-Wheatfield Amateur Athletics wants to enjoy his remaining time and spend it with his bride of three years, Robin, and the rest of his family, which includes four sons from his first marriage, four children he inherited when he got together with Robin, and his 1-year-old granddaughter, Grace.

But avoiding the subject becomes futile after a while. That's what happens when your body is being ravaged by an ailment that usually afflicts senior citizens, not a man who turned the big "5-0" just three days ago and is used to living a busy, active life.

The loss of appetite, the pain, nausea and constant fatigue are perpetual reminders of his terminal condition.

"If it's God's will, it's God's will. I'm not angry," said Dixon, who graduated from Niagara-Wheatfield in 1972 before returning to his alma mater as an assistant wrestling coach in 1983 and succeeding program founder Armand "Ace" Cacciatore as varsity coach in 1990. "I wish I had a longer life to live, but not everybody has control over it. You get what you're dealt and just trust God will keep you here as long as possible."

Everyone has different ways of dealing with imminent loss, and Dixon's family and friends are no different. Feelings of shock, sadness, even denial, are only natural as is the desire to give the loved one a meaningful, tangible gift that lifts spirits and provides a reason to keep on going.

That is one of the purposes of the benefit being held in Dixon's honor Friday in Wheatfield Post 1451, American Legion, 6525 Ward Road.

The 6 p.m. event serves as a belated birthday party for Dixon. It's a chance for him to hook up with family and friends, including former wrestling proteges, and to reminisce. It's a chance to laugh, cry, and even say goodbye. The event is a celebration of life -- the life of a man who dedicated his free time to helping area youths reach their maximum potential in sports and in life.

"I just hope I can last. I get real tired and they like to party," said Dixon, who coached at Niagara-Wheatfield until 1998. He also coached at the old Niagara Falls High School and at North Tonawanda before heading to N-W. "They have a good time. I hope I can hang with them . . . but my wife will make me stay up."

The event, which is also a fund-raiser, is open to the public. Tickets are $20. In addition to a catered dinner, there will be live music, birthday cake, raffles, and a silent auction. Guests don't need to stay through the whole event to claim prizes.

Dixon said he learned about his illness in May, when a persistent backache was followed by sudden weight loss. Dixon feared it was an ulcer. A CAT scan revealed the tumor on his pancreas and cancer in his liver. Chemotherapy failed to slow the growth, as the tumor increased in size during his eight treatments. He couldn't receive his ninth treatment due to a low white blood cell count.

"Bill was always a battler and fighter, and I know he'll handle it really well. I know he's going to give it his best shot," said Cacciatore, his good friend, who coached Dixon during his scholastic career and brought him on as an assistant coach.

Dixon has lost about 40 pounds and is on disability from his job at Precious Plate. He has come to grips with his situation.

"He (just) wants to see his friends," said son David, an organizer of the event. "It doesn't have to be just his friends, but hopefully most of them will show up. Just give them a happy setting and hopefully they won't be depressed about it."

For ticket information, call David Dixon at 308-7799 or Robin Dixon at 773-5277. Those who wish to send a donation to Bill Dixon can make out a check for the William Dixon Benefit and mail it to David Dixon, 1619 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, NY 14301.

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