Gary Guggisberg is not one for accolades.
The rural Morton farmer just does what he does because he believes that is what he is supposed to do.
“What I did was done out of love, respect and my marriage vows,” said Guggisberg.
Whether it was taking his wife Kris to her treatments, performing extra duties around the house or just sitting beside her in her times of pain, Gary Guggisberg spent more than five years giving care for the woman he promised to serve in sickness and in health.
For that Gary Guggisberg is being honored as the 2017 Redwood County Relay For Life Caregiver of the Year.
Guggisberg said he is honored by the recognition, but he is also quick to point out that the care provided for Kris was truly a team effort.
From family members who helped with transportation to treatments to the neighbor ladies who came over to the Guggisberg house and kicked him out – allowing him to perform necessary duties while they spent time with Kris – Guggisberg said the entire experience, although painful, was made so much easier because of those who stood alongside him as fellow caregivers.
Kris Guggisberg passed away July 11, 2016 after a five-and-a-half year battle with cancer.
Guggisberg recalled the day she hurt her back working on the family farm.
“She took a misstep,” said Guggisberg.
A visit to the doctor seemed to provide the treatment that was needed, but soon after Kris began experiencing unexplained numbness that led them back to the doctor.
Crushed vertebrae in her back led the doctors to the cause of that damage – cancer in her kidney.
“Six weeks later they removed her kidney,” said Guggisberg, “and she was given a clean bill of health.”
Yet, six months later another check-up led to the discovery that cancer had spread to different parts of her body, and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
Guggisberg said technology allowed Kris to stay at home and receive chemotherapy treatments in a pill form.
He said just being able to take care of those treatments at home was a big relief. Despite being given less than a year to live, Kris fought hard and lived for another five-and-a-half years.
“We had five very good years,” said Gary, adding they threw caution to the wind and did all of the things they always wanted to do.
Despite treatments that prolonged her life, the cancer continued, and the options began to run out. In the end, Kris received additional care from the Renville County Hospital’s Hospice program.
“They did such a wonderful job,” said Gary, adding they were a great team that deserve a lot of thanks for what they did for Kris.
At first, Gary was able to continue his role on the farm, but as time went on more and more of his time was spent caring for Kris.
While one might not always think about those little things others do, Guggisberg said he will always be grateful for those who pitched in, whether it was his nephew, Dean, helping to work the fields in preparation for spring planting, or their children and the constant support they offered whenever and wherever it was needed.
“Kris was my life. We were together 24/7,” said Guggisberg. “She was my right hand man.”
Having that kind of love relationship made caring for his wife so much easier, said Gary, adding her personality was one that never truly reflected what she was experiencing.
“She was so easy to take care of,” said Gary. “She never complained. It really was my pleasure.”
For Guggisberg telling his story is not about finding ways to receive a pat on the back from others.
“It is my hope that telling others can help someone else,” he said, adding knowing others can be encouraged in their role as caregivers by hearing about his experience is what this is all about for him.
The Guggisbergs were supporters of Relay For Life, and had attended the Relay For Life event over the years. They have honored loved ones who have lost their battle with cancer, and believe in the cause of the American Cancer Society.
Cancer is a reality for so many people, and it is important not only to celebrate those who are winning the battle but also all of those people who are standing behind them making sure they have every chance to keep up the fight.
Life moves on, said Gary, but it is never the same. Losing his wife will never be easy, but knowing he had the privilege of serving her over those final years provided some fond memories he will always cherish.