I met Kelly VanderWerff in 2002 on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend. I was immediately drawn to her intelligence, sense of humor, and exuding optimism. After dating for a number of years, Kelly became my wife in 2010 and - in an instant – was a stepmother to our daughter, Piper. True to her accepting nature, Kelly took to it fantastically and we were never happier. We shared a love of travel and planned for a long future together. In life, Kelly was an accomplished, respected professional. Through her work with at-risk youth in the juvenile justice system and later as a school-based substance abuse prevention manager, Kelly made an impressive impact in our community. She eventually assumed a position at the University of Iowa that was designed to target high-risk drinking behavior among college students and she worked to develop innovative initiatives to create a safer downtown. Kelly was a progressive thinker and the job allowed her to blend her intrinsic inclination to help others with her sense of social responsibility. And she loved it!
In early 2013, Kelly began experiencing pain in her right hip. Because she was a fit and active person Kelly initially dismissed it, attributing the pain to overzealous workouts. As time went on, however, Kelly could no longer ignore the pain (causing misery) and visited her doctor at the urging of family and friends. Her doctor told her that she had a “muscle issue” and was advised to begin physical therapy. As the year progressed, however, the pain worsened and I encouraged Kelly to get a second opinion. As a result of my insistence, Kelly learned that there was a “mass in her hip.” Following a series of tests, Kelly was officially diagnosed with osteosarcoma and immediately began an aggressive round of chemotherapy that lasted several months. In October of 2013, Kelly underwent a hemipelvectomy - a procedure that involves removal of the top of the femur and right hip. As part of her rehabilitation, Kelly spent the month following surgery in grueling physical therapy but Kelly never once complained about this life change. As partners in recovery, Kelly and I accepted her condition and vowed to do whatever it took to get her well.
Some time following her surgical intervention and treatment, Kelly and I received the devastating news that the cancer was a much more aggressive than originally thought and the medical term for it was: high grade dedifferentiated chondrosarcoma. Despite this news (and subsequent removal of a lung nodule), Kelly and I did feel as though her condition was improving. It wasn't until Kelly endured nine more rounds of chemotherapy that we learned the cancer had spread to her lungs and diaphragm and there was little more the doctors could do. Kelly spent her last few months connecting with family and friends, saying her [silent] “good-byes” with the utmost grace and dignity. On September 18th, 2014, Kelly lost her battle with cancer. Kelly was a fighter and endured more pain than any human ever should but she made an enormously positive impact on hundreds of lives. She is greatly missed.
I love you, Kelly, and miss you more than words could ever express.