By Morgan Daniels
To Kyle Funke, Trevecca was more than a university.
It was also his home—a place of belonging, brotherhood and an environment where his personality and faith truly shined, said friends and family.
“He was a man of integrity. He understood his spiritual foundation and he was very faithful to it—I think Trevecca really helped that,” Pete Funke, Kyle’s father said.
Kyle, 21, passed away on Sunday, January 24, 2010 after a 7-year battle with a brain tumor and cancer. He endured three surgeries and exhausted every form of treatment, but Kyle’s determination and optimism was always evident, said those who knew him best.In 2006, the dormant brain tumor Kyle and his family had been watching for four years began to grow. A biopsy was done at Duke University Hospital and the pathology report confirmed the diagnosis as benign and low grade. In November, Kyle went in for a lengthy surgery known as a craniotomy at NYU Hospital.
Seven weeks later, after intense speech and physical therapy, Kyle enrolled as a freshman at Trevecca.
He stayed two full semesters, before his spring of 2008 semester was interrupted by the tumor growing again.
In January 2008, a routine MRI at Duke showed regrowth of the tumor. However, Kyle decided to return to TNU and get chemotherapy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
By February, Kyle became very sick, and the MRI showed a large cyst in the tumor cavity, causing Kyle to undergo another surgery. Shortly after, he returned home to Raleigh, North Carolina to continue chemo at Duke.
During the following months, Kyle tried several different treatments including another craniotomy at Duke and radiation. After 33 radiation treatments, he received bad news.
The MRI revealed the development of two new tumors. Duke started Kyle on a new chemo that had just been approved by the FDA.
Within weeks, Kyle received encouraging news. The MRI showed the tumors were shrinking, and again showed the same results in February 2009. He continued the treatment for six months.
That summer, despite being very ill because of chemotherapy, Kyle decided to go on a kayaking expedition to Montana. He went through a program called First Descent, an organization whose mission is to provide extreme opportunities to young adults with cancer.
He had the time of his life, his mother, Tina Funke, said.
However, a month later, the MRI showed that the chemo that seemed so promising was now failing and there was more tumor growth. New decisions had to be made.
“Kyle told his doctor that whatever the treatment was, he had decided that he was going back to college regardless, and chose to get weekly chemo at Vanderbilt,” Tina Funke, said. “He thought if he went for chemo on Fridays he could still go to classes during the week without being too sick.”
Kyle returned to Trevecca one last time for the 2009 fall semester.
“He always beat the odds…and to see someone push and to never give up—that makes me want to live my life better,” Daniel Jetton, friend and former suitemate, said.
Determined to be at Trevecca
Friends and family use the word “determined” over and over when describing Kyle.
“He taught himself to read at the age of three and a half and he kept that same determination throughout the rest of his life,” Tina Funke said.
As a straight “A” student with a mathematical mind, Kyle had the opportunity to choose any college to attend. But he accepted a full tuition academic scholarship at Trevecca, the only school he even applied for.
Kyle’s interest in the university was sparked through meeting college students from Trevecca during the 2003 Nazarene Youth Conference in Houston and then again at TNT, a talent competition for middle school and high school students in the Southeast Nazarene Region.
“He was really drawn there and obviously, it was apart of God’s bigger plan on how he was going to use Kyle,” Tina Funke said.
To Kyle’s friends at Trevecca, a group of boys who found friendship with each other through their friendship with Kyle, he was known as “Funky.” When asked to describe him, the words Christ-like, encourager, motivator, selfless and “life of the party” were all mentioned.
“When I think back on the life of Kyle Funke, I think of one of my closest friends, but even more, I think of my hero. He was the strongest man I have ever met. He smiled in the face of cancer, and he cared for other people even when he was hurting the most,” Chad Linn, friend and former suitemate, said.
The group of friends, known to each other as “the Brewskis,” said they feel at peace about Kyle moving on because they know he is not suffering anymore, but it wasn’t easy letting him go.
Andrew Andreotta met Kyle when they were teenagers on the North Carolina Nazarene District Impact Team. Andreotta said that he found peace because of Kyle’s attitude.
“I think for as much as you can be at peace…because he was not afraid, and that he was happy—that’s what gave me peace,” Andreotta said.
At the end of September 2009, Kyle became very sick. Friend and former roommate Brett Johnson took Kyle to the ER at Vanderbilt where an MRI indicated that the tumor was still growing and chemo was failing.
Three days later, Kyle’s parents took him home where he started new chemo agents and other medicines to help reduce swelling in the brain.
But by November, the MRI indicated the agents were not working. Kyle was then approved for a clinical trial of a new drug. He had daily chemo for two more months.
Kyle’s health continued to decline—losing his balance, struggling with short-term memory and vision loss until he had a large seizure in the early morning of December 22.
Doctors at the Duke Brain Tumor Center determined that there were no scientific options left for Kyle. They sent him home.
“Kyle’s father prayed over him and we cried. I asked Kyle if he was afraid. He said, ‘Of course not,’” Tina Funke said.
He was then put in Hospice care in the family room of his home for exactly one month.
“Every morning I woke up and said, ‘Today is a miracle day,’ whatever that meant—as long as he was freed of his disease,” she said.
Without struggling and with most of his family surrounding him, Kyle took his last breath on the morning of January 24, 2009. He is now eternally in God’s hands without pain, but only joy, Tina Funke said.
“Going to Trevecca really changed his life because he had so many friends there. I think he learned more about a Christian brotherhood,” Tina Funke said. “He was drawn there because of the love those people poured out to him during his time of need.”
Because of Kyle’s love for Trevecca, his parents have decided to establish a Kyle Funke Scholarship Fund, to provide scholarships to students like Kyle that may not be able to afford a Christian education at Trevecca on their own.
You can donate by making checks payable to:
Trevecca Nazarene University
333 Murfreesboro Rd
Nashville, TN 37210
*Memo: Kyle Funke Scholarship Fund
Check out Kyle’s Memorial website here.