I met Chris via an online dating site. We always joked about how we met. I would tell everyone how I made all the first moves and he would just laugh and try to argue that wasn’t the case…even though it was. He was a single father of one. That’s what initially drew me to him. He loved being a dad and he went above and beyond to take care of his daughter in every way. He went to every game, every award ceremony, and she always came first. I loved that because that’s how I felt about my son. Handsome, kind, and sarcastic; I knew early on that he was the yin to my yang. He loved any type of sport, he could repeat stats and tell you random things that you would never have known. He was spontaneous and impulsive which was a far cry from my grounded and practical nature, but it worked. It not only worked I would dare to say that we were perfect together. He taught me a lot. How to stop and smell the roses. How to enjoy the experience of moments and how to really take them in. My career-driven, workaholic self was starting to see the world in a whole new way. He adored my son and soon after my son started to call him dad.
His daughter became mine and we were a perfect family. I used to ask him at random times if he was happy and he would always reply with “Are you crazy? Life couldn’t be any better!”
Then it happened. Cancer came and life would never be the same.
I will never forget the month of December 2016. Chris urinated blood and after a mis-diagnosis and a few scans we later found he had a 9 cm mass on his kidney. Chances were high that it was kidney cancer. It seems like for the most part these kinds of things are found by accident and on a Friday so that you have to wait over an entire weekend to find out prognosis. We went to a local urologic oncologist. It was indeed a 9 cm mass and he had his kidney removed the next week. He was 41 at the time, in good health, and never had any health issues besides a cold or so. He was determined to be stage 3 CCRCC grade 4, and we were told he had a small chance of it coming back but that it had not spread and we would just be in surveillance mode.
It was now January of 2017. All was well the first few scans in April and August of 2017. I have to say we lived life to the fullest during that year. We took trips monthly. We were impulsive. We spent money and time. I’m so glad we did. In December of 2017 it came back. He was having back pain and it turned out to be metastatic kidney cancer to his spine. A scan revealed that it was in his bones, lungs, adrenal glands, and lymph nodes. We decided to go to Stanford. We wanted the best of the best working his case. Our new oncologist at Stanford received all of his scans and reports and told us on our very first appointment that he had a “spot” on his hip from the beginning and we were never informed. Stage 4 from the start and we did nothing because we trusted our first doctor. We had no time to waste. We immediately got cyber knife radiation on his spine and started CABO. Almost immediately he started to have trouble walking. Soon a walker was needed consistently. The side effects from CABO started to appear. Loss of appetite, weight loss, abscesses, dehydration, food taste changes….but in April 2018 we learned that it was working. Tumors had reduced by 50% and some had disappeared. We were happy treatment was working. We took a trip to Lake Tahoe, our favorite vacation spot. I filled the car with walkers, food supplements, and his wheelchair. I took him everywhere that weekend. We played slots, ate when he could, and we had late night talks. We tried to forget that cancer was dominating our lives. We were determined to beat this.
Then came the summer of 2018…it was brutal. In and out of the hospital 6-7 times for C-diff, sepsis, infections, etc. Each time he got more and more deconditioned. Soon he could barely stand…he was skin and bones. By Sept of 2018 after a CT scan we learned that not only did the CABO stop working and that the cancer was now in his liver…but that he also had an issue with his heart. His heart was pumping at half the strength that it was in February. Since he started CABO his pulse was always around 130+. Due to that, his heart started to get tired and it’s function and strength reduced. The next day we got an echocardiogram, that same day he was admitted for heart failure. During the next month we would continue to be in and out of the hospital and we would learn that his heart failure could not be managed. We would use diuretics to remove the excess fluid, just to have him get dehydrated and have to add the fluid back in. It was a constant cycle. It became clear that we were not going to win this battle. During this time he was understandably fearful. His smile started to fade. He was consumed in deep thought. He had all the hope in the world but knew that things were not looking good. My husband was a fighter…he never wanted to give up. I knew that he wanted to try everything that he could. I convinced his oncologist to give him a round of OPDIVO…even though we really had the slimmest of chances of having it work. He received his treatment and soon after we came home with hospice. That night he stopped eating…he stopped drinking a few days later. He became incoherent and delusional. He couldn’t remember who I was at times and thought he was back in high school. He spoke of seeing people in the room and seeing places likes beaches, etc. I knew the end was near. He passed the next day. He died at the young age of 43 from kidney cancer in late October 2018.
Chris fought with everything he had. He never complained, never felt sorry for himself (although he had every reason to) and to the outside world he would tell everyone that he felt good. His reality was quite the opposite. He was in pain every day, he struggled every day and never wanted anyone to worry about him. He was loved and cherished by many. His memorial was standing room only with people waiting outside the church to get in. That day was filled with tears, bursts of laughter, and personal stories about him from family and friends. He touched so many lives that there were some people I had never met before that day. He is thought about every single minute of every day.
Chris’ oncologist called me the day he passed. He said something that stays with me. He said “Mary please know that I will keep fighting for Chris, every trial, every procedure, everyone I see battling this disease…I am still fighting for him and them. I will take a piece of him with me in that fight and I will never forget him.” That hit me like a tidal wave. I feel I need to do the same. I will find a way to help the kidney cancer community and I will keep fighting this fight for those like him, for their family members, caregivers, and survivors. I will never stop fighting for the love of my life, my everything, my husband Chris Rodgers.