The ques­tion every dad should ask his daugh­ter

The Commercial Appeal - - Mlife -

Our daugh­ter, Kee­sha Fur­niss, was di­ag­nosed with stage-four metastatic breast can­cer in late 2013. For four years, she fought the good fight, deal­ing with 14 dif­fer­ent treat­ment strate­gies (mul­ti­ple chemo/im­munother­apy drugs). The treat­ment she re­ceived at West Clinic here in Mem­phis was lit­er­ally life sus­tain­ing. She never stopped fight­ing. We called her the #War­riorPrincess! My wife Su­san and I could not be more proud of her strength, her love of oth­ers and her will to live life to the fullest.

While we never fo­cused of how this could hap­pen to a 30-year-old vi­brant day care teacher, the shock was over­whelm­ing. But, look­ing back, we think it might have been pre­vented – or at least caught ear­lier be­fore it reached stage­four. While she was fight­ing the can­cer, our fo­cus was on help­ing her to live the re­main­ing time to the fullest.

But through­out her fight she was open with friends about the need to see a gy­ne­col­o­gist con­sis­tently – and shared with some that she had not been go­ing prior to di­ag­no­sis.

Per­haps it was her Chris­tian up­bring­ing, per­haps it was her com­mit­ment to no sex be­fore mar­riage, per­haps it was the fear of “the visit.” What­ever it was, she did not go.

When she had back is­sues and breath­ing is­sues, her physi­cians di­ag­nosed it as some­thing less than can­cer. There were no breast ex­ams, some­thing that a gy­ne­col­o­gist does every time. Any lady will tell you, a gy­ne­col­o­gist looks at a women’s body dif­fer­ently.

So why am I shar­ing this story? Be-

Your Turn Bob Fur­niss

cause Oc­to­ber is Breast Can­cer Aware­ness Month and we want her story, our story, to be heard.

As a fa­ther I asked most all of the “dad ques­tions” of­ten: Do you have enough gas in your car? Are you be­ing care­ful when you walk to your car? Do you lock your doors? I may have even asked, Have you been to the den­tist? I did not ask her, “Have you been to the gy­ne­col­o­gist, and are you do­ing self­breast ex­ams every month?”

I am now on a mis­sion to en­sure that all dads asks their daugh­ters those ques­tions. Re­ally it’s a mes­sage to any man to ask his wife, his mother, and the fe­males in his life. Have you been to the gy­ne­col­o­gist? Are you do­ing self-breast ex­ams? Have you had a mam­mo­gram? Yes, they need to start in their mid-20’s. Al­though sta­tis­tics say breast can­cer in your 20s and 30s is rare, our sweet Kee­sha is the ex­am­ple that it can hap­pen.

Our new hash­tag that we use when we tell this story is #AskHer. We hope her story and that ques­tion could save lives in Mem­phis and around the world.

Not long af­ter Kee­sha she stepped into heaven last Nov. 28, we be­gan to share this story and to ask this ques­tion. We have been sur­prised to hear story af­ter story where the an­swer was “No!” A rel­a­tive who had not been to the gy­ne­col­o­gist for mam­mo­grams for more than two years be­cause she does not have in­sur­ance. One of Kee­sha’s friends who had not been in more than nine years be­cause of a bad ex­pe­ri­ence her first time. A fa­ther who talked to me af­ter a speak­ing event and who said, “I would have never thought about ask­ing, but I am call­ing her on the way home and #AskHer!” The hus­band and wife at the bar who asked about my kid, which led to the story and the ques­tion, and the dad’s re­sponse: “I don’t know, but I bet I will by the end of the day.”

We are plan­ning to es­tab­lish a non­profit in Kee­sha’s honor soon. To tell this story. To see if we as par­ents can share our hor­ri­ble path and help oth­ers avoid the pain of los­ing a child to breast can­cer. To keep women go­ing to the right doc­tors, to en­sure they know how to do a self-exam and are do­ing it every month.

For four years Kee­sha lived life out loud on Face­book. She met Josh Past­ner and sat on the bench for a Tigers game. She swam with dol­phins in Mex­ico. She went to see her beloved Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and met DeAn­gelo Wil­liams on the side­line. She went to eight Luke Bryan con­certs and met him back stage (she was a Luke Bryan nut). She lived out her faith, lov­ing and help­ing oth­ers in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, all the way to the last days. One friend said that she lived more in those four years than most peo­ple live in a life­time.

She had more than 400 peo­ple at her Life Cel­e­bra­tion ser­vice last De­cem­ber. It was a time for us to cel­e­brate a life well lived. And the crowd was di­verse – par­ents and kids from day care, child­hood friends, life­long friends, doc­tors, nurses and fam­ily. Her brother Kevin, in his eu­logy, summed up her life this way: “When Kee­sha stepped into Heaven last week, she didn’t lose to can­cer. No. She beat can­cer. She beat can­cer by how she lived, why she lived, and the man­ner in which she lived ... I’m thank­ful that she has no more pain, no more sick­ness. She has been given a new body. And she will now spend eter­nity with God. And I look for­ward to join­ing her one day!”

We wish she had gone to the gy­ne­col­o­gist, that she had had done self-ex­ams, that we would have the can­cer ear­lier, that she had lived longer. We hope you and oth­ers will over­come any so­cial stigma, any con­cerns about say­ing the wrong thing, and just #AskHer!

Bob Fur­niss is a hus­band, fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and now a breast can­cer aware­ness ad­vo­cate who lives in Bartlett.


Kee­sha Fur­niss and her dad, Bob Fur­niss, take a selfie at Cen­tral BBQ in 2014.

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