From 200 to 42,200: Peter Kirk’s Cancer Journey, Part 3

Written by Peter Kirk’s Wife, Torun Kirk

Hi everyone!  It’s been so amazing and moving to see the amount of response and care that has flooded our way since Peter started sharing his survival story.  I am his wife, Torun Kirk, and I’m taking over his post this week to share my perspective on Peter.

I met Peter about 18 years ago in Copenhagen.  I was working in the fashion industry at the time.  Peter was out one night and ran into a colleague of mine.  They started talking and Peter told my friend that he was ready to settle down and meet his future wife.  My friend smiled widely and told Peter that coincidentally, a ski weekend was being planned with a number of his friends (including me).  There were 15 women and only 4 men committed.  Peter jumped at that chance!  We had a group meet and greet dinner soon after and I met Peter for the first time.  I was very impressed with him.  He was smart, savvy, funny and successful.  The only question I had for him was, “why are you still single?” He was so determined to prove to me that he was a good guy that he put me on the phone with a friend of his.  That friend assured me that HE WAS THE BEST of THE BEST.  I still wasn’t so sure……

A couple weeks later was the ski trip and Peter made every excuse in the book to spend time with me.  He was focused and on a mission.  And it all took off from there.  I was hooked.  

We were married and started our amazing and beautiful family.  Sophie is our oldest at 16 and has been my absolute rock during Peter’s sickness and hospitalization.  Arthur is 12 and Tristan is 10.  This has been tough on all of them and brought out very different personalities as they coped.  The youngest became lost in his guitar and practiced nonstop to play a song for daddy when he returned home.  Hours and hours on Youtube learning the song See You Again, by Charlie Puth.

Peter is one of the most loving people I have ever met.  He has always thought of others before himself.  BUT he is also the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.  He never gives up. It is just who he is.  That’s how I knew at the hospital he was not going to die.  He is too stubborn.

When COVID hit, long before Peter got sick, we had a conversation over dinner one night.  He commented on how people who were being put on a ventilator were ultimately dying.  That the ventilator was really the last sign.  He casually made me promise that if he got sick, that I would not put him on a ventilator.  Coincidentally, that conversation was the biggest contributor to the hardest moment during Peter’s hospitalization.  Because, that’s exactly what happened months later.  Peter’s cancer and double pneumonia wreaked sheer havoc on his lungs and his oxygen levels plummeted.  The doctors, nurses and ICU hematologist were brutally honest.  Peter was the sickest patient in the ICU, he was not improving at all and nothing was working. I was told that my family and I may want to prepare to say goodbye.  At that point, Peter wasn’t getting enough oxygen and needed the vent to survive. 

Oh my God, I thought.  I had to deal with this decision.  All I could remember was that conversation months ago where Peter made me promise not to allow the doctors to put him on a ventilator.  I talked to his family in Denmark about going against Peter’s wishes.  Peter was sedated so I couldn’t talk to him about it.  It was my hardest moment.  To agree to something that I was unsure about and knew Peter might not want. I put it off until the doctors told me that I couldn’t anymore.  When the time came, I decided to use the ventilator.  I decided it was the BEST DECISION to save his life.  He needed oxygen to survive.

I went home and talked to our kids and it was the toughest conversation I have ever had.  I was honest but compassionate and stayed strong.  I told them that Daddy will be put on a ventilator because he is really sick. Sophie came into my bedroom later that night and we just cried together through the night. 

The next morning, I was prepared for anything.  In my gut I KNEW that Peter would make it.  He is strong – physically and mentally.  He is the rock of the family.  Even after the vent the doctors told me that he would most likely not make it out of the hospital.  I knew they were wrong.  I said, “you don’t know Peter.” 

Five awful and long days went by.  I was there by his side.  The hospital pastor showed up. I jumped up and met her at Peter’s door but kindly wouldn’t let her in.  She took my hand and we chatted.  I told her Peter was not going anywhere that day.  I thanked her and asked her to go pray for Peter, but in her office.  She obliged.  One other time on those five days she returned.  I jumped up, blocked the door, thanked her and asked her to continue her vigil in her office again.  She did.  

After five days on the vent, the doctor turned and looked at me.  He excitedly said, “I can’t believe it!  His oxygen levels are improving!  He’s improving!”  Every single member of Peter’s medical team was jubilant.  Against all odds, Peter was getting better.  Soon he was moved out of the ICU and to the regular cancer ward.  He continued to improve and was eventually released home to continue with cancer treatments.

About a month later we were out to dinner.  Peter really didn’t know how serious it ever was.  I hadn’t told him that I was told to prepare to say goodbye to him.  He was unconscious and sedated for all of the worst of it.  I hadn’t told anyone, not even his parents, how bad it really was.  I took his hand and I laid it out.  Every detail.  Through tears I relayed the worst moments of his hospitalization.  He sat there in silence for what felt like an hour.  Then came the questions.  He had so many questions. 

I wasn’t surprised when Peter told me that he was going to run the NYC Marathon.  He didn’t really talk to me about it.  He just told us at a family dinner one night.  He reassured us that his doctor was supportive.  I guess that’s all I needed to know. 

You see, Peter needs this goal to feel like he has beaten this event in his life.  It’s just who Peter is.  He needs to know his body can be strong again.  I completely understand this. Peter will put an impossible goal in front of him just so he can tackle it.  And he will.

Someone asked me if things are back to normal in the Kirk home.  My answer?  “Oh yes.  In fact, so normal that I suggested to Peter that he goes back to spending more time in the office than at home with me.” 

Now that the marathon is just a few short days away, I’m eager to see what challenge Peter takes on next.