Being diagnosed with colon cancer can be tough for anyone, especially when you aren’t expecting it. For Ken Kiess, who had a new marriage, new job and new home, the news was a tough pill to swallow. But instead of letting cancer define him, he sprung into action and even encouraged his family and friends to get involved in the fight.
Together, Ken and his family, including his twin brother Kurt, participated in this year’s Jersey Shore Undy Run/Walk where their team raised almost $40,000—the most in Undy history! We’re excited to honor both Ken and Kurt as Hero of the Month for their courage, inspiring story and tremendous efforts.
Tell us a little about yourself!
Ken: As a 51-year-old father of four who recently married my wonderful wife Julie, I was looking forward to beginning our new life and journey. I also started a new job and just bought a new house. We were settling down and, except for a couple of bumps in the road of having four teenagers, life was good—we were looking forward to a wonderful future.
Then, out of the blue, everything changed. I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with metastases to the liver on December 30, 2014. Not the kind of news anybody wants to hear, but it was what it was. Since that fateful day, I have not looked back nor asked “why me?” Life is never a constant and there are never any guarantees.
I am literally in the fight for my life not only for me and my family, but for all that may come after me with this diagnosis. I immediately wanted to help anyone else and when people asked me “what can I do for you,” I said get yourself checked immediately—that is what you can do for me.
Kurt: My brother and I are identical twins. I’m a Certified Public Accountant living in Manhasset, New York, which is the town we grow up in. I’m married with three kids and they all participated in the Jersey Shore Undy Run/Walk.
When did you learn about the Colon Cancer Alliance and why did you decide to get involved?
Ken: My involvement with the Colon Cancer Alliance started from my desire to help. I immediately connected with the website and was happy to get my entire Merrill Lynch office involved in Dress in Blue Day. (Also, I’m not a Facebook member, but I know my wife finds comfort in communicating with others who can relate in Blue Hope Nation.)
After Dress in Blue Day, I immediately started raising awareness and funds for the Undy Run/Walk. My wife came up with our name, The Smart Asses, and the cute, eye catching logo. We wanted the word ass somewhere in our logo to draw attention to getting checked. We used the smart ass logo on all of our correspondence and had team t-shirts made with the logo and the catch phrase, “Don’t be a dumb ass, get yourself checked.”
Kurt: For the past 10 years, I have raised money each summer for Swim Across America. We all know people who have been diagnosed with cancer. I’m not a doctor, so I will never be able to help a person with cancer, but I decided I could join the fight by raising money.
In December, I received a phone call from my brother telling me he had colon cancer. Of course, we were all very upset with this news. Not only was I concerned for my brother, but also for myself and my family. I had a colonoscopy and once I determined I was fine, I decided to do what I could to help Ken. Ken presented the idea of the run and I was committed to do it.
Your participation in this year’s Jersey Shore Undy was a family affair. How’d it feel to have your family’s support during the event?
Ken: My family and friends have been so strong for me during this time. They drove miles that Saturday morning to attend the race and raised $39,540 for the cause. I don’t know where I would be in this fight without their support.
Kurt: Proud and sad. I was proud of my family and friends for coming together for Ken, but I was sad for the reason we were there.
Team Smart Asses raised the highest amount in Undy history! What's the secret sauce to your fundraising success?
Kurt: It’s very simple to raise money—take the time to write a personal email and send it to your friends and coworkers. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, so most people want to help in some way. If you ask, they will give. It’s also true that Ken and I have some great friends and we all support each other.
What advice would you give someone who wants to support a family member who was diagnosed with colon cancer?
Kurt: Be positive and look forward. You may not be able to cure the cancer, but you are able to support the person.
What advice would you give someone who’s recently diagnosed and looking to get involved?
Ken: My advice is quite simple, you are never alone and there are many great people who want to help. Reach out to any and all who can be of help. Turn a bad thing into something good—never let cancer define who you are!
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.