Upbeat attitude helps hotel owner overcome cancer

15 years ago
By Barbara Scott
Staff Writer

    At the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life held in Presque Isle,  Kevin Simmons, owner of the Caribou and Presque Isle Inn and Convention Centers, along with his mother, Jean, his designated care giver, held the banner during the Suvivor Lap of the event.

    “After what I have recently endured, I want to do anything I can to prevent others from having to go through this horrifying ordeal. This year, I have been granted permission to participate in the Relay for Life event, I am grateful to say that I will be walking in the inspirational Survivor’s Lap,” he said.
    In the later part of 2005, Simmons was diagnosed with AML-leukemia. Proceeding with a strong will and continuous support, he underwent several rounds of intense chemotherapy; by June, 2006, he had succeeded in battling the disease into full remission.
    In October of last year Simmons found himself confronted with another setback, the disease had returned and under the determination of his doctors, he was faced with the most aggressive option, undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Returning to the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Simmons went through another grueling month of chemotherapy, and upon completion of these treatments was ready to head to Boston for the transplant operation.
    Entering the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in early December 2007, Simmons underwent the procedure, receiving his brother Ed’s bone marrow on Dec. 13-14. The transplant was successful but what supposedly was to be a month-long recovery at the cancer institute became a 10-week war, due to life-threatening complications. Complications from the intensive chemotherapy — full-body air radiations Simmons had previously underwent — resulted in a sudden breakdown in liver and kidney functions, the day before he was to leave for home.
    Over the next weeks, Simmons was treated with an experimental drug and with dialysis a likely path, his body started to respond once again. His condition eventually improved and the disease was once again in remission. Simmons was released from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute on Feb. 14, once again faced with an intense and critical six months recovery, continuously under doctors’ observations.
    “Thankfully, for whatever reasons, the brain at some point overpowers the memory and there are stretches of time during that last battle with my kidneys and liver  that I can’t remember at all,” he said.
    Simmons now faces a minimum two-year recovery period, as his body renews itself and adjusts to his brother’s bone marrow. Smiling, and ever the optimist, Simmons commented, “Right now I have two DNAs, my own and my brother’s. Eventually, my own will be overtaken by his healthy marrow and my immune system will rebuild.”
    “I face up to a year in isolated recovery in Portland,” said Simmons, “my immune system is currently like that of a child’s, I have no immunizations in my body.” Simmons will always be ‘immuno surpressed’.
    Currently Simmons is doing well, and though it will take two years for his strength to return, he has now graduated from both his physical therapy and nursing regiments. “I will continue fighting and get back up here again, to keep things going in the county. Simmons now sees his doctor once a month and although thin, is healthy once again.
    Throughout his medical ordeal, Simmons noted that if it wasn’t for his Mom, Jean, who has been and continues to be beside him each day, helping him face these medical struggles in his life, things would have been even more difficult.
    Owning the two businesses in Caribou and Presque Isle created even more stress for Simmons but during his long absence things have continued to go forward. “I am so thankful for my staff and management, “Simmons stressed, “They keep things running successfully.”
    Although he hasn’t been present at his business locations, Simmons has been and continues to be involved with all aspects, working first from the hospitals when he was able to and now even more from his home in Portland.  Simmons  anxiously looks forward to being back at the helm before too much longer.
    “I know that I must follow a healthy lifestyle; I have to be concerned with keeping my stress level down, this is a must and I am currently on a short leash,” he said.
    Although the acute leukemia should never rear its head again, Simmons must take precautions being in the public, due to the weakness of his immune system. “I must be aware of the necessity of total isolation, to prevent being in contact with any type of bacteria. I can’t go out and play in the dirt or grass, due to airborne bacteria,” he said.
    The local businessman lives in Portland with his mother, in continued isolation and a medically clean environment. “One of the hardest things we had to do was find a new home for our Parrot, who was placed in a sanctuary. We’ve had the parrot for seven years,” said Simmons. “Birds and cats are the worst offenders due to the spores  emitted from their feathers and hair,” he added.
    Simmons wished those who sent cards and prayers or who called while he has been ill to know how grateful he is for their care and concern. “At one point, my mom had to unplug the telephone because is never stopped. We felt bad about doing that, but it became too much for her to deal with at that time. The mail was just unimaginable. I couldn’t wait for my ‘mail day’, once everything had been sterilized they would bring it in to me all at once. It was wonderful, it helped me get through a lot of bad times. thank you all again.”
    When Simmons returned to Portland, following the Relay for Life, Survivor Lap, and traveled once more to Boston for his monthly checkup. “I’m fine,”  said Simmons by phone, “everything is good.”   
    In relation to his two businesses, Simmons is optimistic. “I’m looking forward to being back at the helm, facing new challenges as well as the ones we’re facing now. My staff and myself are pre-planning for the future, with the possibility of  dealing with a new franchise coming into to the area. We can think on our own, I’m a fighter,” he said with a smile.
    Simmons, an advocate for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, encourages others to support this cause. He, himself spent much time raising pledges for the event and continues to support the cancer society, raising a large amount of funds through friends, family and business associates.


ImageContributed photo
    PRIOR TO THE START of this year’s annual Relay for Life, there was a special lap dedicated to cancer survivors and caregivers. Among those leading this year’s lap were Kevin Simmons (holding banner on right), owner of the Caribou and the Presque Isle Inn & Convention Centers, and his mother, Jean (beside him). Simmons has been fighting cancer for the past three years, and the Relay for Life marked the first time he has been back to the county since November 2006.