Dying 29-year-old lived to wed sweetheart
By Claire Martin
Denver Post Staff Writer
Peter Demmler Kane was 29 when he died of cancer Oct. 29 in his
hospital room, less than an hour after exchanging wedding vows with
longtime sweetheart, Lisa Arnolds.
They met as teenagers - he was 16 and she 14 - in the youth group at
their Catholic church.
They came from similar families. Kane is the son of John Kane, a Regis
college professor, and Jean Demmler, a sociologist, whose Congress
Park home is filled with books, intricate Oriental rugs and eclectic
mementos from international travels. Dave and Eileen Arnolds' Park
Hill home has a similar feel - comfy chairs, books and souvenirs from
Peter Kane and Lisa Arnolds developed a friendship that repeatedly
waltzed in and out of romance.
They stayed in touch after Peter Kane went to Russia as a high school
exchange student. When he returned to Colorado, they resumed dating
and agreed to remain friends after Kane moved to the East Coast to
They saw each other when Kane visited Denver. He wrote and called when
she spent a year in Chile as an American foreign exchange student.
"Mostly it was letters, but once in a while, he'd call and say, 'I
know what it's like to hear a voice from home,"' Lisa Kane-Arnolds
After graduating from high school, she moved to start college in
Seattle. During her junior year, Kane flew out to visit her for two
weeks. When it was time to go, he kept postponing his departure - and
stayed for six weeks.
By then, their friends and families considered them all but married.
Kane's sister, Anna Marie, and Arnolds' sister, Katie, joked that they
were practically sisters-in-law.
"We always planned on getting married," Lisa Kane-Arnolds said. "We'd
say, 'When we're married, then we'll. ..."'
In 1993, Kane graduated from Georgetown University. For a few months,
he worked on ABC's "Nightline" show, which hired him after his
appointment as the show's first special-issues intern.
"We had no way of knowing that our very first intern would set the
standard for all who followed," host Ted Koppel wrote to Kane's
parents last week. "We took pride in his accomplishments here and
reveled in his continued success after he left 'Nightline.' Take
comfort from knowing that Peter was beloved by all here."
While his girlfriend finished college, Kane joined the Peace Corps. He
served in Ximhungwe/Lillydale, South Africa, where village elders
nicknamed him Nyiko - "gift" in the Tsonga language.
The long-distance relationship endured. Arnolds spent a month with him
in South Africa. When Kane's Peace Corps tour ended, he flew to see
her in Guatemala, where she was working for the Rigoberta Menchu
Finally, they decided to move to New Orleans, where Kane could study
urban planning and she could earn a law degree.
About a year ago, Kane began suffering from what seemed like
intestinal problems. He and Arnolds cut short their trip through
Mexico's west coast. They returned to Denver to spend the holidays
with their families.
While they were in town, Kane saw a doctor for tests. Jean Demmler
sensed the worst when the first physician referred the family to a
pathologist to discuss the results.
On the day after Christmas 2003, Kane learned he had a soft-tissue
sarcoma, a cancer more common in septuagenarians than in otherwise
healthy 28-year-old men.
Kane and Arnolds put their graduate careers on hold. They focused on
aggressively treating the cancer. Arnolds, shepherding his
chemotherapy and medications, felt optimistic.
"We thought we had months, if not years," she said.
Late last month, his condition unexpectedly worsened. Doctors
postponed plans to put him on a clinical-trial drug. They found the
cancer was so widespread, and Kane so weak, that no known drugs could
save his life.
"He decided that he didn't need to go through it and didn't need to
put the family through it," his mother said. "He said he wanted to
wait until Anna Marie could come back from New York, and waited for
his immediate family and close friends to be here."
On Oct. 28, Kane announced that he wanted to marry Arnolds, "but not
in the condition I'm in now." John Kane promised his son an elaborate
ceremony if he somehow survived this episode. Kane considered this and
That evening, he sketched a ring and asked whether it could be made
with his grandmother's diamond.
Jean Demmler and her daughter raced to Anjevine, a neighborhood
jewelry store, as soon as it opened Oct. 29. Sure, said proprietor
William Gray. He could have it done by Tuesday.
The pair explained the circumstances.
"I can have it done by 3 today," Gray said.
It was ready by 2:30 p.m.
"I hope he's still alive," said the family friend who rushed in to
pick up the ring.
Back at the hospital, Kane's family showed it to him. When he
approved, the others slipped away, leaving him alone with Arnolds.
"I went in, and he had a little ring box on his chest," she said.
"He wasn't speaking at all, so I said, 'What's that?' He smiled. I
opened it. I helped him put the ring on my finger, and I just
dissolved. We called everyone back into the room."
Kane looked at his mother.
"Mom," he said, "I have a wife."
He died a few minutes later, after squeezing Kane-Arnolds' hand one
Survivors include his wife, Lisa Kane-Arnolds of Denver; his parents,
John Kane and Jean Demmler of Denver; and a sister, Anna Marie Demmler
Kane of New York City.
He was buried near the Grand Lake cabin that he helped his parents
renovate. The family suggests memorial donations to humanitarian aid
in Africa, Central America and Colorado, through the Peter Demmler
Kane Memorial Fund at the 10:30 Catholic Community, 1100 Fillmore St.,
Denver, CO 80206.