I'm "touched by how everyone has stepped up to help," says Paul Moore of the foundation friends started to help his family and other families in similar situations

By Cathy Free
Updated November 19, 2015 08:05 AM
Courtesy Paul and Joni Moore

When he ended up in the emergency room last February at his wife’s insistence, Paul Moore thought he’d simply pulled a few muscles in his shoulders and back after a strenuous weekend renovating a spare bedroom in his Farmington, Utah, home.

Hours later, after a series of tests, a somber-faced doctor delivered the news: Moore, 36, had cancer throughout his body. In all, more than 40 tumors had been found, including several in his brain. Additional tests revealed that he had terminal renal cell carcinoma that had seeped into most of his bones. Although Moore underwent several surgeries to remove his kidney and the largest tumors, by August it was clear that further treatments wouldn’t help.

“It was devastating,” Moore, a human resources manager and father of two young daughters, Ellie, 6, and Reese, 3, tells PEOPLE. “My first thoughts were about my family. Who would provide for them? What would happen to them? I couldn’t think about anything else.”

He needn’t have worried. Concerned about the Moores’ mounting medical bills, several women in the family’s Mormon congregation stepped up to help in a way that will make an impact long after Paul is gone.

Shana Whipple, Lara Johnson, Gemmie Benson and Ashlyn Chugg started The Paul Moore Foundation last month to help pay the family’s medical expenses and raise funds in the future to help other young families with a parent facing a terminal disease. Through a 5k race and silent auction, the foundation has raised more than $40,000 thus far to help the Moores.

“Paul has been heroic with his positive outlook as he’s faced the ‘C’ word that everybody hates,” Chugg, 37, a dental hygienist and the foundation’s president, tells PEOPLE. “So when we found multiple stories of families in similar situations and saw how much need there is, we were motivated to fill this gap.

“Our goal is to ease the financial strain these families are under so they can focus on spending their remaining time together in positive ways,” she says.

“Paul and Joni are taking life one day at a time and living it the best they can,” adds Chugg. “Their love for each other and their two daughters is palpable from their actions, words, and even in the way they look at each other.”

In August, doctors told Moore he could die within two months so he decided to record himself reading favorite bedtime stories such as “Goodnight Moon,” and write letters to his daughters, expressing his love for them and leaving messages of hope for the future.

“It was a difficult task, but I wanted to give them some lessons to take through life so that they’ll know who I am, even though I won’t be here,” he tells PEOPLE.

“My oldest daughter is kind of shy, so I told her about the importance of friends and social skills and told her not to get down on herself,” he says. “And I told my younger one, who is more outgoing, to be humble and to love and support her older sister. Then I put a $100 bill in each letter and put them in a safe deposit box.”

Determined to make the most of their time together, he and Joni began taking the girls on simple outings to get ice cream, go swimming and stay overnight at their favorite hotels. A friend who knew that Paul had always wanted to take his daughters on a four-wheel-drive safari in a nearby canyon, lent him his Jeep for a day.

“Everybody in our neighborhood and church has come together in love and concern for us and helped us in every way imaginable,” Joni, 36, a dietician and homemaker, tells PEOPLE. “It’s touching to see how many people care.”

Married for 11 years, the Moores don’t know how many months or days Paul has left to enjoy time with family and friends, so they choose to focus on each day, rather than think about what lies ahead.

“Life is good right now – we have Paul home with us and I can’t complain,” says Joni. “I know that hard times are coming when I will have to deal with missing him. But for now, we’re just grateful for the time we have together.”

Paul, who now sits in a recliner most of the day because it hurts to stand up for more than 15 minutes at a time, says he is reflecting on his life and feeling thankful for the goodness he has experienced.

“I could sit here and be depressed, but what good can come from that?” he tells PEOPLE. “I’m grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with and touched by how everyone has stepped up to help. I feel love and support each and every day. Each and every day, I am humbled.”