On the morning of October 21, 2014, everything changed for the Thompson family. At the ages of 15 (Taylor), 13 (Kyla) and 10 (Katelyn), these kids no longer had their mom, Maureen. Gary no longer had his wife of 25 years. 11 years earlier Maureen had been diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with their youngest, Katelyn. Kyla and Gary join us to talk about what Father’s Day means to them now.
About Kyla and Gary
Gary’s career spans technology, innovation, and building community. From his role as an advisor to the Executive Council to founding the Texas eCommerce Association to his earliest days at Apple in the late 1980s in sales and marketing, Gary has always been at the forefront of change. Gary has spoken from 4 different TED stages from Austin to Malaysia to Rome to Dublin. He has served two different Governors in Texas as an appointee to eGovernment Task Forces and boards in the early days of eCommerce and the World Wide Web.
In late 2003, while his wife, Maureen, was three months pregnant with their soon to be youngest child, Katelyn, his life and the life of his family changed forever. Maureen was diagnosed with early stage 2A breast cancer. After surgery and chemo, their little girl was born in early 2004, joining big brother, Taylor (now 21) and Kyla (now 18). After 5 years of remission, Maureen’s cancer recurred in late 2008, and everything changed. Gary knew it was time to fuse his life of innovation and technology with his passion to change the fight with cancer. Gary spoke to this vision at Susan G. Komen’s Big Data for Breast Cancer gathering in Menlo Park in 2017 (http://teampowdereddonut.org/big-data-4-breast-cancer-2-24-2017-susan-g-komen/).
Maureen passed in her sleep on the morning of October 21, 2014 of the same metastatic pleural effusions that took Susan G. Komen. Gary’s personal passion to change the fight with cancer spans his board roles the local and national level at other onco-philanthropies, and his family has participated in several Race for the Cure events in their hometown of Austin, Texas. He and his daughter, Kyla, are committed to not just the bold goal of Komen but the ultimate promise made by Suzy’s big sister, Nancy. An end to the scourge of breast cancer.
Kyla Thompson recently graduated from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas and will be attending the University of Virginia this fall, starting her studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. While at St. Andrew’s, Kyla served all four years on Student Senate, and as class president while a sophomore, junior, and senior. She also served on the Athletic Council, as well as a peer mentor, which welcomes Freshman to campus and smooths their transition to high school.
Kyla has been a significant fundraiser for Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure in Austin and has been featured by Real Pink in her podcast, Everyone Deserves a Mom, with the former Executive Director of the Komen affiliate based in Austin, Texas. Kyla is also the founder of #pinkkids. “The goal of #pinkkids is to change our future as mothers in the fight with cancer by acting together now as kids. However, #pinkkids is not just about changing the future but changing the present and creating online spaces where the children of moms (and dads) with breast cancer can connect and not feel alone.” Kyla also just finished her Senior Project, Youth for the Cure, something she hopes to build in collaboration with Susan G. Komen. Like her older brother and younger sister, she wants to not only make a difference but honor their mother’s memory through service.
Her receipt of the Sterling Wilson Award from St. Andrew’s in the fall of 2019 exemplifies her passion to change the fight with breast cancer, while playing volleyball, the sport she loves. Kyla’s mom, Maureen, also played varsity volleyball and was her team’s captain as a senior. The last thing Kyla’s mom watched before closing her eyes for the last time, just before her death caused by the metastasis of her breast cancer, was a middle school volleyball game of Kyla’s, via FaceTime from the school.
The Sterling Wilson Award not only recognized Kyla’s accomplishments on the court but her commitment to service, having led her team to raising the 4th most of any school through the Side-Out Foundation (dedicated to metastatic breast cancer) in 2019 and almost $40,000 over four years. Kyla has received numerous other awards as both a Varsity and Club volleyball player. Although sidelined by injury mid-season, her Austin Performance Club volleyball team was the national champion in 2018. Kyla has been recognized with not only multiple MVP awards for her varsity team but also as all-conference with SPC (Southwest Preparatory Conference).
Support for Real Pink comes from Genentech, a member of the Roche group who pursues groundbreaking science to discover and develop medicines for people with breast cancer. Learn more at gene.com. From Susan G Komen. This is real pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
After Maureen lost her life to breast cancer, Gary Thompson lost his best friend and wife and their children lost their mother. This is a family that still refers to themselves as a family of five years after Maureen’s passing yet. Despite the love that they feel for her deeply, Gary immediately had to step into a role much bigger than himself and had to learn to tap into his mom parts in order to be there for three children, he needed to give them everything that they so desperately needed and deserved both as they dealt with their mom’s death. And as they continued to grow and started navigating their own journeys here to share their story and to tell us what father’s day means to them, our good friends, Gary and Kyla Thompson, Gary and Kyla. Welcome to the show.
Hey, good morning.
So good to talk to you. I’m really looking forward to hearing a little bit more about your journey and, and really kind of what father’s day means to you. So let’s start by telling us a little bit more about your journey. Gary, can you tell us a little bit more about your wife and your family’s journey with breast cancer?
Yeah, no, thanks Adam. Thanks for, for having Kyla and I. I was blessed to meet my kid’s mom. In late 1989, greatest day of my life was July 14th, 1990. When I said I do. And she said, I do back. We have been soulmates. We have been best friends. And then I remember the day she, got her architect’s license after working many years to get that license. And we also got a call from our oncologist who had done the biopsy and said you have cancer. And,it’s one thing for the millions of women and men that have heard those words, but to see your wife hear those words was a crazy moment. And so when I think back weeks before that we were at the obstetrician and that obstetrician felt Maureen’s right breast at the same time, as we were hearing his younger sister Katelyn’s heartbeat. And so that’s what led to that call a few weeks later after the biopsy saying you have cancer. And again, thank goodness for that obstetrician that made sure that with cancer being so aggressive and a pregnant woman, that we were able to get on top of it early and think both baby into the world and mom into the world and in a lot of ways. So that’s how it all started.
And tell us what was
The progression from there? So that was the diagnosis. What happened next? Yeah. So, so again, this beam from the guy that wasn’t going through the treatment, but it was a good time for a right-side mastectomy. We did tail end of the first trimester. So this is sort of late 20 2003. At this point, then she started a round of chemo, which obviously is scary. Cause we all know just how aggressive chemo is, but we discovered thank goodness that it doesn’t cross the placental boundary. So Katelyn younger sister, you know, was fine. That’ll end it about a week before Kaitlin was born Neulasta and white blood cells come back up for childbirth. And then a week after that started a bunch of radiation and one into the beginning of fibers or emission. Wow, that is I, pregnancy is hard. Enough. Chemo is hard enough. I can’t imagine all of that together.
I mean, she must’ve just been an amazing, amazing person. She was an amazing wife. She was an amazing architect. She was an amazing mother. And when I think about the courage she exemplifies, I mean, no woman, no man steps up to having to deal with any of that. And so when I think about the millions of folks that, that Komen worked so hard for, I think about every one of those folks out there that are like, she was getting ready to be mom of a, of a baby child who was in the midst of a really great architecture career and what you know, cancer seriously. Wow. And then Adam, you know, from there she was going back to her office after having taken five years off to work with a firm here in Austin designing hospitals and schools. And we discovered another lump.
So, you know, probably a secondary occurrence and, you know, started the journey again. It was her two positive at that point. So we were blessed by great drugs and Genentech, but then late 2013, discovered that things were starting to hurt elsewhere. And it wasn’t just being in your late forties metastasized at that point, it had become TMBC. So even the CAD Sila that we were using from, from Genentech that was knocking out the, her two positives, just fine, wasn’t knocking out the TMBC. And then the great twist of irony because Kyle has been reading Nancy burger’s book, promise me, which I read and discovered that Susie passive, metastatic pleural effusions fluid on the lungs and ultimately on the morning of October 21st, when I woke up made very uncomfortable, caught in a bed next to hers at the hospital and realized she was no longer breathing
It was those…. It was that same reason. And so yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s an evil disease, but she was a beautiful woman. And I know we can beat this thing so that as Kyla said in her real podcast, you know, everyone deserves to up with a mom and not just be stuck with their dad.
I really appreciate you sharing your story with that. Like again, she just sounds like an amazing woman. So you know, Gary, since losing your wife, tell us how the title of father has changed for you.
Yeah. It’s interesting. Cause I really feel for all the dads out there, right? I mean, there’s the dads that the love of their life is dealing with the disease, right. I mean, and, and hopefully the treatments go so well that they go into remission and they never have to get to the part that I’m in, which is having lost my mind. But I think about those dads because you’re both caregiver and spouse and dad all at the same time and there’s no right. There’s no wrong. There’s just whoever you are as a dad. And you gotta do what you gotta do. I’ll tell you. The hardest thing I had to do was was that day of October 21st, 2014 was to go to the kids’ schools. That point they were on two separate campuses, but you girls were in middle school and lower school. And my son was at the upper school. And as a dad at that moment, you know, to have to go tell your kids that your mom was gone chest. I think you guys could probably relive it. Just like I can like every step of reword, everything we did that day is just vibrant.
Yeah. Wow. I can’t even imagine what that was like. And, what else has changed? What roles have changed for you since that time?
Yeah. It’s one of those things. I was talking with somebody else from Komen this morning and we’re just reflecting on it. And part of it is you just have to be whatever you need to be that day. Right. And that changes every day. So the early parts of the process, no doubt about it, the grief and the sadness were a synonym, you know, and as I’ve learned, going along, the sadness changes, but you always greed. And the other thing I’ve discovered is actually reflecting on, on another, friend’s kind of looking at this, right? There’s like three phases in the first 18 years and have more, you passed in phase one when these guys were not even six years old and she passed them. My role as a father would have been really, really different. Right. Cause they were still in diapers. Right. Had she passed when it came back, we would have been in phase two, you know, sort of six to 13 and you know, that’s the age where you’re teaching them stuff and creating memories together and teaching them values. And then there’s phase three where they’re kind of practicing all that stuff as teenagers and failing and making mistakes and that’s the phase Ironman. And so I’m real sensitive to what my role is as a father and what others that might be listening to this that are fathers, because it really all depends on where you are in that process. And so, yeah. Anyway, it’s just, just some reflections, Adam,
Gary, I love what you said when you started said you to be who you need to be that day. Right. And I think that, I mean, and that speaks to me as a parent because, you know, I have to flex just in general, but I can only imagine how flexible you must have needed to be over these years. So I appreciate you sharing that. Kyla, I wanna want to chat with you for just a minute with father’s day coming up, has this day taken on a new meaning for you over the years is I assume your dad has had to fill a lot of different roles in your life.
It has. And it hasn’t because every father’s day, everyone honors their father and just gives back in whatever way they can just for how thankful they are every day that they’re in their lives and see them and teach them all their lessons that they’ve taught them. But I think the first father’s day after my mom passed away, I think my siblings and I were just even more grateful than we have ever been for what he had seen him do in the past few months, since it had been a little over eight months since the passing of my mom and October 21st and just to see what he had done for us and for others and just like the love he had for my mom was just so powerful. And I think ever since that day, he’s filled so many shoes and roles that you can never ask someone to be put in. And I think he’s done it with grace and always putting others in front of himself every single day. And we’re just at the end of the day, we’re just thankful for that. And I think every kid could say the same thing for their father.
That’s great. That’s great. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. So, so let’s talk a little bit about mother’s day as well. And father’s day, do you do anything special? How do you celebrate the, each of those days as a family right now?
So there, there was sort of an ongoing joke in the family because there was one mother’s day early on where Maury probably did more mothering than being pampered.
And so when it got to father’s day, I kind of joke like, Hey, you get a break back on mother’s day. So tell you what I’ll do a little more fathering on father’s day so that you can have a sort of a mom day. So it’s just one of those things where that’s kind of continued Maureen and I were two parts of one whole and I wouldn’t have the privilege of being a father to three amazing kids, but for the fact that she and I loved each other. And so Taylor, my older son, Kayla who’s with me now and Katelyn, her younger sister, those three are an expression of the love that we shared together. And so father’s day for me is really all about that. I see lots when I celebrate that day,
I love that. And I love that idea of father’s day and mother’s day being more about mothering and more fathering. Cause I mean, to your point, we usually think of it as the opposite. It’s like, it’s vacation, this is vacation day. Let me be, it’s going to be like, it’s like, you want to hide? Yeah, we’re going to brunch and I’m taking a nap and all of you are going to run, you know? And I love that idea of actually just digging in more deeply on that day and doing more fathering or more mothering. That’s kind of a beautiful idea.
Yeah. Thanks. Yeah.
Are there any special ways that you honor and remember Maureen, in anything that you do as family or individuals that you can share with us?
I think the biggest thing we do is we just keep her alive every single day and we just talk about her, like she’s still alive and I know that might seem weird and different, but for our family, it works just the way that it just works. And like today would be her 56th birthday. And it seems like she would walk through the door and he would start singing happy birthday and have her carrot cake in her candles and just keeping her alive just makes it shows the fact that she was so important to us, each of us in our own different ways and that we love her endlessly. And then her love is still with us every single day. So just, I think for us, like keeping her alive is a big thing, but to the powder doughnut story.
But one of the other things we did Adam said the weekend before Maureen passed the oncologist prescribed donuts she had lost about 20 pounds with all the chemos. So we dutifully comply with that prescription quickly got a powder doughnut. And because it was hot in Texas at that time of year, you know, in September she turned on the AC and the pattern, the pattern donut kind of blue all over her. And even in her weakened state, you know, the two of us are sitting in front of the Honda Odyssey,
Laughing our heads off.
And so for the, for the first year on the 21st, which was the day she passed every month, I took out her donuts turn that day into a day of joy, not sadness to her oncologist at a funeral home to her old architect’s office, to the schools. And you know, to this day, that’s what we still do on the 21st. As a way to remember,
I love that. And I, and I love to, you know, something that you said Kyla, that you’d imagine her walking into a carrot cake and just that little detail remembering it’s carrot cake, right? Like that is, it’s such an important thing to keep her memory alive. That sounds, that’s just amazing. So Gary is a father of three raising your children after your wife has passed. Do you have any words of advice to those that may find themselves in that same situation Sunday?
Yeah. I mean, first of all, prayers to everyone out there that, that, that another dad doesn’t find themselves in this spot, but unfortunately this disease does what it does.
I can say it is be true to who you are, right? I mean, I I’m being the dad that I need to be with my three kids. And so every dad out there is going to be able to figure out, don’t worry about what you’re getting at, right. Don’t worry about what you get wrong. In my case, you know, I didn’t just love Maureen and the kid’s mom, but I cherished her and I adored her and I feel the same way about my three kids. And if you can get those three things right on any given day, all the rest of its details, the kids will be okay if you’re okay, let me, let me just make sure I got that cause that there was some great information there you said the first is be true to who you are as a dad. Cause not all dads are the same and not all daddy looks the same or a fathering looks the same, be who you need to be for your kids.
So a bend to what they need. Right. Don’t worry about if you get it right or wrong. And that’s a great one because it’s so hard as dads to worry, are we doing this right or not? And then cherish your children. Does that sound about right? Yeah. Cause love is powerful, but to cherish is just that something a little bit more. And you know, these three kids in our expression. And so I see her when I see that, Oh, that’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Well, Kyla, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners as well?
Just it’s something he says every what he would say to us every night. But he would always go, God loves you, mommy. And daddy love you. And you’re special. And I think at the end of the day, hearing those words and I bet you, a father has something else that they have special with their kids, but that’s something that we have with our dad and just cherish it’s as he always says, just cherish things. I think that, I think we cherish those moments and never taken for granted.
Yeah. Mom used to sing them good morning, sunshine in the mornings that can’t sing. So I gotta stick to my three things at night. That’s great. That’s great. Well, Gary Kyla, this has been a true pleasure, Maureen. It sounds like an amazing, amazing individual. Thank you for sharing your memories of her. Thank you for sharing your life with us and hope that we get a chance to talk again soon. Sounds good. Thanks Adam. Thank you so much.
Thanks for listening to real pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit real pink.com and.org for more on breast cancer. Visit komen.org. Make sure to check out@SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at @AJWalker or my blog. AdamJwalker.com. Thanks to Genentech for supporting real pink to find out more about Genentech’s latest advancements. Visit gene.com.
Thanks to Genentech for supporting Real Pink. To find out more about Genentech’s latest research advancements, visit gene.com.
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