One-year cancer free, Kiye Jenkins and his family reflect on illness and community support

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The Jenkins family — from left, Eryn, Zhane, Kiye and Dan — pose for a photo Thursday, Aug. 23. (Ben Kibbey/The Western News)

Kiye Jenkins, the young man who local residents rallied around when he was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2016, has now been cancer free for about a year.

For his entire family, the overwhelming emotion they describe is gratitude.

The entire ordeal started for the Jenkins only a little over a week before Kiye’s 13th birthday with the diagnosis, and within two weeks of the diagnosis he was receiving chemotherapy.

Eryn Jenkins, his mother, said she feels fortunate for the response she received from friend Scott Lacefield, a physicians assistant at Cabinet Peaks Medical Center, when she approached him about a lump on Kiye’s neck.

“He locked eyes with me and said, ‘OK, let’s do a full workup.’”

On the following Monday, they were in Kalispell getting a biopsy done; in the middle of the following week he began chemotherapy.

She thinks that may be why Kiye never experienced the direct pain from the numerous tumors spread throughout his body, including one that took up about half of his chest and abdomen.

But, the chemotherapy left Kiye Jenkins with a weakened immune system, and the family recalled the scares they had along the way as any infection could quickly turn life-threatening.

In one incident, Kiye and Eryn were at Sacred Heart in Spokane for Kiye’s chemotherapy treatment. After looking at his blood work, the medical staff decided to keep him overnight, so they went out to get something to eat.

While they were out, Kiye began to crash, and they had to rush back to the emergency room, where his blood pressure had dropped to 50/20, Eryn said.

“He was just completely out of it,” she said.

Dan Jenkins, Kiye’s dad, said he found out that night he could get to Spokane in about two hours if he had to.

There were times both parents described stepping away from the hospital to release their emotions where Kiye and his younger brother, Zhane, couldn’t see.

A close friend helped coach Dan through the emotions and to try not to show his stress in front of the family, he said.

Kiye said he was most aware of the stress his sickness placed on his mom, though even Zhane, who is two years younger, cried when he was first told of his brother’s illness.

“I didn’t want to lose him,” Zhane said.

“Mostly I just wanted to help my mom, because she was the most stressed out,” Kiye said, “And I just wanted to tell everyone thank you for prayers and everything, because so many people were just there for me all the time.”

Arms of home

In the midst of all of those emotions and struggles, the Jenkins had family, friends and an entire community at their back, they said.

Eryn Jenkins still remembers after the “Team Kiye” effort began in Libby, the first night driving into Libby on their way home from Spokane and seeing a business on the edge of town with the “Go Team Kiye” sign.

“And then as we drove through town, it was everywhere,” she said.

“We were so nervous and apprehensive, and then you come home and see that,” Dan Jenkins said. “You’ve been out of town for a week, and in the hospital, and Kiye’s been sick as a dog — it was a real pick up.”

The financial help from the community made a big difference, and as a result the family didn’t need to take help from Wings or even Ronald McDonald House, they said. But the moral support couldn’t be quantified.

“You feel that, you feel that and know that everything’s going to be alright — everything’s going to be alright,” Dan Jenkins said.

From Cabinet Peaks to Kalispell to Sacred Heart, the Jenkins also said they were grateful for the help they received every step along the way.

“You never felt like you were all alone,” Dan Jenkins said.

The Jenkins said they felt the desire to give back, though they know there is no way they can ever pay back all those who helped, or even know who all gave to them anonymously.

“There’s people down and out. Everybody’s got a sad story. Somebody gets cancer every day, somewhere,” Dan Jenkins said.

They were humbled to see how the community banded together behind both their family and the family of Katherine Lind, another Libby child with the same diagnosis, he said.

“This town’s just filled with a whole lot of nice people,” he said.

No kid gloves

Despite all the treatments, Kiye only missed fall and winter season of sports, Eryn Jenkins said. The hospital even made a special exception and removed the port used for his chemotherapy — which would normally be left in for up to a year after treatment ends — early so he could play baseball.

While everyone has been appreciative of the care and interest from the community, Kiye admitted he sometimes has been frustrated by feeling like he was being treated as too fragile.

Athletic from an early age, push-ups as the household’s form of punishment for doing something wrong had Kiye Jenkins with a defined upper body when he was only 7, Eryn Jenkins said.

“He was the push up champion of the 7th grade,” she said.

Kiye doesn’t want sympathy or pity at this point, especially not out on the field, Dan Jenkins said.

There have been some adjustments though. Kiye recalled his first time back in the gym and feeling how much strength he had lost, though he has gotten much of it back.

He has also had to at least temporarily step away from full-contact sports because of brittleness in his bones after the chemo, Eryn Jenkins said. Still, it was a happy moment to have him come back from soccer practice and say he wanted to run even more after doing three miles, and that he hadn’t had to use his inhaler.

As Kiye got stronger and the risk of infection being life-threatening waned, the family was also able to make a trip sponsored by the Make a Wish Foundation, a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean.

The cruise was Kiye’s idea, and Eryn Jenkins said the woman who they worked with at the organization said it was the only time she’d had a teenaged boy say, “I want to go on vacation with my family.”

Going into his sophomore year in high school, Kiye doesn’t have any set plans for what he will do after high school yet, but he said that what he went through and the response he received from the community has made him more aware of looking for ways he can help others. Even if it’s just helping an older woman get bottled water to her car at the store.

“I help out people whenever I can,” he said.

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