Strength in the face of pain
To withstand danger and fear
To do what one thinks is right
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -Nelson Mandela
As Anne Sexton wrote: It is in the small things we see it. A child’s first step or a journey alone… Later, if you have endured great despair, then you did it alone… Later, when you face old age and its natural conclusion your courage will still be shown in the little ways…
Courage, a strong dignified word with so much meaning. Not ever to be used lightly. For now my personal story has been told, and I have loved sharing it with you. It is time to share the story of others battling this thing we call cancer.
Courage is the first word that comes to mind when I think of my best friend Patricia and her husband of 24 years, Kevin Kelly. “Tishi” the name her twin gave her as a toddler, and I have been friends since second grade when we became pen pals from different elementary schools. We eventually met up in junior high school, and have been like sisters ever since.
Tishi and Kevin started their life together like many young couples. They married on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May of 1997. Who would have ever thought by August of that very same year, Kevin would be fighting for his life. Diagnosed with Leukemia, he needed a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. Everything they thought their futures were going to be was forever changed in an instant.
What followed were so many scary questions and unthinkable thoughts. For the next twelve months, the University of Pennsylvania was Kevin’s second home and Dr. Porter was Kevin’s new best friend.
After the transplant and a long, isolating recovery, Tishi and Kevin had a few years with limited health issues while living their young lives together. Kevin had the standard graft vs. host problems that come after a bone marrow transplant, but nothing he could not handle.
The love between them grew and it was stronger than they ever thought possible. They had a beautiful daughter Riley. They purchased their first home, and shortly thereafter there was the arrival of Mia – the first of many Rhodesian Ridgebacks that would rule the Kelly household.
However, the problem with cancer is that it does not care how you are living and loving your life, how happy you are, what plans you have, or that you do not have time to stop to deal with a recurrence. Kevin’s Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Philadelphia Chromosome Positive did just that, it reared its ugly head once again. The treatments, doctor visits and the waiting started all over again. By this time they had another son, Porter (yes, named after his doctor and now close friend) and another Rhodesian, Simba.
As Kevin and Tishi’s friends, we were young as well, beginning our adult lives, building careers, getting married, having babies and buying homes when all of this was happening. Looking back, I do not think we fully comprehended the magnitude of his illness or the strain and pain that his treatments had on him, and the emotional toll it took on Tishi. We were all very supportive of course, but quite honestly, none of us could even entertain the idea that he would not beat this.
He never complained or even talked about his illness. He began a new daily regimen of pills, with side effects that caused pain and other diseases that are just as bad as the one he was initially battling. I often thought, how do you make such a huge decision in your 30’s? For Kevin it was very simple, I have to take “A” to get to “B” to keep living this amazing thing we call life. And that is just what he did. His resolute answer, “ok, let’s do this!” This is when Kevin went from cured to treatable. It was a very scary time being told that treatment can only keep your cancer “at bay” and it cannot be cured.
So when I think of courage, the first person I always think of is Kevin. There are not enough keystrokes to tell you his entire story. As Tishi has put it, they have been on the “edge of a cliff” more times then they would ever care to admit. Kevin has battled treatable Leukemia for over 20 years now. He was told he would live for 5 years after his diagnosis. He has since gone on to have three beautiful children, Riley, Porter and Quinn, earn a bachelor’s degree, coach collegiate and intramural basketball, enjoy multiple promotions at work, adopt many dogs (some all at the same time) because his family begged him, and yearly family vacations. He never misses a day of work, never misses Porter or Quinn’s basketball games, never misses a date night with Tishi, or a run with Riley. When you see him, he always has a smile on his face.
Kevin has done all of this while constantly being in some type of treatment, battling some type of side effect or new disease as a result of a long term medication. All of the issues, pain, concern for his own health, and his family, and he never complains. He lives life everyday in the most positive way he can. He is the face of strength, fight, faith, determination, love and pure selflessness. He is the real deal. He is the face of courage.