I keep looking for the silver lining in the long, slow dying of a friend who should not be dying. He’s too good a person for the world to lose. But this is how life works. Good people die every day. Babies. Kids. Wonderful people, young and old.
Now it’s Kyle Gendron, a good man in what should be the middle of his life, who has a wife and three young children he would give anything not to leave.
He doesn’t complain about his troubles, though. Maybe he does to his family, but not to us, not to the hundreds of people — old friends, new friends, friends of friends — who have been at ringside, rooting for him, encouraging him on, constantly inspired by him.
From the beginning, Kyle has been up front about a disease that’s always had the upper hand. He lives in Burlington with his wife, Kerry, and their children, Thomas, Mary Elizabeth, and Matthew. When he was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer more than two years ago (there is no stage 5), he should have, but didn’t, go down for the count.
Instead, he told friends, through e-mail and Facebook: This is what’s happening to me, I have cancer. It’s not good, but I’m gonna beat it. And he beat it back, and he beat it down, and he beat it up, punching and counterpunching for a long two years and three months.
Radiation, 45 rounds of chemotherapy, and surgeries left him weak and exhausted and nauseated sometimes. His weight fluctuated, but never his resolve. All these treatments were blows to the cancer. And at the end of each day, he was still standing, breathing and smiling and laughing and hugging his kids and his wife and posting on Facebook: “The staff was exceptional.” “Overall I’m feeling real good.” “I’ve been handling the chemo pretty well.” “Still going strong.”
It’s because of my granddaughter, Lucy, that I met Kyle. She has Down syndrome, as does Kyle’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth, and we belong to the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress. He’s the group’s official photographer, unpaid, of course, but unmatched in his ability to capture not just the physical — a child at play, a brother and sister clowning around — but the ephemeral, too — a sister’s pride, a mother’s love.
I’ve watched him lug around his camera equipment and shoot hundreds of photos for hours on end at Buddy Walks. At the annual Bruins All-Star Hockey Game. At Fenway Park. At Morning Travelers. Beautiful photos. No matter if he’d had chemo the day before.
Cancer may have slowed him down a little, but he’s never missed a beat. Never stopped caring about others. Never let cancer dominate his life.
The Down syndrome group gave him its Media Award last March, and 500 people leaped to their feet and applauded.
On Facebook, a woman who went to middle school with Kyle, wrote on his page, “Your love and kindness changed my life.”
“I am glad our paths crossed. You’re an awesome guy,” someone else wrote.
“My biggest thought right now is that somehow, someway, right now. . . . You have comfort in knowing how loved, respected, and looked up to YOU ARE!”
“Kyle, just know you made a difference in the lives of many people.”
This is the silver lining, the good that has come out of bad. All this love, respect, admiration, and gratitude for Kyle’s well-lived life.
Two weeks ago, he was told there are no more treatments. Hospice is the next step. But for now he is home.
“What an exhausting but amazing weekend,” he wrote on July 20. “We had visitors from all parts of my life, old old friends, old friends, new friends and lots of family. What more could a guy ask for. It was worth every minute. I’m still feeling pretty good. Moving slower than before, but still well enough to stay home. Thank you to everyone near and far for your support. It continues to blow me away.”