There’s a hole in Kristin Gilder’s life.
Her mom, Gay, is gone, taken by pancreatic cancer.
Gilder was there for Gay, as she has always been.
But watching her mom, best friend, and roommate since 2006 suffer in the final few weeks of her life left Gilder a broken woman.
Gay passed at 3:47 a.m. on Aug. 10 at Maple Ridge’s McKenney Creek Hospice.
She was 61.
“The last two months of her life, I was home 24/7, to the point of standing on the bed just to move her, because she couldn’t move properly on her own anymore,” Gilder said.
“I watched my mom go from very healthy — she taught me so much stuff; because of her, I know how to work on cars, because of her, I know how to ride a motorcycle, because of her I know how to ride horses, and grow things, and do things.”
“And to lose her sucks, for lack of a better word,” Gilder continued, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“And not being able to spend as much time with her as I should have, that’s partly my fault, but part of it was because I was out working to make sure she didn’t have to.”
Since the moment her mom quietly let out her last breath, Gilder has been left rudderless. She copes by carrying some of her mom’s ashes in a locket on a necklace.
She also has a Harley Davidson necklace that her mom wore often.
A semi truck driver, Gilder tried to go back to work after Gay’s passing, but the emotional pain was too much to bear.
“I had already completed two runs and I was at home and I was supposed to get ready to leave on my next run, and that day, I had a breakdown and I didn’t leave until two nights later,” she said.
Gilder hates cancer but has a deep contempt for pancreatic cancer in particular,because it is a virtual death sentence.
It has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers. According to Pancreatic Cancer Canada, as 92 per cent of patients die within five years of their diagnosis and 75 per cent of patients die within the first year.
“I despise it,” Gilder said. “Come the end, my mom had four, possibly five different types of cancer: lungs, liver, lymph nodes, and possibly bone. She didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs. Her drug was coffee.”
Gay fought to the end. Diagnosed in 2014, she was given four months to live. Three-and-a-half years later, she finally succumbed to the disease.
On her birthday, Gilder learned about her mom’s diagnosis. “I told her I didn’t want that birthday present, and she had to take it back,” Gilder said.
Referred to as a silent killer, pancreatic cancer sneaks up on its victims, with vague symptoms that include nausea, jaundice, and back/abdominal pain.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in Canada and has recently surpassed breast cancer to become the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
“There’s no big, heads-up warning,” Gilder said.
“A lot of stomach issues; diarrhea is a really big problem with it. But otherwise it’s pretty silent.”
Pancreatic cancer not only took Gay, it also claimed her mother and grandmother.
A Walnut Grove resident, Gilder is on a mission to make people aware about this particularly deadly form of cancer. This is why, sometime in spring 2018, she plans to embark on a cross-country journey in her purple jeep to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, and funds for Pancreatic Cancer Canada.
“It’s called the death run,” Gilder said.
“When we had initially planned the run (drive), she and I, together, she was already dying. She really wanted to go to Newfoundland.”
The trip is as much about collecting donations for research as it is about awareness. Since its founding in 2006, Pancreatic Cancer Canada has invested nearly $1.5 million into research but Gilder believes more can be done.
“If you get pancreatic cancer it’s usually not a matter of if you’re going to die, it’s a matter of when,” Gilder said.
“And you usually get a year. Awareness needs to be brought (to the forefront). There’s not enough publicity, people don’t know (about it).”
“Some of the funds will be used to fund the trip expenses but the majority of any donations received will be donated to Pancreatic Cancer Canada,” she noted on the GoFundMepage.
“I will be mostly camping so my costs will mostly be fuel and maintenance, if needed, along the way.”
As she prepares for the trip, Gilder holds Gay close to her heart.
“She was my riding partner,” an emotional Gilder shared, her voice shaking and trailing off. “We used to do Mother’s Day runs and we missed the Toy Run this year.”
To learn more about pancreatic cancer and get involved, visit the Pancreatic Cancer Canada website at www.pancreaticcancercanada.ca/.
Donations can also be made to Gilder’s tribute page for her mom on the Pancreatic Cancer Canada website.