BY SUZANNE LINDLEY | OCTOBER 2, 2013
This blog is almost too painful to write; it is one that is full of friendship and wonderful memories, of hope and inspiration, but that also ends in the deep sorrow of loss. Colon cancer brought our friendship together and has now torn it apart. If you read this, please know that colon cancer is preventable. Know your family history, learn about the warning signs; get a colonoscopy.
Four years ... they drag by and speed away like only time has a way of doing. I've met a lot of friends in that time and experienced a lot of wonder. I've also lost friends, too, and felt the emptiness and heartache that ensues for the days, weeks and months afterward. In living fully with metastatic cancer, I've tried to keep the reality of mortality in check and at the same time tucked in the shadow of living.
I met Jennifer Lebret-White four years ago through Imerman Angels and from there our friendship blossomed. Our first phone conversation was one that I will never forget. Her strength was evident as she talked about her husband, Kevin, and his already six-year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. She proudly described their two young daughters.
I immediately was taken back to my own diagnosis and the fear of not watching my daughters grow up. Not long after, I started emailing and talking to Kevin, too, and he quickly became MY angel. I knew how lucky I was to have these two angels as friends. Kevin had been a tough marine turned elementary school teacher. Both personas were exemplified in his cancer fight, and when we talked I often heard the tough and determined mixed with the gentle and caring. We met for the first time on Texas soil just before a Dallas Cowboys football game in late 2010. The Cowboys were a mutual infatuation for us even though Kevin lived in Washington!
Months later he and Jen came to The Liver Symposium in Dallas and we rode in NASCARs side by side. I remember looking out the speeding car window and the grin on his face as his car surged slightly ahead of mine. We later found roses that were left behind from a wedding and together we used the petals to write HOPE across the hotel lawn. We talked about life, our kids, the burden we were placing on our spouses, our love and admiration for them, our hopes, plans, dreams, goals and even our deaths. I told him I hoped to know when to let go and how to die peacefully. He told me he wanted to go out fighting. We both agreed that neither of us wanted it to happen any time soon.
In February 2011, we marched the halls of Capitol Hill together and he and Jen wrote HOPE in the Capitol sand. When we held a liver seminar in Spokane later that same year, his representative's legislative assistant was there to welcome the crowd. We visited the river where Kevin canoed, and I marveled at the daring adventure that would be. Then we walked quietly through the park, and I snapped pictures as Kevin, Jen and the girls wrote HOPE in the playground sand. Life seemed so right.
Then just before Christmas, Jen called to tell me he had been admitted to the hospital and had an infection. He was sick; very sick. She was told he wouldn't make it to see Christmas. He did. And he made it clear that no one should make predictions about his life expectancy ever again. He rallied. He inspired.
I got to see both Kevin and Jen in Colorado for another liver cancer seminar and then as the summer of 2012 dawned, Kevin was making his way through Texas for Cowboys training camp. We met him in San Antonio and he came camping with my family. We climbed to the top of Ol' Baldy and put cancer firmly in it's place; writing HOPE in rocks on the mountaintop. Kevin came home with us and joined in the chaotic comforts of our home. He wasn't feeling well by the end of the trip and was fatigued and chilled. He was admitted to the hospital as soon as he returned home. Again, he rallied back.
Just this past February he flew to New York City and modeled during NYC Fashion Week. He shared his story and rocked the house. He also made even more new friends and touched the hearts of everyone he met. We took pictures along the streets of New York. He went with friends to Ground Zero.
We talked about the next time we would meet and as his tumors quickly became more aggressive, there was a great deal of hope put into that plan. Time became more precious. I kept hoping; believing that once again Kevin would rally back and even as Jen shared that times were getting tough, I believed that once again he would be OK. I wanted to believe that. Perhaps I needed to believe that. I was sure he would make it through Christmas.
We shared sporadic IM's through AOL. Sometimes I couldn't understand them. Sometimes they seemed all right. Jen messaged a few times that he was awake and that I could call. I tried to capture his voice in my memory, afraid that each time we talked it might be the last. I ended every conversation with "I love you" and our last phone call was no different. How fortunate to have Kevin and his family in my life... four amazing, incredible years of friendship.
Kevin died September 11, 2013 at 9:11 a.m. He leaves behind his beautiful wife, Jen, their two adorable daughters, Natalie and Hailey, loving family members and an army of friends around the globe.
Suzanne Lindley has been living with metastatic colorectal cancer since 1998. She is the founder of YES! Beat Liver Tumors, an organization for individuals living with metastatic liver tumors, and an advocate for Fight Colorectal Cancer.RELATED POSTS