(An open letter from Troy Kehr, Tina’s brother and founder of Tina’s Angels)
I come from a very tight knit family. I am the youngest of three children; Todd is nine years older than I and Tina is six years older than I. We grew up close to Seven Mile, Ohio (near Trenton and Hamilton), and we all still live in southwest Ohio.
Tina, who resided in Springboro, Ohio, was diagnosed with Stage IV, triple negative breast cancer on
July 30th, 2009 at the age of 41. She married her husband Mike on July 14, 1990. When she was diagnosed their three boys were 12, 8, and 6. At this point I knew nothing about cancer and Tina chose not to share her exact diagnosis with us. We knew she had breast cancer; however, she elected not to tell us it was Stage IV and triple negative.
Shortly after she was diagnosed we met as a family. Tina set the tone for the entire journey. She came in with an amazing attitude, wittiness, and an unbelievable sense of humor. Of course, this is the only way I’d known Tina; always happy to hear from me, always upbeat, always having “the glass is half full” philosophy.
We set up a “staff” for Tina: my sister- in-law (Marie who is a nurse) was her medical advisor and my wife (Erin who is a recreational therapist) was Tina’s recreational director. Erin made a “Pink Power Box” and Tina would pick different “activities” out of the box for a fun activity to do, or Erin would just choose an activity. A few of the things we did with Tina throughout her journey were: dinner, movie night, sleep over, horseback riding, hand gun shooting, and they tried like heck to get massages. Tina wanted to play paintball, but time did not allow for that.
Tina started chemo immediately and laughed about picking out a wig, which she did and ultimately named it Jolene. She endured 6 chemotherapy treatments from August – December. In January 2010 she had a double mastectomy and not once did she complain. She went through the process with a wonderful attitude and great sense of humor; talking about getting a “new set” of “Ta Ta’s”.
She immediately went back to chemo treatments, but her double mastectomy was not healing properly. During all this, she remained focused on beating this awful disease; while caring for three young boys and keeping their lives as normal as possible.
By this time I had learned how serious her cancer was. Although I knew Tina was tough (physically, mentally, and spiritually) she took it to another level. She didn’t whine, never complained, learned how to change her own bandages (her incisions from her surgery) and stayed positive the entire time.
Her incisions caused fevers which led to stays in the hospital. She was certainly a trooper throughout all of this and faced it all head- on. I’ve never met anyone who showed the strength and love for life that Tina did.
Tina was facing a lot of tough times so I decided to form a team for a local breast cancer walk. I put our team together: “Tina’s Angel’s” and started receiving donations and many began joining the team.
She went back into the hospital May 28th 2010 and I was really scared this time. She was in for thirteen days and I really didn’t think she was going to make it. She buckled down, fought like a Super Star (which is what many of us nicknamed Tina) and decided she was going to go home. She began seven weeks of radiation treatment while she was in the hospital.
She made it home and, again, made no big deal of it, while continuing to look after her boys, go to their ballgames and take care of herself. In talking to her I could never tell by her tone that she had terminal cancer. She was stronger than steel.
July 30, 2010 was an awful day for Tina. She and Mike went to the oncologist to get the results from her PETScan. Unfortunately the cancer had spread to her lungs, liver, and bones. The doctor told Tina that if this next chemo treatment didn’t work; she would have 2 – 4 months to live. She did not share the time frame the doctor gave her with anyone.
That very day Mike and Tina took their boys to Gatlinburg to get away. When they returned she was upbeat and ready to keep going. She remained focused on her faith in God and her family and never wavered from that. Although we were supposed to lift her up, she was lifting us up. She went from being my sister, to my friend, to my Hero.
I was honored to go with Tina to her next appointment. As soon as (the oncologist) came into the room she very politely told him “Don’t give me a time table, I don’t want to hear it from you or anyone else, with all due respect.” I was so proud of her and admired her decision to live life her way, on her terms, and her never quit attitude was truly amazing.
A co-worker of Mike’s is in a band and put together a benefit for Tina on August 27th 2010. It was an incredible night; so many of her family and friends came out to support Tina and her fight against breast cancer. Folks donated money, and the band donated their earnings from the night, to help with Tina’s medical bills. Tina looked like a million bucks and, if you didn’t know her, you would have had no idea that she was so sick. She had attended The Ohio State University, so she joined the band on stage to sing “Hang On Sloopy”. It was so great to see her so happy and full of life.
As the weeks went by Tina wasn’t feeling great, but was hanging in there. Saturday September 25th, 2010 rolled around and it was the day of the breast cancer walk in Cincinnati. Tina’s energy level was weak, along with shortness of breath, so we offered to push her in a wheelchair. Tina; being Tina – strong, determined, and courageous; walked the entire 2K walk like the Superstar she was. She walked with over 30 family and friends and Tina’s Angel’s raised $7,800.00! Seeing her stand on the Great American Ballpark field during the survivors’ celebration brought me to tears, and I had many emotions going through my head. It was one of the greatest mornings of my life. When her oncologist found out that Tina had walked the entire 2K he was truly amazed.
Tuesday October 12th Mike and Tina drove up to Pittsburgh to get another opinion. They spent several hours going over her diagnosis, her treatments, options, etc. Although it didn’t sound like there was anything different that could be done, I spoke to her as they were driving home and she was upbeat and solid as a rock. She never allowed anyone or anything get in her way.
Tina was having trouble breathing and went into the hospital October 19th. It was really hard for her to catch her breath and she wanted to save her energy, so she wrote to communicate with us. When I would visit her; she was the same Tina: witty, full of life, great sense of humor, and fighting like a girl!
On Tuesday, October 26, the doctors decided it would be best for Tina to be moved into Hospice. Tina and I had a conversation about life and death and her fight. The day before she asked Todd and me: “Do I look like I am losing the fight.” I said; “Truthfully you don’t. You look great, but if you are done fighting…….” She quickly raised her hands and acted like she was a boxer and had a very determined look in her eyes. We were all into continuing her fight. She was NOT going to give up, and I admired her will to live and was overcome with pride for my sister.
I was fortunate enough to be in her room at the hospital when her oncologist came in. Tina and our entire family have the upmost respect for her oncologist. His professionalism, care, expertise, compassion, bluntness, and aggressiveness were amazing. He came into Tina’s room and said, “Hospice is a two way street.” Tina needed to hear that and I witnessed one of many special moments Tina had throughout her journey. She said to her doctor, “When I WALK out of here you are going to teach me to salsa dance.” He looked at her, shook her hand and said, “You’ve got a deal.”
Wednesday October 28th she found out that she was picked to be in a research study. She got pumped up; keep in mind this is after 22 chemotherapy treatments in 16 months along with seven weeks of radiation and numerous hospital stays.
She focused on getting enough strength to make it for her treatment scheduled for Nov 5th. Her doctor was excited too. This was the break we needed. Tina’s determination rose even higher, which I didn’t think was possible, and she focused 100% on regaining enough energy to be able to participate in the study. She reminded me of a beaten and bruised boxer who was entering the fifteenth round of a grueling fight. She’d been knocked down several times, and had the bumps, bruises, and scars to prove it. But she never gave up, never gave in.
Tina was moved to Hospice, Friday October 30th. I, as well as her boys, and family were able to see her on Saturday. She was visibly worn out but still in “fight mode”. She didn’t want many guests as she was focused on getting her strength back so she could get her treatment from the new study.
On Sunday Pastor Snider, who married Tina and Mike in 1990 and baptized two of their boys came to visit her at Hospice. He gave her, mom, and dad communion, recited the 23rd Psalm, and prayed with them. Although I was not there; it was an incredible moment in Tina’s journey.
Tina took a turn for the worse on Monday. I wasn’t sure she would make it through the day. The folks at Hospice were absolutely incredible. They helped us understand the process of dying and what Tina was experiencing. Word had gotten out that Tina was not doing well. From Monday evening through Thursday Tina had over 50 visitors. I was overwhelmed with the compassion, love, and kindness of folks. People were visiting non- stop; bringing food, coffee, breakfast; staying for hours at a time; sitting with Tina, talking to her, praying with her. It was like Hospice had become our family’s home away from home.
Tina went to be with the Lord on Friday morning, November, 5th 2010; surrounded by her family. I concluded that Tina never quit fighting, never. I don’t believe she was afraid of dying, and as a Christian she knew what was waiting for her, but she wanted to stay here on earth to continue being the wonderful mother she was to her three boys.
Tina’s visitation was Monday night, November 8th. She had over 700 folks come through in five hours. I was humbled with all the love folks had for Tina. It was echoed in the church by several people, “Tina never said a bad word about anyone.” I started looking back and realized they were absolutely right. She never said a bad word about anyone, she had no enemies, loved everyone, and was the strength, backbone, humor, and love for life that held our family together.
Her funeral was the next day and I’ve never seen so many cars drive to a gravesite. Monday and Tuesday were a true testament to the person Tina was.
None of us know exactly what happens in heaven, but I am certain Tina has become an excellent salsa dancer.
As I reflect back on Tina’s entire life and her last 15 months battling cancer, I continue to mourn and grieve her loss and how it has affected me, our entire family, and friends. Tina was truly a person who lived life to the fullest. She made life look easy and always helped others. She chose to fight a cancer that many doctors would never have treated. She never made a big deal of it, she made her mind up that she would give everything she had to be here as long as she could for her boys.
She helped me through some of the hardest times of my life. She was an extremely loving, caring, compassionate, and patient mother. She was a devoted wife. As I write this I hurt for all those who are battling cancer and those that have lost a loved one to this terrible disease. I am truly amazed that Tina never let cancer define who she was. I do not exaggerate when I say that she was truly a Superstar and my HERO. May her legacy live on forever.