“He has always been incredibly kind to everyone he encounters, and a mainstay at the box. Even though old injuries have left him with limited mobility, he refuses to be held back. He’s the guy you have to keep an eye on as a coach. He is always looking to add a little more weight or do a few more reps. Even as his treatments began taking their toll on his body he still lobbied to lift heavy, stay late, run a quick 5k.”
Setting a goal to run a 5k every day for a year is one thing, having the determination to follow through on that goal is entirely another. Meet Featured Warrior Kevin Howard. Kevin trains at CrossFit Undeniable in Denver, Colorado which is owned by his daughter and son-in-law, Karly and Zachary Wilson. From his football days at Mesa State University to coaching youth basketball to running and now CrossFit, Kevin has been involved in athletics most of his life. CrossFit has given Kevin the opportunity to reconnect with many people, particularly his daughter. Even more, he’s now coached by some of the kids he once coached in youth basketball.
Kevin works hard in the gym, always giving his best effort. Arik McGathey said, “He has always been incredibly kind to everyone he encounters, and a mainstay at the box. Even though old injuries have left him with limited mobility, he refuses to be held back. He’s the guy you have to keep an eye on as a coach. He is always looking to add a little more weight or do a few more reps. Even as his treatments began taking their toll on his body he still lobbied to lift heavy, stay late, run a quick 5k.” In addition to his tremendous work ethic, Kevin understands that CrossFit is about more than lifting weights and completing WODs, it is a community that inspires, encourages and supports each other. Coach Kyle Flageolle put it best. “He (Kevin) is the epitome of what we want in a crossfitter. Someone who is inspirational and uplifting and cares about the people in their life so much.”
Late last summer people began to notice Kevin’s absence from the gym. Most assumed he got busy at work. One day Kevin called his daughter, Karly. She picked up the phone expecting to hear a silly joke or to hear how strong his deadlift was. Instead Kevin said, “Karly, I have bad news. I have cancer.” After the call ended, Karly immediately left work to be with her Dad. She said, “While driving, I realized how selfish I had been over the last month. I was so consumed with problems around my new job, helping my husband run our gym, and worrying about taking care of everyone else’ relationships that I lost my awareness to the ones that meant the most to me. I realized everything needed to change and decided I would walk with him every step of the way during this process.”
After a series of tests, Kevin was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Follicular Lymphoma in late September 2015. This type of cancer is not curable so the goal of treatment is to get the cancer into remission. Even when faced with difficult news, Kevin’s determination and positive attitude shined through. During one of his oncology appointments, he turned to Karly and said “I’m going to conquer this and run a marathon with you Karly.” The treatment plan was 6 rounds of an aggressive mix of chemo drugs called R-CHOP administered once every two weeks. Kevin attacked his treatments with the same competitive nature he brought to the football field 30 years ago, getting butterflies before each round of chemo.
Kevin continues to run and train as much as possible. Despite Zachary’s and Karly’s concern that the gym might not be clean enough for his weakened immune system, Kevin came in anyway. The coaches kicked his ass, and he loved it. During his third and fourth rounds of chemo, doctors remarked that his bloodwork looked great and he was in better shape than most people when they begin treatment.
A PET scan done before the fifth round of Chemo revealed that the five original tumors were gone and showed no evidence of viable lymphoma in Kevin’s body. The R-CHOP chemotherapy had worked. Treatment would then move to the consolidation phase using Zevalin to put the cancer into remission. After this Kevin would receive Rituxan every month for two years as maintenance treatment.
After enjoying the holidays, Kevin began to feel sick. He described it as feeling like he had the flu times 10. On December 30th Kevin was diagnosed with pneumonia and given antibiotics. A week later Kevin was still not getting better. On January 6th he went to see his oncologist. A series of tests over the next week found abnormalities in Kevin’s lungs indicating damage from the Rituxan and an uptake of lymphoma. He is currently in a stage of relapse and has been diagnosed with a rare report of interstitial pneumonitis that is found in patients with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma who have been exposed to Rituximab. Currently, doctors are deciding how best to move forward with treatment.
Through the ups and downs of his battle, Kevin’s love for his family and his faith have only grown. It’s through this love that he finds the strength to keep fighting. Susan Klein, a family friend, observed, “His willpower and determination are surely an antidote but I think his unsurpassed antidote is his love for his daughter and her love for her father.” In his hardest moments Kevin relies on his faith to help him preserve. As he said, “What was true is that I finally asked God to take this from me and he did. That was something worth hoping for. Hope is the happy anticipation of something good. My hope was back. I thought it was gone. If I am His and he is in charge, then I am not a victim. I was acting as a victim and when I was doing that I was being selfish. I realize now I can pick up my helmet of hope and win round seven of my cancer battle. I realize being a human being we can still lose hope from time to time. This world can be a place of trials and tribulations, but when we trust God’s promises and hold to the hope we have in Him, we can feel secure.”
Kevin is grateful for all those who have helped him during this fight. “I am so thankful for the support I have received from the CrossFit Undeniable gym, friends, family, and my places of work. Bridgepoint Education has given me the time to focus on treatment. I am so grateful I have insurance through them. I have a great manager in Eric Wilson at Bridgepoint. His son, Cooper, was born with Leukemia this past year. When I was going through the diagnosis phase, he guided me through a difficult and overwhelming process. I also have received so much love and support from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado. Mark Manton and the staff and students have really rallied around me. I am receiving oncology massage and acupuncture from a very talented therapist and Doctor. My therapist, Lori Schultz, is wonderful to me. She is so bright and overflows with passion and compassion. Dr. Cheng has many years of experience in dealing with cancer patients. They call the building/campus where the Massage Therapy Institute and the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine reside the healing center. They are great. I am very blessed.”
The way in which Kevin has handled his cancer diagnosis and treatment has shown many around him how to live. Karly says, “Throughout this process, I have learned so much from my dad. One important thing is to have faith, strength and a good attitude no matter what life deals you. Williams James said,“ The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude”, I realized my dad constantly shifts his attitude and strives to live the fullest life possible even with the obstacles he is faced with every day. My dad has empowered me to be a better person and not only do I look forward to the day he is in remission but I look forward to running that marathon with him.”