TORONTO, Ont. – She calls him Goofy. He calls her Little Bit.
He’s a big loud redheaded trucker and she’s a soft spoken and petite blonde number cruncher.
He’s on the road five days per week and she’s staring cancer in the face for the second time.
It’s a story to warm or break your heart, depending on how you look at it.
“Make every day the best you can, because you never know how much time you’ve got left with someone,” says Ken Gibbs, a.k.a Goofy.
“For us, Valentine’s Day is every day of the year.”
Never mind the fact that Ken is rarely home that day (Feb. 14 falls on a Monday this year). He and Kathy (Little Bit) just want to have as much fun together as possible – all the time. That can mean renting a room with a heart shaped tub in Niagara Falls in June. Or riding their motorcycle out to Port Dover for Friday the 13th. Or even getting a manicure together.
“I just want to spend time with her,” says Ken. “And I actually liked getting the manicure! It makes your hands feel so good!”
The couple, together since 1998, had originally planned to marry this coming summer. But after finding out this summer that Kathy had been diagnosed with several tumours in both lungs (the breast cancer she survived in 2001 has metastasized), they decided to move the date up to October 2004.
And with Kathy waiting for testing that will determine whether the medication she’s currently on is working (if it doesn’t shrink or stop the tumours from growing she’ll have to start chemotherapy Feb. 10 – surgery isn’t an option), they’re both very glad they did.
“The day we got married was the happiest day of my life,” said Ken. “I don’t understand these guys who just leave their wives because they can’t handle it when they have cancer. Just looking in her eyes makes my life totally different.”
For Kathy’s part, Goofy is a ray of sunshine on an otherwise rainy day.
“My doctor said he thinks we get followed around by a black cloud,” she says. “But when it comes to Ken and my kids I’ve been lucky.”
Indeed, on the balance sheet of life, Ken and Kathy have had more than their fair share of hardship.
Both are divorced, with children from previous marriages. Both have sometimes had extremely difficult relationships with family members.
And both have had to endure the lingering illnesses of those nearest and dearest to them.
But thanks to their love for each other, and a wide network of friends they’ve made along the way, they’ve garnered enough support to get through.
Not least of their supporters are the folks at L.E. Walker Transport, who altered Ken’s driving schedule so he could be home weekends.
“They know Kathy – she’s been to the meetings they have for drivers and their spouses. When I told them what was happening they were just as upset as I was. And they just came right out and asked me what I needed. I said I needed to be home on weekends. And they said ‘That’s all?'”
A long haul driver, Ken Gibbs leaves Monday and gets home Thursday or Friday night after dropping his load. And thanks to a special agreement with management he’s allowed to park the company truck in the Greater Toronto area instead of driving it all the way back to St. Thomas for the weekend.
“The company has taken a personal interest in the lives of its drivers and I can’t even begin to say how much they’ve helped us without getting choked up,” says Ken.
“It just kills me when Julie (Tanguay, the company’s president) just walks up to my wife and gives her a hug at a company event. How she tells her that she has the company’s support right to her face.”
Since Kathy has been on sick leave from her job overseeing 60 plus department budgets at George Brown College, she’s been able to accompany Ken on a few long distance trips down to the States.
“It depends if she can get someone to watch the kids, but I love having her out there with me. She’s great on the road and I brag about her to the guys all the time,” he says.
All in all, he couldn’t find a better partner, on the road or in life, says Ken.
“Even if I’m mad she just turns me to mush. I can see the love in her eyes.”