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Kim Mahr


To know Kim was to feel loved and seen at the core. She lived a life full of gratitude - allowing every moment to unfold in different, beautiful, and wild ways. She faced each day with wonder and curiosity, her hands open to whatever season lay before her. She was an amazing woman, an incredible partner, a loving mother, and a deeply caring soul to any who had the privilege of crossing paths with her. Kim had an adventurous spirit, whether it was backpacking in the Himalayan mountains, biking hundreds of miles along the Oregon Coast, or moving her whole life across the world, she leaned into making the most of her time in this world; carrying her fierce and kind love with her wherever she went.

She received her master’s degree in geology which aligned perfectly with her love for the outdoors (one of the many things I, her husband, loved about Kim). She dropped off her thesis with the professor and headed to China where we met three years later, got married, and ended up spending 35 years there teaching English, living life, and hoping to make the world a better place.

In the fall of 2015, she began feeling something in the back of her throat but it would take another two years before being diagnosed with chordoma. In 2017, she began feeling numbness in her hand while riding her bike in China. She received an MRI and that is when they first noticed a mass in the back of her throat. The clinic in China recommended that she travel to Hong Kong for further investigation. The night Kim was getting ready to buy those flight tickets, she just so happened to connect with her good friend and former roommate from college. This friend “happened” to be a radiologist and her husband “happened” to be an oncologist (both working at Mayo Clinic). They asked if they could look at the imaging from the MRI. They immediately recognized the seriousness of the situation and advised her to fly directly to Rochester, MN where they lived. Once we arrived at Mayo and completed several series of testing, the cancer was determined to be chordoma and was growing forward out from the second vertebrae into the back of the neck. Thus began Kim’s chordoma journey, surrounded and championed by so many loved ones, and finding community and support in the Chordoma Foundation – many reminders that she was not alone.

Over the next almost six years, Kim underwent numerous procedures, which began with two very risky ones: the first to remove the large tumor that was interfering with her breathing; and the second in which they installed two rods attached to the top several vertebrae to support the head, as the second vertebrae was 80% compromised. Over the following years, she would receive proton radiation, lymph node removals, cryotherapy, and traditional radiation to slow down the cancer growth, all with the hope to buy time for research in immunotherapy to advance for chordoma. As we approached the sixth-year mark, she was finally approved to begin with immunotherapy and had completed one round of treatment before she passed away.

The last six months of her life were particularly difficult. She began dealing with some extremely challenging side effects from all the radiation she had undergone over the last couple years - numbness and nerve pain from her neck into her hand, difficulty swallowing, and eventually loss of tongue and throat control. Those symptoms increased in severity, at which point she received a PEG-tube. In a whirlwind of a few months in and out of the ICU, Kim contracted pneumonia and at the same time scans showed several blood clots beginning to form. In her final visit to the ICU to deal with pneumonia, one of the blood clots dislodged and traveled to her brain, ultimately being what took her from this world on June 4, 2023.

During those almost six years of fighting the cancer, Kim demonstrated her immense strength and optimism, pushing through so much pain, recovering and then jumping right back into life. We even were able to return to China and continued life there from 2018 until COVID arrived in 2020.

As we reflect now on our life with Kim, we have a reverence for the last six years especially, the ways we held a little more tightly, appreciated a little more deeply, and embraced every chance to make memories, have meaningful conversations, and make the world a little bit softer.

For those who find themselves with someone in their lives diagnosed with chordoma, know that you are not alone in this journey that can at times feel so isolating. We are cheering and supporting the good work of research into chordoma, holding hope for you all that one day there will be a 100% success treatment! In the meantime, let us leave you with what we now hold most closely: make the most of your time together with loved ones, make good memories, have meaningful conversation, and seek to restore any bridges that are broken. In the last health update email Kim sent out, she said, “As for what is next, who is to say, we are taking one day at a time over here, soaking up every moment we can of being together.” So, I leave you with that - be here now. This is your greatest gift.

I can’t say enough good things about the Chordoma Foundation, the staff at Mayo Clinic, and every person who guided and walked alongside us in this tumultuous process. It was such a HUGE gift to feel seen and supported. Thank you for all the hard work you do, the gift of “more time” is one that we will never have enough words to say thank you for.

- Paul Mahr

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