“I loved being a mother. I loved being there for you all. I loved seeing you guys grow up, and I loved being a part of all of the things that you guys were involved in. And when you’re that involved with your children, leaving them sooner than you wanted to is really painful.” – Debra Kiel
Words by Kiel Colon Cancer co-founder, George Kiel.
That was a portion of my last intimate conversation with my mother before she fell victim to colon cancer. It truly defined her character. My mother was my #1 fan, my #1 supporter and my #1 cheerleader. The mother of three children – myself and my two sisters – Mama Kiel would often joke with me and say, “You, George, are my favorite son.” To which I would always respond, “Mom, I’m your only son.”
As if it were yesterday, I can still remember the phone call I received from her on a random January 2013 weekend night in the parking lot of a restaurant I had planned to do dinner at with some friends that evening. What I figured would be a typical phone call from my mother turned into something that killed my spirit – a proclamation that she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer earlier that day.
What ensued was a year of ups and downs for my iron-willed and determined mother. She had her good days, but they were few and far in between. The chemo treatment became too much for her body to handle and intermittently she spoke of giving up. As if she knew of her own forthcoming passing, my mother – through her sickness – made her last rounds during 2013 in a farewell tour-like fashion. Although the MD Anderson staff in Houston told her not to travel, she surprised my sister, Dawnielle, by unexpectedly showing up to her senior night basketball game in Austin, Texas; she returned to Austin eight months later to celebrate my youngest sister Valarie’s 19th birthday with her; she also played host during the holidays by cooking meals and entertaining the extended family as if the cancer didn’t exist; she even gave a heartwarming eulogy for my grandmother at her funeral (a little under a year before my mother passed), from a seated position at the funeral because she was too exhausted to stand.
When the basketball games, birthdays and holidays were over, the exhaustion and feebleness would be written all over her face behind closed doors.
On March 15th, 2014, my mother lost her battle with colon cancer at the age of 58 and I often wonder, as many people do when they’ve lost a loved one, what could’ve been done differently? What if she was more physically active early on in life? What if she maintained a healthier diet over the years? What if she took the time to get a colonoscopy at the age of 50? I’m a true believer of when it’s your time to go, it’s simply just that. But if my mom, and anyone else who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, was educated on the behavioral risk factors of the disease at an earlier age, could lives have been extended? Not necessarily because one can be as healthy as the greatest athlete on Earth and still be diagnosed with cancer. Yet, this deadly disease that took my mother’s life is one that is beatable, treatable and genuinely preventable. Imagine losing a loved one so dear to your heart and finding out only after their death that it COULD’VE possibly been avoided. That feeling is beyond devastation.
In the midst of this tragedy, I immediately began to think of triumph. Initially, I knew that I wanted to raise awareness for colon cancer – the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the United States – and somehow expand on her passion of interior decoration since she was extremely talented in that arena.
On Mother’s Day 2014, I proudly announced an extension of my mother’s legacy through my love for basketball and footwear in the form of the first annual Kick & Roll Classic 3-on-3 Basketball Event. The event was a first of its kind – a basketball tournament that primarily focused on what participants wore on court, sneaker-wise, and secondarily focused on basketball. Registration for the event opened up on June 6, 2014 – my mother’s birthday – and in less than a month we had 40 teams enrolled to play in the Kick & Roll Classic. The event, held on July 12th, 2014 at the Round Rock Sports Center in Austin, Texas, generated over 500 attendees and a large portion of those persons received one-on-one colon cancer teachings from registered nurses at our “Code Blue” education stations. With my mom’s passion for interior decoration in mind, a big portion of the funds generated from the event went directly towards the furnishing of homes for several families through Austin Habitat for Humanity.
Though the event was absolutely a success, I longed to make a larger impression in regards to eradicating colon cancer. I wanted to let the world know that the cancer that stole my mother away didn’t have to strike so commonly in the world and that we could make a change starting with ourselves as far as healthy lifestyle choices. Since the first Classic, KCCF has hosted two more Classic and hosted programs and additional awareness events/initiatives, such as our Kick & Roll Open Gym tour and the “Blue Knots” initiative to help raise awareness and funds for colon cancer and its research.
Because of the ignorance that most of us embody in regards to the disease, I am on a mission to push colorectal cancer down the list of most frequently diagnosed cancers through education, public outreach, research, and various other initiatives, but mainly through the encouragement of conquering its most prevalent behavioral risk factors – physical inactivity, overweight/obesity and diet with the Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation
Oftentimes, I don’t view my mom as dead and gone. I truly believe she was rewarded an everlasting trip on a first-class flight to a beautiful people-only, 5-star all-inclusive resort called Heaven. If I won that deal, I wouldn’t come back either.
Until my boarding pass is stamped to take flight to that resort, I will forever keep her name relevant through the Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation. And the foundation will be a direct reflection of her – helping any and everyone it comes in contact with.