Finding the Strength

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Community: Kolton Howell

By Olive Gallagher, Contributing Writer
Photos by Leta Brown

Kolton Howell, leans over a wood fence

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and learned you have astrocytoma brain cancer and might only have a few more months or years to live? How would you feel? Who would you tell? How long would your list of unrealized wishes, unfulfilled dreams and sad regrets be, of things never tried or risked, of people never loved, of experiences and places you’ll never get to know, of freedom and endless time never fully appreciated? And how would you deal with your fear, anger, sadness, bewilderment and grief that this hard-to-grasp nightmare was actually happening to you, especially at the age of 24?

This is Kolton Howell’s reality. A reality that he, along with his devoted mother and primary caregiver, Leta Brown, courageously battle to make each day worthwhile and meaningful.

Leta, a single mom who works full time, had watched her beloved son battle life from the moment he was born two months early. The neonatal ICU staff described him as “the baby with an attitude.” Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age five, he never quit, pressing on, trying out for soccer, Boy Scouts and Little League. He graduated from West Albany School the same year he earned Eagle Scout and went on to become a successful sales manager at a Salem firm. Life seemed stable and worthwhile.

Then, this terrifying nightmare tiptoed into their lives one day on tiny feet. Kolton relates, “I just felt off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but my body just didn’t feel right.” He began to notice little things, like his hand and eye coordination was off, or in the middle of a sentence he suddenly couldn’t find the word he intended to say. He also noticed he’d swerve while driving, unable to control his movements. Then the migraines began, and after several months they became unbearable.

Kolton takes a pause from his fight with cancer to play with his dog

After traveling to Oklahoma, he became so ill he couldn’t bring himself to get on the homebound plane. At first, Leta thought he might be faking it or having an anxiety attack, but it soon became evident he was very sick. After returning home and remaining very ill for several days, Leta took Kolton to the Dallas emergency room, thinking he might get a diagnosis of diabetes.

It was at that moment that their medical nightmare escalated. After a CT scan and MRI, the doctors informed them that Kolton had an eight-centimeter mass in his brain and that they couldn’t treat him there; he needed treatment at a bigger academic hospital. After all other area hospitals turned them down, they finally convinced OHSU to take the case. He was rushed there, and the day after Thanksgiving he had brain surgery to remove the tumor. During those long, agonizing hours, watching over him in the dark room, a good friend sat with Leta, lending comfort and kindness. On her own, seeing Leta and Kolton’s future needs, she established a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds, knowing full well an avalanche of medical bills would be coming without end.

When asked if there was any lesson learned from all of this, Kolton’s reply was simple: “Listen. Listen to your body. Listen to what it’s telling you.”

There’s no cure for this cancer. Having been given five to six years to live, Kolton will spend the rest of his time, however short it might be, dealing with this aggressive, fast-growing cancer. Tumors will potentially continue to occur, despite rounds of chemo and radiation. So it’s critical that this established fund continues to grow and to sustain this loving family who face each day with remarkable strength and positivity. When asked if he had one wish, Kolton’s answer was quite immediate, accompanied by a broad smile, “I wish I could visit LegoLand in Denmark!”

To donate to Kolton’s GoFundMe, follow the link Or, please scan the QR code with your smartphone.

QR code to Kolton's Go Fund Me