This is the fourth and final installment of a series on Shawn Kuykendall’s epic Facebook page. In case you missed it, Parts One, Two, and Three gave us a glimpse into the life of a man who could make us laugh with the best of them. But what follows is Shawn at his very best. Brace for the story that redefines what it means to be strong.
2013 (July – December)
Encouraging messages start pouring in for no apparent reason, while throwbacks of Shawn with his friends suddenly flood his Newsfeed. Clearly something’s wrong. Then, the dagger: a friend requests prayer as Shawn begins “his first round of chemotherapy.”
Wait, what? For Shawn?
On July 16th, Shawn would announce that he had a rare form of cancer in his chest, and that it was spreading. Stage Four. The body of a professional athlete was now failing him. Shawn was dying.
“My biggest ray of hope is that God has a purpose for me…” he explained. “I love you all and hope to connect soon. Shawn Kuykendall. #Kuykenstrong.”
Days later, after a second round of chemotheraphy, Shawn shaved his rapidly-thinning hair. For those who couldn’t believe it, this was tangible, undeniable proof that Shawn was in the fight of his life. Nothing would ever be the same.
Meanwhile, this “Kuykenstrong” thing caught fire and spread fast. Almost immediately, a Kuykenstrong blog and Facebook page began tracking Shawn’s treatment, while “#Kuykenstrong” shirts and bracelets started selling like hotcakes. Had someone embroidered “Kuykenstrong” on a leather couch it would have gone for thousands. Indeed, with one quick hashtag, Shawn created a moniker of hope for everybody who knew him… and countless others who didn’t.
In time, hundreds of people would post pictures of themselves wearing their Kuykenstrong swag. After all, this was one fashion statement upon which Shawn and the rest of the world could agree. Friends, former teammates, and current professional soccer players all posed in their new gear. Heck even this thoughtful DC United intern offered his support…
Of course, Shawn didn’t ask for the fanfare – all he requested was prayer. And on August 16th, he got lots of it. From Georgetown University Hospital, Shawn announces he is preparing for round three of chemotherapy.
Afterward, his doctors reported the mass in his chest had shrunk, and that his body was responding well to treatment. Obviously great news, but tempered by the reality that the disease was still taking its toll. Shawn then thanked his family for making life feel “normal” despite the “abnormal” circumstances – all of which represented their new normal.
September 5: Shawn posts a video of “red stuff” going into his body and smiles like a lunatic as he gives a big thumbs-up. That red substance, of course, is chemo-related poison. No big deal. Days later, Shawn would be honored at RFK Stadium by the DC United Soccer Team. For someone as humble as Shawn, it’s easy to forget he once played soccer for this storied franchise. You know, no big deal…
September 26: Shawn confesses he’s “drained” and requests prayer to get through his fifth round of chemotherapy. “It’s not easy to fight and I can certainly put on a brave front,” declares Shawn. “Today I want to say how difficult it is and I need God more than ever.” Scared, weak, but never quite so strong, Shawn would soon announce that the mass in his chest had shrunk yet again, rendering the torturous rounds of chemotherapy worthwhile. God bless him, he was fighting back.
Cancer will force a man to make some difficult decisions, but on October 7th, Shawn faced an easy one. Indeed, Shawn reports that 90s hit Wannabe by the Spice Girls is playing on his iPod, forcing him to decide whether to “hit next” or “let it ride.” Of course, Shawn being Shawn, we know exactly how this ends: “Just kidding. I let it plaayyyyyyy.” And rightfully so.
October 17: Shawn notes that his rare disease makes him the first person ever at Georgetown Hospital to receive the formula that encompasses his chemotherapy. He also observes that he is usually the “first one in and last one out” of the infusion center, and that bald is “still not his best look.” His conclusion?
“Whatever you face today…be bold. Be brave.”
Shawn declares “God is good,” which is how most of his posts now begin. He then reveals the disheartening news: his cancer is spreading. Aggressively. So much so that he was in the emergency room to control the pain. Despite this gut-wrenching post, Shawn insists: “Don’t give up, and smile today.” Well, I didn’t smile that day.
Shawn did make me smile on November 20 when, paying homage to some of the best music ever made, he notes: “when someone yells ‘STOP’ I am not sure if it’s in the name of love, it’s Hammer-time, or if I should collaborate and listen.” Well well well. Looks like Shawnsington’s back with a brand new edition!
Days later, the Washington Post publishes a front page article on Shawn, which ignites a wildfire of shares, posts and praises. “I Need God More Than Ever” was the title, and those who regularly read the Post know that faith-centric articles are a departure from the norm. But then again, there was nothing normal about Shawn, and now there was no denying that he was legitimately famous. Indeed, followers from around the world wanted to know more about what it meant to be Kuykenstrong.
Shawn spends nearly the entire month at the Georgetown University Hospital in high spirits and in excruciating pain. The disease would keep Shawn from his sister Sami’s wedding – perhaps cancer’s biggest blow yet.
Shawn didn’t post much of anything this month, and the silence was deafening. Then, on January 27th, Shawn announces: “This bachelor is sexy for sure. But he is boring me fast.” Now chalk this up to things I never thought I’d say: Shawn’s insider commentary on ABC’s the Bachelor was a legit breath of fresh air. For those praying for Shawn, this post was sexy for sure.
Shawn shares a post from his “most smart friend” Sergio Del Valle, who drops wisdom on an on-going debate about the existence of God. Knowing thousands of people were tuning in, Shawn figured they should understand why he believed God was real. Fittingly, this was the last thing Shawn would ever post on Facebook.
February 21: Shawn turns 32 and spends the day fighting for his life in the hospital. Says Shawn’s mom Sherry, one of nearly 500 people who would post on his wall that day, “Happy birthday to the strongest man I know.” The Kuykendalls, who had been by Shawn’s side for countless selfies, surgeries and soccer games through the years, were determined to be at his side through the finish.
And then, on March 12th, it was finished. Shawn’s fight was over. He was now at someone else’s side…
Shawn could have cursed his disease, but chose instead to raise awareness for the cure we have in Jesus Christ – the man who walked this earth without sin, and then died on a cross so that we could have a relationship with God. Jesus isn’t something Shawn believed; He’s someone Shawn knew. And boy do they have a lot to talk about…
Indeed, both had thousands of followers, both faced death sentences in their early thirties, both endured seemingly endless suffering, and both brought life to a dying world. One went bald, the other wore a crown of thorns – the parallels are impossible to ignore. Of course, Shawn wasn’t without sin and that’s precisely why he needed Jesus each and every day. I’ll let him explain this better than I ever could:
By God’s endless mercy, Shawn is now free. His Hot Body Campaign is complete, and the results, I’m sure, are SILLAAAYYY. Which brings me back to why we started this journey in the first place…
Shawn’s Facebook page is epic because it highlights so beautifully the life of a friend who left nothing on the field of life. It tells the story of a man who provided so much light in an oft dark and dreary world. That’s why I leave you with this:
Yep, what you watched was a music video featuring Shawn, his sister Sami, and actor Robby Stone dancing, fist-pumping and deer hunting their way through Justin Bieber’s “Eenie Meenie,” with sweet cameos by Audrey Hepburn and Jason Kuykendall. It’s an eenie meenie glimpse into a man of incredible character who had the heart of a child. It’s classic Shawn.
Shawn got cancer, but there’s victory in knowing cancer never really got Shawn. He was a fighter all the way, and through his story, scripture has become real to people around the world. It’s a narrative of triumph over tragedy – a legendary account of how Shawn was made weak, and in his weakness, he was made strong.