MEMPHIS, Tenn. — What would you do if you were told you had three months to live? A New Jersey man diagnosed with cancer decided to live out his last days on the mighty Mississippi River.
Kelly Phillips was diagnosed with sinus cancer two years ago. He went through treatment, but chemo took its toll on him, Phillips said, from losing his teeth to getting an ulcer in his stomach.
“The radiation caused an ulcer in my stomach, one morning I got up and by ten o’clock in the morning, it exploded,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he woke up 21 days later in a hospice. The Wisconsin native was told they had called his brother three times to let him know that Phillips might not make it.
Doctors told Phillips he only had three months to live. So he called his brother and told him he didn’t want to die in a hospice.
“You know what? Find me a houseboat on the Mississippi. That’s where I’m going to die,” Phillips said.
On March 15, 2017, he arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, got his new home and set sail the following day.
He’s been on the river ever since, along with his faithful pup, Sapphire.
Since May 8, the pair has been anchored at the cobblestones near the riverboats in Downtown Memphis.
Where will they go next, and when will they be on their way? Phillips said he doesn’t know.
For 22 years, Phillips was an owner of several businesses including an industrial laundry company in New Jersey. He said he is happier now than he’s ever been.
“Every day I was mad, at something,” Phillips said. “When you have 53 employees you get mad a lot.”
More than a year after his decision to live on the river, he lives each day happy to meet what he calls the great “river people.”
Phillips spent most of his money on his boat and the supplies he needed for the few months he was given to live, so when the terminal day came and left he had nothing but “river people” on each part of his journey to provide charity in his hours of need.
“It makes tears come to my eyes every time I think about how much people have done for me,” Phillips said.
While trying to dock in St. Louis in the winter Phillips said he stepped onto an icy dock and fell into the freezing water.
He was able to get out and back into his boat to warm himself up.
The dam managers who directed him to the dock came to check on him. The man found Phillips wrapped up trying to get warm enough to get out and collect driftwood for his furnace.
“He and his boss went around and picked up a whole bunch of wood and brought it down and put it on my boat,” Phillips said. “That’s river people. Who does that?”
Phillips says he doesn’t have anything to give all the many people and business who’ve helped him but “Thank you.”