An unexpected provider

Craig teen carries family through dark times


After the rush to the hospital, reality set in.

And it was a lonely one.

One of solitary work on the family ranch, with early mornings of feeding cattle.

One of cleaning an empty house and buying groceries for a family that was seldom there.

These were the shoes Christopher Pankey stepped into in May and June after news that his father, Don Pankey, had brain cancer -- news that rattled his family.

The cancer -- the aggressive Glioblastoma Multiforme -- announced itself one May morning.

Don fell into a seizure. He was rushed to Denver.

Later that morning, Christopher made the trek to see his father. When he reached the hospital, the fog around what caused his father's seizure began to clear. He had a brain tumor.

Christopher and his younger brother, 14-year-old Michael, returned to Craig.

The diagnosis meant weeks and months in Denver and Grand Junction hospitals for Don and Cherratina, Don's wife.

With no one else to look after the house and the family ranch, the then-17-year-old Christopher took on a new role.

His name was put on the family checking account.

And his hard work was put into the family business.

"We couldn't have done it without him," his father said. "We weren't here for six weeks at a time."

These days, with the family bustling around the dining room table for dinner, talking about an episode of "Friends" or whether or not to add bacon to the green beans, it's difficult to imagine the house without all the characters.

For the youngest son, Michael, the thought is uncomfortable, too.

"It was weird to be by ourselves," he said.

He said Christopher and he both cooked and cleaned through the stressful time. A time that, in the end, brought them closer together.

The household chores were just the beginning. Next was the ranch. Then was his father's drilling company, not to mention the county fair and three-a-day football camp.

"That was a pretty tough time," Christopher said about all his duties.

It was his ninth year showing steer at the Moffat County Fair, but he had never done it alone. And this time, he had to help his brother.

His father, although proud of Christopher's accomplishments, has a hard time watching him take on a grown man's responsibilities.

"I hate it because that's who I am," Don said. "I'm supposed to take care of my family."

Now, as Don goes in and out of chemotherapy, there's weeks of sitting at home, rather than at a hospital hundreds of miles away.

Everyone spends plenty of time together. Movies in Christopher's room. Watching games in the basement.

Because of Don's treatment, he is forbidden to drive and spends much of his time at the house. In turn, everyone else is around the house much more now.

"I can't do anything with them until they want to do something," Don said. "I can't drive."

On Friday, a day Don was feeling well, Christopher took his father and a steer to Craig Veterinary Hospital.

"I think we've been really blessed," Christopher said. "He looks healthier than he ever did."

Through the summer, tho-ugh, doctors' condemnations were plenty and everyone was stressed.

During his senior year of high school, it was Christopher's teammates and coaches who comforted him when he was down.

"If I had a bad day, he'd cheer me up," Christopher said about Moffat County High School coach Kip Hafey. "It's good to have good friends like that."

When Christopher thinks about what he wants to do when his father is better, he thinks about fishing.

"It'll be good closure to go up there, relax and put all the rest behind us," Christopher said. "I just want to go."

John Henry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or

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