Jesse Garland had a lot of goals. Some were big. He wanted to share his life with Kelli Cook, whom he married at Holy Family Hospital in February. He wanted to teach foreign language at North Central High School, his alma mater.
Some were small. He wanted to live until Christmas. He hoped to be alive Dec. 29, when friends from Korea were scheduled to visit. Maybe he could make it to the New Year.
But Garland’s body had other plans. On Dec. 12, a day after his 27th birthday, he succumbed to leukemia.
Garland’s battle began in 2004, when he awoke one morning with a rash of blisters. Doctors gave him months to live, but he defied them. The Spokesman-Review featured the couple last winter when, wearing a surgical mask, Jesse exchanged vows with Kelli. The hospital staff decorated his room and pushed two beds together so the couple could have a honeymoon.
A few weeks after the wedding, Jesse went into respiratory failure. He was in a coma for almost three weeks.
“But he rallied,” Kelli said in an interview with the couple Dec. 6. In May and June, Jesse relied on blood transfusions to survive, but then, as quickly as he had gotten sick, he was healthy again. The couple traveled to Portland, where Jesse was strong enough to walk around the Oregon Zoo. Kelli enrolled in college, a goal that had been on hold as she cared for Jesse.
Then in September, “our good old friend the cough came back,” Kelli said, with the couple’s typical wit intact. “It’s always been the precursor” – the precursor to issues most couples don’t face until they’re grandparents.
The Garlands decided to forgo further cancer treatment.
“We allowed ourselves to be sad for one day,” Jesse said. “The next day, we hopped on a flight to Disneyland.”
With a week’s notice, 20 friends from around the world met in California. One night, a waitress asked the group what they were celebrating.
“I’m dying,” Jesse shouted.
Mike Mahedy, who served with Jesse in the U.S. Army, said he’ll miss Jesse’s bravery and humor.
“He had very intense eyes. And that smile!” Mahedy said. “I talked to him two hours before he died, and he was still joking.”
During the Dec. 6 interview, Kelli was sad but strong.
“The loss of Jesse will be inexplicable, but for the time being I’m going to enjoy being with him,” she said.
Jesse’s coma last winter foreshadowed Kelli’s life without him. They had always battled cancer together – “We’re going through chemo; we’re getting a transfusion,” they’d say. This time she was alone.
When Jesse came to, he was wheeled to a room with a window. As his gurney had gone into intensive care three weeks prior, it passed a window, and he had wondered whether that was to be his last glimpse of the outside. When he saw the world again, he sobbed.
“I know I’m going to die,” Jesse said Dec. 6. “I’m not happy about it, but I think I’ve made my impact on the world, and I think it’s a better place for having me.”
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