Kristian was born on the morning of May 17, 1996 at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. The youngest of three brothers, Kristian led a busy and active life full of love and laughter. The three brothers got along famously and always looked out for each other.
Kristian watched his brothers, Josh and Lukas, and learned from them, particularly with sports. He loved playing them and grew up to be very competitive. Kristian also developed a fondness of animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. At an early age, he wondered if he could be a vet and a professional soccer player at the same time.
At Vancouver College, he gravitated to team sports and found a passion for basketball and football. He played hard at every game and led his team to countless victories. Amongst the many awards he won, he was most proud of his ‘Most Inspirational’ Awards. But his dreams would stall at the end of his Grade 9 year.
Kristian had suffered a significant and serious knee injury which went undiagnosed for at least a year. He finally underwent surgery in Grade 10, where doctors reconstructed his knee and were concerned about his ability to walk. They had doubts if he could ever play sports again. He missed his Junior Varsity year, but, as soon as he could, he worked hard to regain the strength in his knee. He had no intention of giving up.
With help from his friends, coaches, teammates and family, Kristian worked his way back into shape and made his comeback during his Grade 11 Varsity football season. He played well and even earned a starting position, but was worried about pushing his knee too far. He decided not to play basketball and to focus entirely on football, hoping to play well enough in his Grade 12 Varsity year and attract university recruiters. He did.
Although they weren’t able to get to the Provincial championship, Kristian played the best he could and left everything on the field. In the end, his coaches recognized him for his tenacity, his leadership and his faith. He faced his challenges and overcame his adversity. He received a number of football scholarship offers and decided to play for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies where he wanted to study animal sciences and eventually be a veterinarian. He was one step closer to his dream.
In the spring of his graduating year, Kristian met and fell in love with Bailey. It didn’t take long before they would become inseparable. Together they planned, not only their graduation events, but their life after graduation. They were both going away for post-secondary and were equally anxious about being away from home and from each other. But they had faith in each other and knew that this would guide them in any challenges they would face while they were apart. The foundation they had laid down for their relationship would be instrumental in the challenges they would soon face in the coming months.
Kristian’s graduation ceremony was held on June 25, 2014. It was a bright, sunny and warm afternoon when he and two of his classmates sang ‘O Canada’ to begin the ceremonies. He would end his final day of high school at Vancouver College, not only with his well-earned diploma, but also with the Mitchell Ho Memorial Award. An award he also received in Grade 6 when he finished elementary school.
The Mitchell Ho Memorial Award is given to a student who, amongst other qualities, demonstrates care and concern for others and the perseverance to overcome adversity. This award was created in memory of Kristian’s friend who collapsed on the playground of Vancouver College in the spring of 2008 and, sadly, passed away weeks later at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. His passing affected Kristian deeply and he took it upon himself to honor Mitchell’s memory by using Mitchell’s favorite number ‘11′ for all his sport jerseys whenever he could. Mitchell inspired him to become the young man that he was and he shared Mitchell’s story with others. #11 became Kristian’s symbol and source of inspiration. It began as the torch he carried for Mitchell, but would eventually become ‘his’ number as well. Even the Huskies football coaches agreed to let him have #11 for his jersey when they signed him up. Kristian’s future was as bright as his graduation day, but his dreams and his life would take a dramatic turn.
Kristian had not been feeling well for a few weeks, but with the excitement of his graduation, he did not complain. The day after his graduation ceremony, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with cancer.
It is difficult to put into words how one feels when they hear such devastating news. The days that followed were difficult. There were many moments of sadness, weakness, anger, and even despair. Nobody could ever be prepared for this. But if anyone could, it would be Kristian. He had faced adversity before and, even though this would become the fight of his life, he chose to prove to everyone that this would just be another challenge he would overcome. When it came time to think positive, Kristian led the charge for our family. Throughout this journey, we would always take his lead.
The news touched everyone. Family and friends, classmates and teachers, teammates and coaches, and everyone else that had crossed paths with Kristian would be affected by the news. Bailey remained strong for Kristian and they faced his challenges together. She became a constant presence in his life and their love for each other grew exponentially. In the coming months, she would be the brightest moments in his life.
The following months were filled with uncertainty and littered with struggles and difficult experiences. Kristian, having just turned 18 and being diagnosed with a pediatric cancer, was caught between being treated as a child or as an adult. Ultimately, he would be treated as an adult and found success in his first round of chemo and radiation treatments. By Easter of 2015, we heard the news we were hoping for. His tests showed no signs of cancer! We were elated and very thankful to everyone that had a hand in his journey. We had kept our faith and believed in the power of prayer. He was healed and we felt humbled and blessed.
Through it all, Kristian always did his best to remain positive and continue the fight, no matter how daunting the obstacles were. Kristian always managed to find the love and laughter he had filled his life with and shared it with those around him. He always joked that the worst thing about his cancer and its treatment was the loss of his smooth, thick, flowing head of hair… and boy did he mean it!
In the months that followed, Kristian’s life would slowly return to normal, though normal now took on a different meaning. His hair would grow back and he would, once again, dream. He wanted to regain his physical strength and starting exercising regularly. He even did the Grouse Grind for the first time shortly after his 19th birthday. Kristian had continued school at UBC during his treatments and Bailey had also transferred to UBC for the coming school year. They planned their life together at university and dreamt of what their lives would be like after they graduated.
But the light in the horizon grew dim once again. In the fall of 2015, Kristian complained of pain in his back and neck. The doctors ran some tests and confirmed our fears. The cancer was back. There were spots in his lungs, neck and near his heart. We were devastated…again. Kristian’s life and future returned to uncertainty. There was nothing we could do or say to ease his emotional pain. There were just no words. But with his family and Bailey by his side, Kristian found the strength and the courage he needed once again. He would fight this disease. He would fight for his future, his life. The doctors had a treatment plan and we would stand by him every step of the way. He didn’t lose hope.
Even though he struggled, Kristian remained in school and played intramural sports whenever he could. There were days, however, when he had neither the mental or physical strength to do anything. Those were the times when only Bailey’s presence mattered to him. She would be the bright light that would keep him going. Kristian managed to finish his fall semester and passed all his courses. Though his treatments would not be finished until the new year, his body was getting used to the side effects of the treatments, and when Christmas came, he was happy and full of life.
Kristian loved Christmas and loved that it was all about family. He did not know what the new year would bring, but with the family and Bailey by his side, he knew he had love, he had faith, and he had hope. We celebrated Christmas knowing that his strength and courage was a big part of what kept us going. Love filled our hearts on Christmas Day. Little did we know, this would be the last Christmas we would be able to celebrate with Kristian.
Kristian completed his treatments at the end of January 2016, but we would not know if the treatments worked or if the cancer was gone for another six weeks. All we could do now was wait. We decided, as a family (including Kizzie and Bailey), to spend his 20th birthday in Maui regardless of the results we were waiting for. Kristian continued his studies at UBC and started to play more sports. He even ran and completed the Sun Run with his family, crossing the finish line together with his brother, Lukas. He again managed to pass his courses and registered for summer classes in order to catch up with his friends.
At the end of April, the doctors finally gave us the news. The treatments were not as effective as they had hoped. The cancer was still there and some of the spots had continued to grow. Needless to say, this terrible news was not received well and the doctors were not as optimistic anymore. They encouraged us to continue with our vacation while they researched Kristian’s options and reached out to the pediatric world. We would not lose hope and, with Kristian’s blessing, we agreed to put everything on hold and head off to Hawaii, to re-group as a family and celebrate what would end up to be Kristian’s last birthday.
From mid-May to early-June, we enjoyed the beaches, the waves, the sun, the sunsets and all the delicious foods the island of Maui had to offer. We celebrated Kristian’s birthday on the golden shores of Big Beach. We all had the time of our lives and created many wonderful memories together. At times, we would almost forget that Kristian was sick. Kristian showed no signs of being affected by his sickness. Even though the cancer was supposed to hinder his breathing capacity, he still ran alongside his two brothers to tackle the giant waves of Big Beach over and over, until they would all run out of breath. Even though the cancer was supposed to weaken him, he did not let that stop him from climbing the side of a waterfall near mile marker 10 along the road to Hana, and leaping off the top into the dark pool below. Even though the cancer was supposed to reduce his appetite, he enjoyed the luaus and Hawaiian dishes with his family. And even though the cancer was supposed to diminish his spirit, he would show nothing but love, happiness and appreciation towards the world around him. His smile and laughter was infectious. Without a doubt, it was the best family vacation we had. Ever.
We returned home to our unfortunate reality, but we also had a renewed spirit. By mid-June, the doctors had carved out a plan, but were unsure of the outcome. Kristian would need to take more tests and a biopsy of the cancer in his lungs. The decision was made to transfer his care to Children’s Hospital where he could participate in a trial study. Kristian’s Mom also sought out and started alternative treatments for him. Kristian kept his head high and charged forward with all the tests and treatments laid out for him. But the cancer was spreading and taking its toll on his body. Kristian’s breathing would slowly get worse and his strength would be diminished with each passing day. He had a high tolerance for pain, but the pain from the disease, coupled with his fatigue, was becoming too much to bear. We were introduced to the folks at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. Kristian had an aversion to being at Canuck Place since this was the last place he had spent time with his friend Mitchell before he passed away. He was not ready to die. Though he struggled, he never lost hope.
Kristian tried to remain active. He loved golf and would play every chance he could with his Dad, but fatigue would prevent him from completing a full round. He played a softball game in July with Bailey and his friends and though he had a great time, the pain and difficulties he had with his breathing was too much. Shortly after that, he no longer had the energy to leave the house except for his medical appointments and tests. The pain medications affected his sleep, and the pain in his lungs coupled with the shortness in his breath would be a constant drain on his energy. His healthy appetite faded and, before long, he needed help walking and required a constant supply of oxygen.
As a family, we had to be strong for Kristian and for one another. It was hard to see Kristian, the baby of the family, go through such pain and agony. It was hard not to lose hope, but we always took Kristian’s lead. Kristian was afraid, afraid of the unknown. But even with this fear, his strength and courage would shine through. Kristian would help pull us together when we needed it the most. One night, when the family was really struggling to stay strong, he asked if we could all just sit with him in his room. As we talked, our tears were eventually wiped away and we all managed to find laughter. Even Kristian, with his limited air supply, released a roaring laugh that will always bring a smile to our faces when we remember that moment. In a time when bonds become fragile, he managed to strengthen ours as a family because he truly believed that family was one of the most important things in life.
Kristian’s health continued to worsen. There was constant fluid build up around his lungs and heart, and his pain was becoming more difficult to control. Doctors from Children’s Hospital and Canuck Place would visit and treat him at home. Eventually, he would grudgingly agree to be admitted to Canuck Place to help manage his symptoms. Although Kristian was in significant pain and exhausted from days without sleep, he always remained kind to the staff and volunteers at Canuck Place, and all those that came to visit him. But even though family and Bailey constantly surrounded him, he became increasingly restless at Canuck place and longed to go home. On Friday, August 12, 2016, he got his wish and went home. He was tired and exhausted, but happy to be back home. His dog, Autumn, was happy to see him and he cuddled her on the couch. We were happy that he was home, but we worried with the challenges he was facing. That night he struggled to find sleep and needed significant amounts of pain medication. He finally fell asleep on the couch, on his Dad’s lap, around 7am on Saturday morning. He would stay asleep until the doctors from Canuck Place came to check up on him Saturday afternoon. We were concerned about his condition and had a difficult time waking him up. Reluctantly, we agreed to take him back to Canuck Place where they could care for him and monitor him more closely. An ambulance would have to take him back. It would be the last time he would be home.
News of Kristian’s return to Canuck Place travelled fast, and everyone wanted to visit and see him. Kristian was feeling a little bit better on Sunday morning and agreed to have visitors. It was a sunny day and we would see him smile once again. He would even show his sassy, funny self at times throughout the day. With all the visitors that came, including Autumn, Kristian agreed to spend time with them in the beautiful gardens outside. Everyone was enthused and helped Kristian get around in his wheelchair in any way they could. As we strolled through the gardens, he enjoyed the warm sunshine and being surrounded by family and friends. With a little help, Kristian took a seat on the swinging bench in the gardens with Autumn perched beside him as if she was protecting and watching over him. He was happy to be with her and sat with his family in silence. He whispered to those around him that he was happy to see everyone and was grateful for such a beautiful day.
Unfortunately, Kristian would struggle again that night to find sleep. By morning, he was exhausted and distressed. Kristian’s pain had reached a climatic point and he could not find a comfortable position to be in. It was difficult to watch. More people wanted to see him, but we decided that he should have no visitors that day and that we would do our best to make him more comfortable. It was tough for us all, but not as tough as it was on Kristian. He continued to battle through the pain and discomfort throughout the day. Later that night, even with everyone telling him that he needed to sleep, he continued to struggle until his exhaustion and all the pain medication we had given him finally brought him to sleep. It was as if there was a reason he did not want to sleep that evening, as if he knew something the rest of us did not.
On the morning of his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary, August 16, 2016, Kristian Elpidio Tsu Domingo passed away in his sleep. Lukas and his Dad were with him when Kristian took his final breath.
Words cannot express the loss and suffering we feel. Kristian was a sweet, charming and loyal young man who inspired those around him. Although we knew he touched and forever impacted several lives, we did not truly understand the extent of just how many people loved him. On August 24, 2016, over 1200 people came to pay their respects to Kristian at his funeral mass. He was faithful, inspirational, charismatic and loving towards so many people that we are certain his legacy will always be remembered in our minds and in our hearts. What he did in his life will truly echo through eternity.