Mike Pierson, a resident of Summit County for 20 years, wasn’t feeling all that great last August. He had recurring abdominal pains, which he noticed when at work setting up his own maintenance business or when he took his 5-year-old son, Kieran, swimming.
He monitored the situation, but it wasn’t until he realized he’d lost 55 pounds in three months that he realized something serious was going on and had a CT scan. The result — Stage IV pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave him six months to live.
‘A normal Summit County life’
Now, it’s eight months later and Mike is sitting on a folding chair in the shade outside his house in Blue River. He’s thin, cheekbones prominent with the gaunt look that shapes the face of patients undergoing chemotherapy. His eyes, however, are bright and quick, revealing the man within.
His wife of 23 years, Megan, sits next to him. Throughout the interview, smiles pass between them. Off to the side, Kieran plays in the grass with the two family dogs, Gus and Blue, running around like only a Colorado boy can, in front of a Summit County backdrop of forested hills.
Taking a break from talk of doctor’s visits, medications and hospitals, they reminisce about how they came to be here.
“I’ve skied since I was five. It’s always been in my blood,” said Mike, a northern Ohio native who did most of that early skiing on the East Coast. It wasn’t until he made a pact with his college roommates to move to Colorado for the skiing that he got a taste for the Rocky Mountains.
It was while attending the University of Cincinnati that he met Megan, who was also a student there. They were just friends then, and when Mike moved to Colorado, Megan stayed in Ohio.
Of those in the pact-making group, Mike stuck it out the longest. He bartended at night so he could ski during the day. Then, two years later, a knock at the door revealed Megan.
“I didn’t even know she was here,” Mike said. “She just showed up at my door one day and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, Megan.’”
It was the beginning of two decades of life in the High Country, with Mike teaching Megan how to ski.
“We just started the normal Summit County life,” Mike said. “Started being together and working, skiing, enjoying camping, traveling the state quite a bit.”
“We’ve had a lot of fun in this state,” Megan added. “And a lot of fun in Summit County, too.”
Unlike many, Mike stuck to just a few jobs over the years, finding work he liked doing — property management — and sticking to it. Megan eventually moved into the position that she has now, as a vacation and sales specialist with the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.
“You just build people’s dreams. It’s awesome,” she said.
After he was diagnosed, Mike set up a plan to fight his cancer. With the help of his doctors and friends in the medical field, he started a regimen of aggressive chemotherapy. For six hours a day for three consecutive days every other week, an IV would deliver the drugs into his system. Mike admits right away that it has been “tough,” but he maintains a mixed attitude of positivity and determination.
“It’s scary, but I can’t blame anybody,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s what life is; you just deal with it as it comes. … You just take it day by day and you just live life. You don’t stop living.”
Although Kieran is young, he’s done his best to help his dad in whatever ways he can.
“Kieran’s a sweetheart,” Mike said. “He’s very smart, he’s very caring. He loves to care about people and … it makes a world of difference knowing that he is that way. He’s the greatest thing that ever happened to us.”
Megan, too, spends her days giving Mike whatever care he needs, from medical care to emotional support. Mike calls her his “true pillar.”
“A lot of times the caregiver gets overlooked and I can’t say enough about how lucky — I’ve always known since the day I met Megan I’ve been very lucky to have met her, and I’m the luckiest person in the world because I have the best caregiver, and she’ll stop at nothing to give me everything I need.
“She’ll get up in the middle of the night and sit with me,” he said. “When you sign up and you go for better or for worse, you never expect the worse. Now here we are, facing the worst, and she’s facing it just as much as I am, and it’s wonderful.”
Megan bows her head at this and can’t stop a few tears from appearing, even as she smiles.
Now, the community that the Piersons have been a part of for years is stepping up to help. For more than a month, Megan’s coworkers at the Breckenridge Resort Chamber have worked with other community members to organize the Mike Pierson Fair, gathering June 27 at Carter Park in Breckenridge with a carnival theme as a show of support and fundraiser for the family.
While a portion of the funds will go toward Mike’s medical bills, the majority will be placed into the Kieran Pierson Trust, to go toward his education.
The trust was established by a group of Mike’s childhood friends from Becksville, his hometown in Ohio. The group is close, most of them friends since kindergarten and one even shares Mike’s birthday. Though they have scattered throughout the country and the world, they stay in touch. Following Mike’s diagnosis in October, they all came for a visit.
During that time, they had long discussions with Mike, and from those talks came the idea for the education fund.
“Kieran is who he’s really worried about,” Megan said, “and his friends wanted to do something for Mike, and show Kieran how much he means to them.”
Having his son guaranteed a college education is high priority for Mike.
“Most of (the funds) are going to Kieran’s higher education, which to me is supremely important,” he said. “And these guys mean a lot to me, too, so it’s really — it’s amazing how people come together when there’s hardship, it really is. It’s just astounding. You’ll never know until you’re thrust into it, like we were.”
Both Mike and Megan find a multitude of ways to express their gratitude for the support they’ve been shown by the Summit community. While they’ve always known of its generosity, now they say they are overwhelmed by it.
They added that they hope the fun fair will be an enjoyable event for all.
“Have a good time,” Mike encouraged.
Megan smiled. “Come and help us laugh.”