Defying fate with nature at his side
Words by Deborah Burst
Photos by Kenyan Guidry
A handsome, vibrant man, Kenyan (Ken) Guidry embodies the beauty and energy of Beaumont, Texas. As the Nature Tourism Coordinator, you can find him deep inside nature’s wonderland, Cattail Marsh, zooming into the eyes of an alligator or capturing the sun’s piercing rays dicing the water. A master in photography, his work brings tears to your eyes—not only in its beauty but in how this artistic passion saved his life.
He’s a kind-hearted soul and devoted to those who visit Cattail. Ken recalled some of his favorite stories, such as the day he jumped into the marsh, home to 12-foot alligators, to retrieve a mother’s cell phone after her three-year-old threw it in the water.
As a child he spent hours exploring the world around him, from lizards and insects to grazing bulls and horses. Enthralled with wildlife and anxious to learn more, he began watching nature documentaries. Combing the outdoors became an addiction—such a sweet concert, from the frog’s throaty melody to the moving symphony of cicadas.
Suddenly, at the age of 21, his life forever changed. It began with a car accident, and although he had no significant injuries, the next day he became so severely winded and light-headed that his mother rushed him to the hospital.
It didn’t take long to find the problem; the scan showed a large mass in his stomach. Ken was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), an aggressive cancer with a mortality rate of only five years. Transferred to MD Anderson Cancer Center, he began a new journey, a world of chemotherapy and clinical trials with experimental medicines.
“My immediate reaction was thinking of my little nephew at the time because I instantly thought I wouldn't get to see him grow up. After that, I think I was in shock, no fear or worry,” Ken said, adding that his family and friends, along with people from work and church, were extremely supportive. “My pastor would visit me in the hospital whenever I needed to go. All of them were a pillar of strength for me.”
Ken then took matters into his own hands. "I decided to turn towards nature as an escape, and that’s where my love for photography started. I started with my phone’s camera and then quickly worked my way up through DSLRs."
Nature played a huge role in his fight to beat cancer, both mental and physical. Each day brought a new experience, a new lesson, and lots of exercise. Ken now had more strength to fight both the chemo and the cancer. And his lab reports were improving as well.
“It gave me a sense of freedom. After being in a sterile environment for so long, the outdoors was essentially therapeutic. The first day I was discharged, it was raining. I felt raindrops for the first time after months in my hospital room. That moment will forever remain vivid in my mind and yet so indescribable.”
Dealing with cancer for ten years now, Ken continues to help others. He attends GIST Cancer Summits, participating in panel discussions sharing different treatments. As a patient leader with a group called the Chronic Love Club, he joins others from all over the world offering advice on living with a chronic illness, along with the medical hurdles.
Although his condition requires frequent blood work, it doesn’t slow down Ken’s fierce attitude. Cattail Marsh has opened a whole new world for him, from speaking events and school field trips to manning booths filled with his photography sharing the wonders of nature and its wildlife.
The click of the shutter captures a deeper connection for both him and all those who witness his work. And photos, in turn, inspire his art and writing. “My motto in life is to live your life with multiple outlets of expression. When a camera isn't in my hand, I draw, and if I ever hit an artist block, I can write how I'm feeling,” noted Ken, adding that every day brings a new adventure. "The unpredictability makes it more rewarding. It forces me to adapt to the ever-changing environment."
In closing, Ken noted his three loves of life: “I love sharing all my research with others, the ability to see nature and wildlife as it should be, in their natural habitat. The diversity of Cattail Marsh in the people I meet, from Australia, Tokyo, Ireland, Belize, Alaska, and so many other places. And to have full conversations with someone I otherwise would've never met is such a phenomenal feeling.”
Follow the work of Ken Guidry on Facebook, and on Instagram @capturedbyken @kenguidryphotography.