‘If I don’t survive this, I want you to know I lived more in my 36 years than most do in 80.’ It was time to let go.’: Woman shares love story after losing husband to pancreatic cancer

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“I met my husband, the love of my life, just 3 months after I graduated high school. My best friend, Sandy, worked with him and she set us up. I can still picture him standing on her front porch (she’d invited him over for a ‘kick back,’ old school talk for a small gathering of friends), hands shoved in the pockets of his baggy jeans, wearing a Spitfire shirt, and his jet black spiked hair.  He was handsome – and I mean really handsome – light eyes, dark hair, broad shoulders, and a smirk that made you wonder exactly what he was smirking about. We spent the evening talking about everything from our families to what we wanted to do with our lives. Around 4 a.m. we had our first meal together, drive thru Jack In The Box, that we ate in the front seat of his old Saturn coupe.

Looking back on that night, I know that’s when I fell in love, but I told him I wasn’t interested in anything serious because my family was planning to move from California to Texas in the next year. That, of course, went out the window pretty quickly! Within weeks, we were spending all of our time together, going to the movies (our favorite date night), going out to dinner, and hanging with our friends. Doing all the things young kids in love do.

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A little over a year later, on our first official anniversary, and about 1 month before I was moving, he planned a surprise for our anniversary. He was still in college back then and had a class later that day so we took an early drive up California’s Highway 4.  It’s a beautiful area of California with rolling hills and vista point turn-outs with breathtaking views. We pulled into one of the turn-outs to watch the sun rise; it was a gorgeous September morning that is forever imprinted in my mind.

While standing on that vista, he gave me my anniversary gift, which was a Black Hills gold ring I’d seen in a store recently. I was so surprised! I loved it! We went back to enjoying the view. He had his arms wrapped around me from behind when all of a sudden he spun me around! He was on one knee and was holding the most beautiful marquise cut solitaire engagement ring.  To this day I can’t tell you the words he said except the part where he said, ‘Will you marry me?’ Without the slightest hesitation, and with tears in my eyes, I screamed, ‘YES!’

The next year was spent planning our wedding and getting used to living together. My family made their move to Texas and I moved into Kyle’s parents’ house with him while we saved for our first apartment. Those few months sharing his childhood bedroom were some of the most trying of our relationship with many, many arguments, but somehow we managed to survive and, on August 20, 2004, we were married.

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That first year of marriage flew by in a blur. We were both working full time, me in real estate and him at a local warehouse. He was still a full time college student working towards becoming a history teacher. It’s funny to think about those days when our only responsibilities were rent and our pet bird, Napoleon, that Kyle had bought me our first Christmas (we lived in an apartment and couldn’t have any other pets).

Shortly before our second wedding anniversary, Kyle dropped a huge bomb on me. He told me he decided to drop out of school and pursue a career in law enforcement! He had never expressed an interest in LE before so to say I was surprised would be an understatement, but there was nothing I could do to change his mind. Kyle wasn’t the type to do anything without fully weighing all options and possible outcomes. And once he decided to do something, he followed through! After surviving (barely) the 6-month police academy and finishing his degree, at 22 only years old he was sworn in with the Alameda County Sherriff’s Office on December 28th 2005. I was now a very proud Deputy Wife.

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In those early days, we had everything we needed. We were getting our footing on the whole young and married life, starting our careers, and balancing our work, friends, and each other.  Our world came to a screeching halt about a week after he graduated when I got the devastating news my mother had passed away. We immediately jumped on a plane to Texas – it was Kyle’s first time ever flying – and arrived at my family’s home in the very early morning. When we lay down to get some sleep, I rolled over and looked at Kyle and told him I needed to take my baby sister home with me.

You see, I am the oldest of six kids, five of whom were adopted by my parents; I am the only biological child. My dad died suddenly when I was 9 years old so my mom had raised us on her own. When my mom died, all my siblings were old enough to be on their own except for Destani (Dest), who was only 5 years old at the time.

I told Kyle no one would blame him if he cut and run because he did not sign up for taking in my baby sister and upending our entire life but he looked at me and said, ‘Nope, I’m not going anywhere.’ So there we were, 21 and 22 years old and now (very proud) parents of a very tenacious and precocious 5-year old and living in a one-bedroom apartment!

In 2006, we grew up fast. We bought our first house and shortly after decided it was time to start expanding our family. In December of that year we welcomed our beautiful and brilliant daughter, Zoey, and about two years later had our sweet little man, Cohen. The next few years flew by in a blur. Like all couples and families, we had ups and downs but we were building a life we both loved. With all the craziness of kids, work, and responsibilities, we never forgot about each other. We always made time for ‘us,’ whether it was sneaking off to see a movie or a simple trip to the grocery store, we genuinely just loved spending time together.

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In 2015, we were a crazy-busy family of five with a sophomore in high school and two pre-teens; sports and work were about all we had time for. Then, in September, we got a call that year Kyle’s older brother had a medical emergency and passed away unexpectedly. He was a single dad to a 14-year old daughter. Alyssa was a freshmen in high school and, not only cousins, but best friends with Dest, our oldest. The night her dad died, Alyssa came home with us to decompress and have a safe space to grieve. As Kyle and I went to bed, I looked at him and said, ‘You know,’ and he said, ‘I know.’ We made it legal and became her guardians. Alyssa completed our family in a way I cannot describe, it is like when something is missing but you don’t know until you find it. That is our Alyssa.

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To say life was crazy for us would be an understatement, but one thing remained the same, and that was Kyle and I were solid.  We did life together. We grew up together, we raised our crazy gremlins together, and we loved our family and friends. We loved our life! We never missed an opportunity to adventure. We took the trips, we made the plans, and we never failed to tell each other how much we meant to each other.

And then on October 10, 2018, we got the blow I am still recovering from. That day, it changed everything. Forever.

After complaining of stomach pain for about 8 months, Kyle went to the ER thinking something was wrong with his gallbladder. Quite a few tests and a CT later, we were told there was a mass on his pancreas and fluid in his abdomen. Without an official biopsy, the doctor could not give a diagnosis but she was pretty sure he had pancreatic cancer. The way she told us the news will be etched in my brain forever. She mentioned the fluid first and Kyle, in his normal sarcastic way, said ‘Fluid!! Well at least that means it’s not cancer!’ Then she mentioned the tumor. My world stopped. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming in the middle of the hallway in a crowded ER.

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I stood there, paralyzed, in what felt like the worst moment of my life. I looked at him and just stared. It would be a few more weeks before we received the official diagnosis of Stage 4 Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer. The ‘old man’ cancer. The cancer with an average patient demographic of 72 years old and male. Kyle was 36. Healthy, vibrant, charming, witty, sarcastic, beautiful – and only 36 years old.

While we waited for the official diagnosis, we decided to take a weekend away with friends to enjoy some ‘us’ time and look for a distraction from the news we feared. And then it happened. His doctor called us with the biopsy results and confirmed our worst nightmare. I curled into his lap at the hotel that night and we cried together. Until then, we had only told immediate family and a couple of close friends, some of whom were on the trip with us. Things had changed now. We had to start telling people. We had to start telling everyone.

To date, there are a few days that stick out in my mind as the worst days of my life. One of them was the night we sat our four beautiful kids down and told them their dad had cancer, a cancer that has a less than 9% survival rate of 5 years. Kyle’s doctor gave him 6 months without treatment and 12 months with treatment.

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In the weeks following the initial diagnosis, I called every major cancer center in the United States – and I mean EVERY cancer center. I was determined to get him to see the best doctors. I never imagined I would lose him – I refused to lose him. We were going to beat this no matter what the odds or statistics said; the numbers didn’t mean anything to me. Through determination, dumb luck, and a few friends in the right places, I was able to get him an appointment him with the top GI oncologist at Stanford University Medical Center. It was there that Kyle started a trial drug of immunotherapy and high dose chemotherapy.

The first immunotherapy/chemotherapy round knocked him down – hard. I remember sitting on our bathroom floor with him. He was so sick he could barely get up. That was the night he told me he was terrified his kids wouldn’t remember him. I didn’t know what to say, what can you say? The next few months were filled with doctor appointments, treatments, scans, and tests.  Our life revolved around his treatment schedule and the aftermath. The treatment was working though, the tumor was shrinking and his cancer markers were dropping.

Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen

During those weeks and months of treatment, we spent as much time together as we possibly could. We tried to maintain as much normalcy for the kids as possible and, thanks to the support from our incredible village, #KylesVillage, life continued on semi-normally. The kids still played their sports, we still went camping, and we even took a family vacation to Hawaii.

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In June of 2019, Kyle was on a chemo break due to some kidney issues but had been feeling great! His hair had started growing back, he was able to eat, go fishing with Cohen, and he even went back to work for about a month. Everything was looking up and we were so confident he was going to beat cancer.

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But cancer doesn’t take a break. And cancer doesn’t care that you are busy planning your life.

During Kyle’s chemo break, the cancer started growing again. What many people don’t realize is that there are rules around participating in a trial therapy and, in Kyle’s case, that included removing him from the trial if the cancer reversed course and started growing again. By the end of July, Kyle was in the ER with a possible obstruction. After eight days in the hospital we learned it was tumor growth and he would no longer be able to eat solid food. We were sent home with liquid nutrition that I would administer every night in hopes it would help keep his strength up and he could resume treatment. We were able to get one more round of chemo in before he ended up back in the hospital. The tumors were causing more and more issues in his intestines, and he was getting weaker and weaker.

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After being discharged the second time, we met with Kyle’s oncologist who felt we should stop treatment and start talking about how to keep Kyle as comfortable as possible. It was the only other moment throughout our journey that I was completely knocked off my feet. I was all-in and prepared to keep fighting. I was willing to try anything. I was desperate to try anything.  He was my person, how could I just let him go?

On the way home from that appointment I asked Kyle what he wanted to do. Second opinion? Alternative medicine? He looked at me and said, ‘I’m tired.’ That was when I knew it was time to stop. It was time to let him rest. He knew the fight was over and he was relieved to have the doctor tell me so he didn’t have to. If I had pushed he would have kept going, because that’s who he was and that’s how much he loved me. But now it was time to stop. It was time for me to let him go on his own terms.

Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen

The day before Kyle passed was a really good day. It was a day that gave me back some hope. He was feeling better. We had gotten him a wheelchair and I had taken him on a walk – I hit the curb and almost dumped him and he joked about my inability to drive even a wheelchair! He sent Dest to the gas station three times that day to get a Polar Freeze because he was craving them all day! It was a beautiful day.

The next morning he woke up and wasn’t feeling good. I assumed it was all the excitement from the day before, but as the day wore on he got worse. By late morning, I called our in-home care nurse. When she arrived, she let me know it was most likely time. I sat next to him on our bed that afternoon and never left. We called our family and close friends. The kids and I surrounded him and let him know how much we loved him; the last words he ever said to us were, ‘I love you too.’ We had his favorite songs playing in the background and hockey was on TV. We sat around him telling stories that made us all laugh and cry. But mostly we were just grateful for all of the time we had been able to spend together.

Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen

My incredible husband of 15 years took his last breath around 9 p.m. that night, surrounded by our kids (the gremlins), our family, and our closest friends. I don’t let myself think about that night too often because the pain is too much. A couple days before he passed, Kyle had decided he wanted to get each of the kids something special, just from him. He took the girls to our local jewelry store and let them each pick something out, something they’d always have. He had a baseball bat inscribed for Cohen that says, ‘For letting me see the joy every time you played, Love Dad.’ He wanted them to have something to remember him. Kyle’s biggest fear was that the kids wouldn’t remember him and it is now my life’s mission to make sure that never happens.

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It has been 10 months since our world changed forever. Our journey of learning how to live again has been filled with the most amazing love and support from our family, friends, and even strangers. We are still healing, but I think we always will be. We talk about Kyle – Dad – every single day, whether it is what we think he would say about a particular situation or just a ‘Hey, remember when Dad…’

Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen

I never imagined I would be a widow or a single mom at 36. This wasn’t my plan; this wasn’t our plan. We had a love story for the ages, one that I could never adequately put into words. He was and will always be one of my most favorite people in the world. He and I built a life we loved and we lived every single day. Shortly after his diagnosis, he told me, ‘If I don’t survive this, I want you to know I have no regrets. I have lived more in my 36 years than most people do in 80 years.’ And while his life was cut so short, he was right! Now my gremlins and I plan to continue to #LiveLikeKyle every day. We will always say ‘yes’ to adventure. We will always say, ‘I love you.’ We will continue to surround ourselves with the most amazing village of people. We will live the life we love. I don’t know what happens from here, but I know that I am not alone and I know Kyle would be proud of me – of us.”

Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen
Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen
Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen
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Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen
Courtesy of Jenn Henricksen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenn Henricksen. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about brave cancer battles here:

‘Please, don’t let them forget me.’ It was as if time stood still. ‘Do you want to come off the ventilator?’ He nodded yes.’: Woman loses husband to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, leaves behind death letter ‘asking everyone to donate blood’

‘I lifted her shirt. ‘Mommy, I’ve been scared to say this, but I have a big bump on my chest.’: 8-year-old girl diagnosed with breast cancer after both parents beat cancer, ‘we are a family of fighters’

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