Chris’ life and struggle with cancer, as told by his mom, Sharla Folk.
Christopher Aaron Knox was born on Sept 14, 1983 in Weyburn, Saskatchewan and soon moved to Regina, where he attended Ruth Pawson School.
Christopher was a very focused and competitive athlete. He loved playing soccer, baseball and basketball, and even though he was smaller than most of his teammates, he had a very determined heart. In addition to sports, he was involved in school plays, choir, played the trumpet in the school band, and was an eager boy scout, obtaining every badge possible.
When Christopher began high school at Robert Usher his focus became football. He played for both the Regina Minor Football League and for his school.
One of Christopher’s most trying times happened June 9/2001, when Christopher’s best friend, brother, and mentor, was killed in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. Dustin was 20 years of age. Christopher missed his brother very much and in the fall of that year he played football both for his school and the memory of his beloved brother, Dustin.
After high school Christopher had many different jobs It was while working on the drilling rigs in Weyburn that Christopher noticed he was having a hard time trying to keep up with workers the same age and build as him. He started to have unexplained pain and visited doctors often, but all they saw was a healthy looking young man who was working a very physical job. After giving it all he had, Chris moved back to Regina. He was quite content to be back with his buddies, enjoying good times with friends.
Chris took on jobs that were less physical; he worked at Sears Department store for a while where he met the love of his life, Beth Macarthur. They developed an instant attraction to one another and enjoyed fishing, swimming, colouring (yes, colouring) and crafts. They were more than just a couple they were best friends.
Chris started with a fertilizer supply company in June 2006; again the work was quite physical. Chris had been to the doctor a few times during this past year because of swelling of the lymph nodes in his groin area. Each time the doctor would prescribe an antibiotic and never do a blood test. The antibiotics would take away the swelling for a couple of weeks, but Chris was having major night sweats and the pain in his legs kept him awake. Christopher was getting very little sleep, but tried to keep working. We all noticed he was losing weight, but attributed it to the physical nature of his job.
After Chris went to a doctor again about his lymph nodes came home with another prescription, I took him to my own doctor They did blood tests and discovered his white blood cells were low, but his red was alright. The next morning (August 26,2006) I went to wake my son for work but Chris could not go, the pain in his legs had kept him up all night. That was when the family, including Beth, decided it was time to find out what was wrong with him. Beth dropped Chris off at the Pasqua emergency at 8am, and we told him not to leave there until he knew what was wrong with him.
At 3pm I received a call at work from Chris. He sounded worried and panicked, and said ‘Mom you better get down here. They want to take out my lymph nodes.’ Instantly I rushed down to the hospital. My heart was in my stomach. I was so scared I could hardly drive.
Once I got to Pasqua emergency I immediately rushed over to Chris, who was sitting on an emergency bed in the hallway. We sat in silence waiting for someone to come talk to us. We were very nervous and scared; I could see three doctors talking and looking toward us. I just knew it wasn’t good news. One of the young doctors finally introduced himself as Dr. Ross and led us into a little side room with a comfy couches and chairs. When I saw that room I knew things weren’t good; I had been there when my M\mother and I were told my grandmother had passed away. Sure enough, Dr. Ross began by telling us Chris had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I knew right away what it was, but Chris looked like he did not understand, and then Dr. Ross said, “Chris you have cancer”. Well of course we both melted, me more so than Chris. Dr. Ross tried to reassure us that if Chris had to get cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was the one to get, because it had the highest cure rate. However, further testing would have to be done immediately.
We left the hospital, and Chris and I were standing in the emergency parking trying to get hold of Beth and Kim (husband). I remember Chris looking over at me and saying, “Oh my God Mom what is going to happen to you?” I remember saying “Don’t you worry about me, we are going to fight this thing.” Our journey of learning to live with cancer had begun.
Within a day or so we were sent to a pathologist to do a bone marrow extraction in order to find out specifically what kind cancer Chris had. My sister Gail came with us for support, and thank God for that. The extraction of bone marrow is a very painful process; it was very hard to see my son in so much pain; but Gail was very comforting and not squeamish. Plus, Chris would listen to Aunty Gail.
We waited through the weekend, agonizing over the results. On Monday we received the results. Chris had lymphatic leukemia and we were sent over to the Alan Blair Cancer Clinic at the Pasqua. There we met Dr. Haq, an oncologist for the pediatrics clinic. Chris’s cancer was considered to be a childhood cancer and young adults up to the age of 23 will be treated in the Alan Blair pediatrics unit.
Our first meeting at the clinic was pretty scary. Dr. Haq took us into a nice little room with comfy chairs and all I thought was, “Here we go”. His diagnosis was actually very encouraging. He said that Christopher was caught at an early stage of his cancer, usually by the time they see them at the clinic they have 75% to 90% of bad cells where Chris’s were at 48% and therefore the possibility of survival was 75%. He explained the treatment would take three years. The first portion of the treatment would be the hardest and Chris would be in the hospital for 10 days to three weeks. After three weeks they would perform another bone marrow extraction to see how Chris had responded. I remember Chris looking up at Dr. Haq and saying, “Ok, let’s go get started.” He wanted to live and that was all there was to it. Chris was admitted that day, tests began, a port was put in and Chemo started. I tell you, take a high-strung son and put him on steroids and what do you have? It was very stressful and Beth and I were the punching bags, but we took it to keep him there. Anything Chris wanted, Chris got.
After 3 weeks of intense treatment, Chris’s bone marrow was once again tested. Amazingly, and to our relief, Chris was considered a “rapid responder.” Hallelujah, this is what we had been praying for! Chris’s chance of survival jumped from 75% to 90%. We were overjoyed!
We continued on with the 2nd stage of treatment. Every Wednesday morning Chris and I, and often Beth, would head to the cancer clinic for treatment. At the beginning it was all pretty scary but as time went by it became like our 2nd home. The nurses were awesome and the patients were incredible. Chris was so glad he was treated in pediatrics because it gave him strength, to see these little kids going thru treatment. As he said “I can’t sit here and feel sorry for myself, I have had it pretty good.”
Chris took a lot of joy from those children; Wednesdays were the best because it was music therapy day. Louise would come in with all her instruments and guitar and have all these young ones singing and playing instruments. Chris and Beth also befriended a little girl named Alex, who was five and had an inoperable brain tumor. When Chris went to her funeral, I think it made him realize how vulnerable he was.
An odd thing occurred in the middle of October; Chris and I were sleeping when the hospital called, and told Chris to make sure to bring me with him when he came for his treatment. When Chris told me that I thought, “That’s weird, I am there for every treatment.” In my mind I knew something was up and Chris probably did too.
Once we got to the clinic, we were immediately escorted into a little side room and Dr. Haq and nurse Nancy came in and shut the door. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what now?”
That was when Dr. Haq told us they had misdiagnosed Chris; he did not have leukemia he had Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. For last couple months since Chris’s original bone marrow extract two pathologists had been disagreeing on Chris’s diagnosis, and a sarcoma specialist in Vancouver confirmed that it was Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Chris now had stage 4 Cancer and just went from 90% chance of survival to 10%.
Well of course we wanted a 2nd opinion, so they sent Chris’s bone marrow to a doctor in Arkansas and he confirmed it was Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. I told Dr. Haq I want my own 2nd opinion, so they gave me all his files and I faxed everything they had on to a specialist in Edmonton and one in Winnipeg.
The doctor in Edmonton called us back. He told us he had reviewed the tests and he asked Chris over the phone “What do you want to do with the rest of your life, because you could have 1 yr, maybe 2, maybe 3, but because it looks like you are responding well you may have more time. You have a fatal disease and there is no cure at this stage.” I just crumbled. I just thought it was very unethical to take away someone’s hope
My husband and I went without Chris to talk to Dr. Haq the next day. He tried to explain to me what Chris had and how deadly his disease was. I tried to question how this misdiagnosis could of happened. I asked Dr. Haq, “Have you not ever in your career given a grim diagnosis and been surprised to see that person up and living their life?”
He said, “Yes Sharla I have seen miracles.”
I said. “And why can’t a miracle happen to my son?” And we walked out. I would not give up hope and would not let Chris, because hope is all we had left. I was advised not read about his disease on the internet. We knew the odds were against us, but we refused to give up hope, and neither did Chris.
Chris continued with his treatment and enjoyed life as best he could. He was responding very well to the treatments, and his counts were always good. We remained very hopeful.
In the latter part of August 2007, with only two major treatments remaining, Chris began to have seizures and went in the hospital for a CAT scan. The waiting was unbearable for the entire family. Dr Haq came back from reading the scan and pulled us into the side room once again. Chris’s cancer had traveled to his brain, leaving five lesions positioned in different sections of his brain, and was inoperable. Chemotherapy treatment was discontinued and radiation was to begin. Chris was assigned to a radiation doctor and told he had three to six months to live. Once again Chris said, “Let’s get started.”
My husband Kim mentioned to me that we really needed to pick up Chris’s spirits. Why don’t we try to get tickets to the Labour Day Rider game, which had been sold out for months. I asked one of the nurses at the clinic if by chance they knew of tickets. The next day we found out they had managed to obtain two tickets for the big game. Chris was thrilled.
Game day turned out to be more special than anyone would have expected. After the game Mike McCullough ran into the stands with the game ball in hand, screaming Chris’s name. I guess being so crazy in the stands; Mike took it upon himself to say, “Come with me Chris!” The team and coaches brought Chris into the locker room after the big win. They prayed for Chris and Chris danced with the game ball. Priceless!
The event led to a lot of media interest from radio, television, and newspaper. TSN sent a film crew out to interview Chris. Chris was able to pass on the message of how cancer had affected his life and what he had seen and experienced in the Alan Blair Pediatrics Cancer Clinic.
Chris completed radiation and had to wait thirty days before another CAT scan could be done. My husband and my coworkers held a fundraiser to help send Chris to Tofino so he could see the ocean for the first time. The response was overwhelming, from not just coworkers, but from the general public as well. Chris’s message of cancer and hope had been received.
The trip to Tofino was cut short due to Chris’s health. We came back to Regina to have Chris checked out, and Dr. Haq, who had not seen Chris in 15 days, could not believe how fast he was going. The CAT scan revealed that the lesions had shrunk considerably, but with no Chemo, the cancer had started to spread rapidly throughout his body. Chemo was not an option, Chris was too weak and it would kill him. We were all devastated.
Chris continued to live life as best as he could and even managed to attend a few more Rider games. At this time Chris was in a wheelchair and one loyal Rider fan gave up his boxed seats for the Western Semi Final so Chris could attend the game.
After the Riders won the Western Final, we were contacted by Kelly Schermann. If Chris was able, Kelly wanted to help raise enough money to send him to the Grey Cup in Toronto. We agreed, but stated that his Palliative nurse and I would have to accompany him. Kelly agreed and said he would do his best. The fundraiser took on a life of its own and not only sent Chris, but also his entire family and girlfriend, along with ten other Saskatchewan children fighting cancer and their chaperones. The efforts for the other ten children started with Trevor Lowey.
The kids had a fantastic time, with Toronto rolling out the red carpet and giving them a much-needed break from cancer. Seeing how these events affected these kids as well as our son inspired us, along with Kelly and Trevor, to set up the Chris Knox Foundation. This charity will help children and young adults in treatment, remission or palliative care (up to the age of 30) attend sporting, fine arts and cultural events, giving them a much-deserved reprieve and creating some happy memories with their families.