Kristian’s dad Kenny is not only a motivational speaker. He lives by his life’s calling as well, which helped get him through Kristian’s terrifying cancer ordeal, following the motto: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Today is all we have.”
Now three years old, Kristian was born with down syndrome and a rare blood disorder that predisposed him to developing leukemia. For the first 14 months of his life, Kenny and his wife Jocelyn took their son to the doctor every two days for monitoring. In March 2018, he developed a dangerously high fever and was ultimately rushed to the ER for surgery. The doctors prepared Kristian’s parents for what was to come, a long road of treatment including many rounds of chemo and long hospital stays that forced Kristian’s three siblings to move into their grandmother’s house while their parents stayed by Kristian’s side.
Until this time, Kenny had danced every day for the past 17 years. Now, he was spending all his time in a small hospital room and had to significantly limit the hours of the dance studio he owned. So Kenny started dancing at Kristian’s bedside to keep his wife and son happy and laughing and made videos to show family and friends how they were doing. Kristian loved it! Though he couldn’t get out of bed, he moved his little arms and legs. When Kenny posted these videos on social media, they got thousands of views from around the world, leading to an interview on a local TV station. More importantly, Kristian started getting stronger,even though the doctors said the chemo would weaken him. His dad called him a “loose goose” and “ready to go!”
In July 2018, after 32 days of chemo, the family celebrated going home for a short break until the next round of treatment. Kenny made a video of their celebration using the song “Level Up” by Ciara, adding the hashtag #levelupchallenge to his posts. Little did he know that Ciara had already created a “Level up challenge” of her own and had reposted his video. When they got home from the hospital, that video had gotten 80,000 views; within 2 hours, it got 200,000. When they woke up in the morning, it had a million views on Instagram! It soon exploded on Twitter and was shared by celebrities like Hallie Berry, Ludacris and other artists and sports figures. Kenny got calls from BBC, CNN, ABC and the Steve Harvey Show, and from news channels in China, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. He did interview after interview for several weeks. Kristian was so excited to see himself on TV.
This publicity wasn’t just a silver lining because it lifted their spirits. Kind people around the world started donating money to help the family who had fallen into financial difficulty because of Kristian’s battle with cancer. They had limited ability to work, so with no income and mounting medical expenses, times were tough. Their story inspired $75,000 in donations to cover their medical bills. Ciara flew in from Seattle and surprised Kenny at his dance studio, naming him the winner of her Level Up Challenge and donating $5,000 to cover medical bills.
The Emmanuel Cancer Foundation helped the family get through as well, providing gift cards, delivering groceries, helping with rent, anything the family needed to lift their heavy day-to-day burdens during each of Kristian’s five rounds of chemo that necessitated month-long hospital stays. The doctors wanted him to do a 6th round, but Kristian had already beaten his cancer in record time, amazing his doctors who couldn’t explain it. But Kenny and Jocelyn believe in the power their positivity had in conquering the disease. “We sent any negativity back where it came from,” says Kenny.
Kristian and his siblings—Alyana who is 16, Kaleb who is 11 and six year old Javion—are taking the pandemic in stride. The boys love to play outside, while Alyana created a homemade lip-gloss business, following in her parents’ entrepreneurial spirit (mom has a custom t-shirt company). Kristian’s physical therapy was temporarily halted during the quarantine, so Kenny danced with him every day to keep him moving. Now he is not only walking “all over the place,” but also running, talking, learning his colors. Kenny believes in sharing the lessons he learned during their roller coaster cancer journey, including wisdom that seems particularly relevant as the world encounters the peaks and valleys of the Coronavirus crisis. “Change the mind,” says Kenny, “and you change the game.”
Follow Kenny on Facebook at Facebook.com/Kendogg.is.clutch and on Instagram: @kennyclutch_
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