Longform

'Til Death Do Us Part: They Got Married. Then Everything Changed

Theirs was not your average love story. Kevin Pratt and Tashi King got married young, in an age when people tend to wait. The wedding was so small, they didn't even tell their immediate family. They served pie instead of cake — and the bride wore red.

They were perfect for each other.

But in just a few short months, the fairytale turned into a nightmare. The economic downturn gripping Arizona cost Kevin his job at an architecture firm. Tashi, who worked for a real estate company, was cut back to part-time.

And rather than roll with the tough times, Kevin faltered. He was depressed. He complained of headaches. He said he was tired, even though he didn't seem to do anything.

Sometimes, Tashi would come home from work and find that he'd slept all day. He'd be confused, she says. "He thought I'd just left."

He'd always been honest to a fault. But Tashi started to catch him lying, in weird, obvious ways. He'd claim that he'd paid the rent, when he hadn't. He'd tell her he hadn't purchased something — when credit card statements showed otherwise. He couldn't always account for where he'd been.

At Tashi's insistence, they started therapy. He went by himself. They went together. Sometimes Kevin went as often as three times a week.

Nothing changed. Nothing got better.

He stopped going to class. Tashi found the tuition check from Kevin's parents months after it was due, buried under a pile of stuff. And as for those piles . . . Kevin seemed not to notice that laundry was overflowing, that dirty dishes filled the sink.

Worst of all, he completely lost his sense of humor. He'd always been funny — and he'd always thought Tashi was hilarious. Not anymore. He simply didn't laugh.

Tashi would call her friends in tears. "I can't live with this," she'd say.

It might sound like a cautionary tale about young love. Maybe this is why people don't get married in their early 20s. Maybe these two should have gotten to know each better first. Maybe it was never meant to be.

Except this isn't that kind of story at all.

This is a love story, albeit one with a medical twist.

Unbeknownst to anyone — including Kevin himself — there was a tumor the size of a Granny Smith apple pressing onto Kevin's brain.

Kevin didn't need therapy. He needed surgery.

He had cancer.


Kevin's cancer came in an unusual form, especially for a 24-year-old. Only two to three cases of gliobastoma multiforme are diagnosed per 100,000 North Americans. Most of those are in men over 50.

It's also an unusually aggressive cancer. It is almost always fatal. Without treatment, the median survival time for a patient diagonosed with glioblastoma multiforme is three months. With treatment, a "lucky" patient might get two years.

No one knew any of this in the summer of 2009, when Kevin started behaving erratically, but in retrospect, his tumor explains everything. It was pushing on his right frontal lobe — the brain's emotional control center. That affects judgment, decision-making, and overall personality.

Kevin's doctors now believe that the tumor had formed back in February, just before he and Tashi got married. And because the tumor quickly began to affect his memory, much of the following months are lost to Kevin — he simply doesn't remember that period of time with any clarity. When Tashi tells the story of how they got to the point of diagnosis and surgery, he sits back and lets her talk. A gentle guy with a dry wit, he doesn't mind letting his wife take the lead.

But after his brain tumor was discovered, Kevin's actions during the summer and fall of 2009 suddenly made sense to Tashi and his parents. And not just his erratic behavior, but physical symptoms, too — things that seemed unimportant or unrelated at the time but, in retrospect, seem about as obvious as a sign with giant flashing lights.

That summer, Kevin often complained of feeling dehydrated, and said that the light hurt his eyes. His mother, Marie Franke, remembers Kevin telling her about it on the phone, and thinking it was just a matter of adjusting to the desert. Sure, Kevin had always loved the Arizona heat, but it's one thing to pass through on vacation, as Kevin had as a kid. It's another thing to live in it, she reasoned.

And Kevin had insisted that he was having some sort of low-grade seizures down his right side. "My right leg wouldn't support my weight," he recalls. But his therapist had told him not to worry. They were merely full-body panic attacks. She suggested antidepressants.

Kevin really didn't want that. "He was 24," Tashi says. "You don't expect a 24-year-old to need those." What's more, he'd never been depressed before that summer.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske