Community members build fence for WPD officer battling cancer
Six weeks to six months left to live.
That is the prognosis for Detective Matt Young of the Wichita Police Department after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the end of January.
Everyone wanted to know how they could help him and his family, and his answer was getting some help on building a fence in his backyard.
While it looked like just another day of yard work on Saturday, it was so much more than that.
“I’m not afraid to die," Det. Matt Young said. "I just don’t want to leave my family.”
Young started his career in law enforcement 25 years ago. He has spent time on patrol, as a field training officer, and most recently on WPD's bomb squad. He knew it was a dangerous job, even one he might die for. He never thought of a stage four pancreatic cancer diagnosis, though, being what could take his life.
“I was pretty devastated, honestly," he said. "I mean, the thoughts start going through your head about my daughters that I’m not going to walk down the aisle and give away at their wedding, basketball games, things that I’m going to miss...anniversaries with my wife.”
About a month before that diagnosis, he reached out to his friend and fellow law enforcement officer, Jason Gill, about hiring him to build a fence in his yard. Cancer soon brought that to a screeching halt. Gill decided, though, he would not let that happen. After brainstorming with a few other people, he came up with donations of $17,000 and all the materials he needed for the project.
“It’s worth more than any money I’ll make from my fence business this year," Gill said. "For me, it feels real good to be able to help him.”
Dozens of people met at the Young house on Saturday to get to work.
For the Young family, cancer has changed their outlook on life, especially for Detective Young's wife, Laurie.
“The first week, every morning I woke up, I felt like I was waking up to a nightmare instead of from a nightmare," she explained. "But my perspective has changed. We’re enjoying every day.”
Her husband echoed her thoughts.
“In trying to find the blessing, I feel that’s a blessing. Yeah, this disease sucks but I’m still here and I’m able to appreciate the time that I get to spend with my family," he said.
In explaining his diagnosis, Young said his stage four pancreatic cancer has spread to his spine and his liver. He is not a candidate for surgery because the cancer has spread throughout much of his body. His doctors have told him they can work to manage and minimize how much it spreads, but he will never be completely rid of his cancer. He recently completed his third round of chemotherapy.
Gill said he is just happy to help a man he has known for more than two decades.
"In 22 years in law enforcement, in some ways it shouldn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it so many times where this community comes together and helps people that need help,” Gill said.
Det. Young said it has been difficult to grasp the support his family he has received.
"A lot of times I don't feel like I deserve it. I don't know what I did in my life that made us deserve all this. I just feel like I'm an average guy and the amount of love everybody has shown us just blows me away."
Laurie Young said her family cannot thank the community enough for the new fence, for their prayer, and for helping them move forward, together.
“We are truly blessed,” she said.
The fence is expected to be completely built by Sunday.
Donated materials and money for the fence came from businesses including American Fence, Kansas General Wire, Star Lumber, Home Depot, B&B Lumber, and Sherwin Williams. Gill said several area firefighters who work together will be helping to stain the fence.