By Bob Uphues
Back in March, Chris Kudla's career was back on track. After a couple of years working as a police officer in far southwest suburban Montgomery, he'd landed a job as a police officer in Riverside.
It was a homecoming of sorts for the 46-year-old Kudla. He'd started his law enforcement career – at the age of 31 – as a patrolman in Lyons, after being urged to switch careers by his younger brother, David, who was and remains a police officer in Brookfield.
Kudla's family had lived in Brookfield at the time he was born, moving shortly afterwards to Mokena, where he grew up, attending Providence Catholic High School before starting a 13-year career in the waste hauling business, first with Waste Management and then Groot Industries.
But around Thanksgiving, he felt a lump near his collarbone. He went in for some tests and on Nov. 25, a day before his birthday, he got the news.
Kudla had a 9-centimeter tumor on his kidney. The diagnosis is Stage 4 renal cancer, which also has spread to his lymph nodes.
"The fact is," said Kudla, "the cancer I have is terminal. My battle is going to be how long I can stay around. I also want to make sure once I move on, things are easier on my family."
Kudla is married and has two children, ages 5 and 17.
"Obviously, there are a lot of highs and lows," said Kudla. "There's a burst of good news, then something happens where there's a setback. It's been an emotional rollercoaster."
On Dec. 14, Kudla's sister, Alyceson, created a Gofundme fundraising campaign to raise money to help cover medical expenses that are still trying to be determined.
The fundraising goal is set at $100,000, and less than a full day later more than 50 people – from family members and fellow police officers to village officials in both Riverside and Brookfield -- had donated more than $7,000.
"All the support we've been getting, that helps," said David Kudla. "You find out you're not alone in this."
But from her job working for a clinical research and pharmaceutical development firm, Alyceson Kudla knows it's going to be expensive.
"Treatment is going to be expensive; just the medication alone, and that doesn't include the body scans every two months," she said.
While Chris Kudla is insured through the village of Riverside, his until-now clean health history led him to choose a less expensive HMO plan. He tried to switch it to the PPO plan shortly after his diagnosis, but missed the cut-off by a couple of days.
As a result, he said, his treatment is through out-of-network providers, driving up costs.
Right now, Kudla remains working his regular 3 to 11 p.m. shift for the Riverside Police department. He's pain free and hasn't experienced any other symptoms. But, he starts treatment, at this time an oral medication, on Dec. 18.
He has no idea what the side effects are going to be or how long he'll be able to work full time.
"I'm still trying to figure out how to work through this," Kudla said. "As long as I'm able to tolerate the side effects, I can work."
Meanwhile, said Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, Kudla's colleagues are trying to see whether they can donate the proceeds of their own sick days and vacation time to him.
It's the first time Weitzel can remember an active-duty Riverside police officer being stricken with such a serious illness.
"I really couldn't believe it when he first came in to see me," Weitzel said. "In a small department like this, where you know people personally, it's like a family."