Kristen and Phil Reiss, Jr. met in 2011. Kristen had been friends with Katy Reiss, who was Phil’s younger sister. Katy and Kristen had become friends as undergraduate students, and Kristen was introduced to Phil at Katy’s wedding. Kristen and Phil hit it off and started dating shortly after Katy’s wedding. Within a couple of years, Kristen and Phil decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. Amidst the joys of planning for their wedding in 2014, the Reiss family was struck by a tragedy: Phil’s father, Phil Reiss, Sr., was diagnosed with stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.
Phil, Sr. had experienced stomach and chest pains for approximately one year. He was reluctant to seek medical care, but the family pressed him to see a doctor. When he eventually sought medical care, he was told that he had acid reflux. Over the course of the next 6 months, Phil tried different medications but nothing alleviated his discomfort. Finally, he was referred for a test called an upper endoscopy. In this procedure, a small camera looks down into the upper digestive tract to see changes in the esophagus, duodenum and the top portion of the stomach. During the endoscopy, the doctor discovered a mass in Phil’s duodenum. Further testing showed that the 4 X 6 centimeter mass was pancreatic adenocarcinoma that had invaded the duodenum. On March 30th, 2014, Phil was given the diagnosis of Stage IIB Pancreatic Cancer.
Because of the positioning of the tumor, Phil was not a candidate for surgery. He started receiving chemotherapy within weeks of his diagnosis, in hopes that the tumor would shrink enough to make surgery possible. Unfortunately, with each chemotherapy treatment, Phil faced further complications. After every treatment, blood vessels burst, causing internal bleeding. The doctor placed metal stents in Phil’s duodenum to try to stop the bleeding. The stents worked briefly, but then quickly needed to be replaced again. Because of the internal bleeding, chemotherapy had to be postponed from every week to every other week. Phil only ended up receiving four to five chemo treatments total before they had to be stopped completely.
Phil’s family was desperate to try anything they could to get more time with the man they loved. They tried an all-natural diet with the hope that it might slow the tumor growth. Towards the end of June, he began experiencing problems with his electrolyte balance. He was admitted to the hospital over the weekend to see if they could stabilize his electrolyte levels. When Phil was originally staged, the doctors had seen what they thought were fatty cysts on his liver. When he was brought in for an ultrasound while in the hospital, those “cysts” were now determined to actually be Pancreatic Cancer lesions that had spread throughout his liver. Phil had Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. He passed away two days later, just 92 days after his original diagnosis. Phil Reiss, Sr. was only 50 years old.
Phil’s illness and rapid physical decline were devastating to the entire Reiss family. It seemed inconceivable that such a strong, healthy man could become so sick and pass away so quickly. Fourteen months prior to his diagnosis, Phil had undergone a CT that showed no signs of any tumor at all. In that 14 month period, a 4 X 6 cm tumor grew and began invading distant organs of his body. Phil had also been healthy and physically strong. He had no family history of cancer, had never smoked and only rarely drank alcohol. The family felt helpless as they watched him quickly succumb to his illness.
Phil, Jr. and Kristen had been planning a September 2014 wedding. Phil’s father had been trying to hang on long enough to see the young couple wed. Sadly, he did not survive to see their special day. An empty chair with flowers on the seat was placed next to his wife, Carlene, for the ceremony. There was a sense of bittersweet joy on the wedding day, as Kristen and Phil celebrated their union while simultaneously missing the father who should have been there to share in their joy.
Phil remembers his father for being the kind of loving dad who spent a lot of time with his children. Phil spent his childhood making frequent camping, fishing and hunting trips with his father.
Until he got sick, Phil and his dad enjoyed weekly golf games. Phil Reiss Sr. was a skilled wood-worker who did all of the interior work on his own log cabin home. He was an electrician who worked his way up to the position of Project Manager and finally Vice President of his company. Kristen remembers her father-in-law’s sweet and warm personality. She says, “He was very friendly and welcoming. When I first met him, he immediately made me feel like I was part of the family.”
Phil Sr. was deeply beloved by his customers and his community. The family was deeply grateful to the number of people who showed up at his funeral. He had touched the lives of everyone he had met, it seemed. Even customers he had worked with many years prior showed up to share stories of the man they respected and admired.
Kristen and Phil Reiss have lived in Colorado Springs, CO together since November of 2014. In April of 2015, they learned of Project Purple after participating in a local 5k fundraiser for the charity. They heard that Project Purple would be an official charity partner for the 2015 Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. The couple decided that joining the team would be a wonderful way to honor Phil, Sr. Kristen is a lifelong runner who started competing in races at the age of 6. Phil had been interested in starting a running program for a long time, but had not really known where to begin. For their first anniversary together, Kristen presented Phil with a pair of running shoes. Now the couple runs together most evenings after work. They find that it is a great way to spend time together, uninterrupted, as a couple. Phil will be running the half-marathon in Denver and Kristen will be running the full marathon.
The couple looks forward to helping others who have been affected by Pancreatic Cancer. Kristen says, “It is such a devastating disease. It was so hard to watch someone who was such a strong person suffer through something like that. It was such a shock to the family and it happened so quickly.” Please help Kristen and Phil Reiss make a difference for others by visiting their Crowdrise page and donating to their fundraising campaign: