Lorenzo Gayden wrote the following article. His wife, Kiwana Gayden, held a significant role as a board member of the IBC Network Foundation. Unfortunately, Kiwana passed away in 2018, and her absence is deeply felt every day. – The IBC Network Foundation

by Lorenzo Gayden

February 14, 1975. That is the day she made her arrival on planet Earth, which is rather fitting; Valentine’s Day- the day of love (ironically, neither of us really celebrated V-day – go figure)!

Kiwana Valesia Thomas Gayden (affectionately called Kiki by friends and family) was a beautiful soul who possessed a thirst for knowledge, a depth of intelligence and a sense of humor that are all very rare, but more substantial than all of these was her kind, brave heart.  She was as sensitive as she was loving; she could cry at the drop of a dime (sometimes at the most inopportune times), but the balance to that was her ability to make everyone in her presence feel special and loved, and in turn, she was well loved by many!  

She granted me the honor of being the protector of her heart as her husband, and it was a task that I took very seriously, though it rarely seemed like a task at all, for it and she brought me great joy.

Her thirst for knowledge led her to becoming an award-winning poet, yoga instructor, jewelry Artisan, bath and body product maker, and a master chemist (She actually had enrolled a PhD program for nuclear chemistry).  Her depth of intelligence made her excel at all of these things. Her sense of humor made her an absolute blast to be around even in the midst of all of these endeavors. The thread through all of these attributes, however, was her heart. It made her a beloved leader in her profession, fueled all of her creative efforts, and was the catalyst for her eventually becoming a Warrior in the fight against Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC).

Life for us had its fair share of challenges but we enjoyed a Beautiful, joy filled life together. Among those challenges were fertility issues, as many couples experience, and we met this challenge by focusing on our health through diet and exercise. I admittedly did just enough to improve my part of the equation, But Kiki took this challenge quite seriously, becoming intensely dedicated to eating healthy and working out; she even became an avid half-marathon runner. 

This made the news of her IBC diagnosis in January of 2016 all the more unexpected. As I prepared to support her in this battle (having experience being my mother’s treatment partner as she dealt with cancer also), I figured it would be a private fight that we would wage together. Little did I know that magnanimous heart of hers would beckon her to become a fierce public advocate for IBC awareness, sharing her personal journey with those who were also battling as well as raising general awareness about breast cancer. Her scientific mind allowed her to digest complex information about the cancer and its treatment and share it in a way that people could understand. She attended Breast Cancer research conferences, did television, radio and newspaper interviews; I even witnessed her lending her humor, knowledge and strength to help fellow patients who were having a difficult time navigating their cancer treatment journeys.

She was, indeed, a Love Warrior, bravely fighting her own battle while rarely missing any opportunity to help others. She was a lover of life and of people, and I believe this – her heart- drove her.  Her being in so physically active allowed her to tolerate the heavy doses of chemotherapy required to tackle her very aggressive IBC and give her a tick over a year of No Evidence of Disease. Her knowledge of her family history of dealing with breast cancer (she lost her grandmother and a very close cousin to the disease) made her choice to get a preventative double mastectomy an easy one.

We thoroughly enjoyed life during that year of no cancer treatment. We traveled, went to concerts, even took a cruise to South America. In January of 2018, the cancer returned, and though we were deeply disappointed by the news, her resolve to fight never waned as chemo and radiation therapy were prescribed. Unfortunately, her story did not end the way we wanted. Due to complications from the treatment, she took her last breath on July 12, 2018, as I was holding her hand.

There are levels to the devastation of losing her that, to this day are still unfolding in my head and heart, but I wouldn’t trade my time with her, good and bad, for anything in the world! These words can’t begin to capture the entire picture of who she was, but hopefully they will offer an inspiring glimpse of a beautiful spirit whose life ended far too soon. It is my hope that one day, stories like this will be a thing of the past.

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