To my wife Elizabeth, and my son, Braden,
Three months after I got the most shocking news of our lives, we were on a family vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. On our last day, Elizabeth, you and I decided to wake up early and take a walk on the beach at sunrise. During that walk, I broke down. I hugged you, and for about ten minutes, you hugged me back. We didn’t say a word. You just let me release all of my emotions.
However, we didn’t stay in that moment for too long. That’s because this circumstance has given me a new perspective on what matters in life.
It’s a perspective that is hard to understand and even harder to put into practice unless you face a situation like mine. But as both of you go along this journey with me, I want to make sure you absorb the wisdom that this situation has granted me.
I love you both so much.
Elizabeth, I still grin when people ask me how we met. When I first moved to Atlanta, I went to a local pub with one of my best friends, John Dowhy. Five girls walked into the bar, including you. John introduced me to all of you.
When I asked John about you, I realized you were the woman he told me he recently dated for a few months, but it didn’t work out.
I told him I thought you were beautiful.
Then, we kept bumping into each other. We realized we had a lot in common and became best friends – walking our dogs together, going skydiving, and hanging out regularly. While I started to really like you, you resisted and wanted to stay friends. Then, I bought two tickets to South Africa and told you to come with me.
You said, “We are going as friends, right?”
I said, “Yeah, sure.”
It was a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, and we talked the entire time. It was amazing. During our two-week trip, our relationship changed. Within six months, we decided to get married and buy a house, and you got pregnant.
Twelve years later, I still love everything about you. And Braden, you are now 11 years old, and you have added so much love and joy to our family.
Together we’ve built a beautiful life and created so many memories. But in May of 2021, our lives came to a screeching halt. For two or three days, I had this gurgling in my stomach. I went to the doctor, who thought it was acid reflux. He gave me a couple of pills and sent me home. But the gurgling didn’t stop. So, I went back to the doctor for an X-ray. After the X-ray, he told me it looked like I had a massive lump on my colon and liver and suggested I go to a Gastroenterologist right away. That was on a Wednesday. By Friday, my doctor confirmed that I had late stage 4 colon cancer, which spread to six areas of my body.
Very active and health-conscious, the diagnosis felt surreal.
Then, on that walk in Hilton Head, it finally hit me. The reality sunk in of what the future could hold. But after that moment, my new perspective kicked in, and I started to live my life a little differently.
Before my diagnosis, I took life very seriously, and I had a lot of stress. I felt as though I was the man of the house and had to provide for my family. Work was very important to me. Keeping the house maintained also mattered to me. I was a very structured person. Now, work or chores don’t stress me out one bit. I live a stress-free life because I realized most of what previously bothered me doesn’t really matter.
Throughout this last year, my faith has grown a lot deeper as I began to notice all of these signs that God is giving me to show me he is with us and watching over us. For example, when we were on that trip in Hilton Head, we were waiting to go kayaking with this other family. When the mother told me they were from Houston, I told her I was going there the following week.
She said, “You have cancer.”
I said, “How’d you know?”
And she said, “Nobody goes on vacation to Houston. They typically go to one of the cancer hospitals.”
When I told her I had stage 4 colon cancer that spread to six areas of my body, she said her husband got colon cancer, and it spread to four places of his body.
He wasn’t with them at that moment, so I asked, “Is he still around?”
She told me, “Oh yeah! Five years ago, they gave him two years to live, and now he is out playing golf.”
It was so random and one of many moments that have led me to feel closer to God.
Also, I don’t let obstacles stop us from doing what we love: travel. Traveling opens our minds and hearts and allows us to escape the stressors of everyday life. In our house, I have a map with little pins that represent everywhere we’ve been and everywhere we want to go. Daily, I look at that map.
I told my doctor I would do whatever it takes to ensure that we travel every year. I was and am determined.
When I started chemo, I told the doctors to throw everything at me.
They looked at me and said, “This is going to kick your ass. You’re going to lose your hair. You will lose about 30 pounds. You’re going to be throwing up every day. You won’t want to get out of bed. Your bones are going to hurt.”
I told them, “I don’t care.”
When I receive my chemo treatments, I arrive with a smile on my face. I bring my laptop, put my headset on, take conference calls, and plug away.
Every other Tuesday, I consult with my doctor, and one day he looked at me and said, ‘Man, you are crushing this.”
I still have my hair. I have never been sick a day on chemo, and I have actually gained a little weight.
After eight treatments, four of my six tumors shrank. From there, the doctors dropped me down to a lower dosage to maintain the tumors. They told us not to expect more shrinkage from the lower dose. Two months later, to the doctor’s own surprise, all six tumors shrank.
Elizabeth, both of us were in tears. The doctor told us that I was doing so well I could skip a treatment and go away for three weeks. Over Christmas break, we went to Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Mo’orea for 15 days.”
It was so beautiful, and we had an incredible trip.
Elizabeth, this is not a challenge we planned to face, but you are my rock. Without you, I would be a mess. You help me with my schedule and keep me organized. Every day, you ask how I’m feeling, how I’m doing and what I need. With all my heart, I know if there’s one person on the planet that I can count on, it is without a doubt you. You are my biggest cheerleader, soulmate, and the absolute love of my life. You have stood by me through everything. You sit with me in the doctor’s office with your laptop open, pecking away at what seems like 100 words per minute. You ask questions that I don’t think of or forget. You tell the doctors what you notice or pains I may not have remembered. You are my everything, and I couldn’t do this without you. We pray together every night, laugh, watch TV, and talk for hours. God has put you on this earth for me.
Braden, throughout this year, you’ve become more of a jokester, trying to make me laugh. Also, our conversations have exploded. You used to be a kid with one-word answers.
I would ask you, “Hey, how’s school?”
You’d respond, “Good.”
Now, you will tell me this or that happened.
Also, this year you have been more attached, affectionate and aware of my feelings.
Remember when I started kickboxing again? It’s a sport that I have done for many years, and I missed doing it. It was a bold undertaking. My first class with you was an hour-long session, but I only lasted about 30 minutes. My core hurt like hell. It was extremely tight, and I felt like I had a basketball in my stomach.
That evening, when you and I got home, you made fun of me for not finishing the class. I know it was innocent, but it hurt more than the class itself. During dinner, your comments weighed heavily on my mind. Just a year prior, when I was at my peak condition, I would have never have let anyone outdo me.
That day I felt broken, and Braden, you saw the sadness in my face and realized you hurt my feelings. You stopped eating, came over to hug me, and apologized for what you said. Your hug was sincere, warm, and strong.
For just the second time since my diagnosis, I broke down into tears. I didn’t want to do it in front of you or mom, so I got up and went to the bathroom. So many emotions ran through my mind, but the one that hit me the hardest was the thought of never feeling your touch again. I want you to know that your sweetness, love, and enormous heart carry me through my journey and carry me as a father.
Elizabeth and Braden, I know this year has been incredibly difficult for us all, but both of you have been amazing.
Unfortunately, the doctors already told me that my body will likely one day build a resistance to the chemotherapy, and eventually, the cancer will overtake the chemo. However, I try not to give too much thought to that negativity.
With both of you by my side, I am not giving up, and I am using the power of positivity to my advantage. But no matter what, I hope we all always remember the perspective I have right now – how I live right now as a 49-year-old husband and father fighting for his life.
I want both of you to always remember that there will be ups and downs in life. There is going to be loss of life, jobs, and relationships. But whatever obstacle you are facing, my wish is that this past year I have shown you that you can take a moment to grieve, just like I did that day on the beach in Hilton Head, but then you must move on. You must always pick yourself back up, stay positive and pursue happiness.
Every day, I wake up thanking God for my life as I visualize my tumors getting smaller and smaller. I wake up excited for the day to come.
If chemo can’t cure my cancer, I firmly believe my happiness will because happiness is what I have learned life is all about. It is all that matters. And luckily for me, my happiness is time with both of you.
I love you.
We got this.
Update: Kris passed away on 2.20.23. If you would like to support his wife, Elizabeth, and young son, Braden, there is a GoFundMe here