‘She was strength personified’

WSU student reflects on mother’s death 10 years later

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DEX ALTAVILLA

Luke Kilgore’s mother was the driving force in his decision to pursue a college degree.

BRANDON WILLMAN, Evergreen reporter

Luke Kilgore is a 27-year-old senior broadcast news major at WSU. But more importantly, he is the son of Jennie Kilgore, a “head-strong and loving” mother who died from breast cancer. 

“Without the skills my mom instilled in me, I don’t think I’d be where I am today and wouldn’t succeed in my profession like I do,” he said.

Luke has lived much of his entire life with his mom having to battle different types of cancer. He said his mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when he was just 6 years old.

“My mom battled a couple different cancers. When I was six, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Then, she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in her lung,” he said. 

Jennie was a beloved grocery store clerk in the small town of Hoquiam, where Luke and his family had their roots and where he would grow up. She was dedicated to her work and was an outgoing person with a huge network of friends, he said. 

At the grocery store, she was the type of person to hold people up in line and really get a conversation going, Luke said. She also used the opportunity to talk up her two sons in any way possible. 

“My personality I definitely derive from my mother. She was super outgoing and always made people feel kindness and compassion,” he said. 

Luke’s friends said his outgoing personality shines through and is something he had adopted from his mom, said Silas Finley, junior broadcast production major.

“[Luke] has energy that comes from a bottomless source,” he said. “He’s extremely charismatic, which is a combination that allows him to command any space he wishes.” 

After being told she would only have three months left to live, Jennie was a fighter to the end and lived for three more years, Luke said. 

“Even with that first diagnosis, she was really powering through. It was when breast cancer and chemotherapy happened that it started affecting her mentality,” he said. “She was strength personified. She had that head-strong, tough mentality through everything and the cancer was no different.” 

His middle school years leading up to her death were some of the toughest years of Luke’s life, he said. 

“Her breast cancer had got into her lung, spread into her bone marrow and then spread to her brain,” he said. “When she got the brain tumor, she wasn’t ‘mom’ sometimes. She had moments when she would lash out and have episodes.” 

Those moments where she would lash out were not what she was usually like, and those moments showed what she was going through was truly heartbreaking, Luke said. 

At age 14, Luke would lose the person who had nurtured and loved him, he said. It was something that Luke had taken in stride at the time, for better or for worse. 

“The biggest thing for me in high school; I just thought that she would want us to keep going. My dad and I grieved very differently and didn’t grieve together. I dug into my studies and activities and did not take the time to grieve like I should have.” 

The day after his mother’s death, Luke said he and his brother had a scheduled KISS concert, attending in honor of their mother, as his mom had introduced the band to them.

It was their first concert together, and since then, they have used concerts as points of celebration for accomplishments, holidays and birthdays, he said. 

His mom was his motivation to do well in school as he thought that is what she would have wanted for him, he said. His goal was to get a college education because his mom had not gotten a college degree herself, and she preached its importance to her two sons. 

“Both my mother and father never went to college. But, they definitely wanted my brother and I to go to college. She was the reason I always focused on my grades. We may have talked about WSU a couple times, but she was definitely a big driving force of getting a college degree,” he said. 

It was not an easy journey for Luke, as following his graduation from high school, he said he was left to his own devices in his own apartment and had to learn to truly be an adult. 

Although it is something he is thankful for in hindsight, it was also the root of the most mentally taxing years of his life, he said. 

“When I was left in my own apartment and my own thoughts, I hit a wall of depression,” Luke said. “That is a big reason why I am still in school today, the bouts of depression that I had gone through. It was difficult.” 

He battled through his depression and ended up enrolling at WSU as a broadcast news major in fall 2020 and joining KUGR Radio. Broadcasting was something that his mom had loved, having been a frequent caller of the local news station in their hometown, he said. 

The news station had actually recorded many of her calls and sent them over to Luke and his brother, which is something he said he will forever be grateful for. 

Now, attending WSU and once again deep into his studies, he said he reflects on the impact his mom had and how he would not be where he is in life without her. 

“Her memory comes in moments of reflection. As far as reflecting on her memory, it’s a good reminder, and I should do that more for my own mental health. I don’t think of her as much as I should. I think I should think of her in moments of positivity to remember her,” he said.