Why I Relay: Jan Thelin’s story

Editorâ??s Note: From now until the Culpeper Relay for Life event in May, we will be sharing stories of some of those involved and why they are involved in this nationwide effort to end cancer.

While some people find it hard to remain positive when they have cancer, Heidi Thelin, as a toddler, encouraged her parents to do so. Her mother, Jan, said that her little girl would look at her with an innocent face and say, “Don’t cry. Be happy. Be happy.”

Jan and her husband Gordon found out that Heidi, not quite 2 years old, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1998. Jan said, “Leukemia is a very sneaky disease.” She had taken Heidi to her 18-month checkup and the results showed she was a little low in her iron levels, but the doctor was not concerned. Jan wasn’t concerned either, as one of her sons once had been anemic. The plan was to test again at Heidi’s 2-year checkup.

Before then, however, on Halloween, Heidi bumped herself and her whole leg quickly became covered in broken blood vessels. Jan said, “She had a fever and just didn’t seem quite right to me.” She took Heidi to the doctor and after one look, the doctor said, “Let’s do blood work right now.” Within one-half hour, with the results in, Jan said, “Everything went wrong. The whole world was dark and upside down.”

Initially, Heidi was in the hospital for one month. Jan said she responded very well to the chemotherapy. Not all was easy, however. Along the way, Heidi had a few surgeries and a few blood infections. One infection was so serious that she was rushed from the doctor’s office to the hospital with a 106 degree Fahrenheit temperature and a racing heart. Jan and Gordon were told that it was going to be a critical night and to be prepared that they could lose her. They were told they needed prayer.

Fortunately, this was one of a very few isolated touch-and-go moments, as overall Heidi responded well to her treatments. Her responses actually surprised doctors at how well she did with chemotherapy.

After Heidi told her parents to “be happy,” they determined that is just what they would do. Jan said, “We had to be happy for her sake. We found something to laugh at every day, no matter how rough things were.”

Heidi’s two older brothers found ways to make their little sister happy, as well. Christopher, the oldest, was very successful in a fund-raiser he created after reading the poignant book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Brother Jeffrey also did his part by lying down beside Heidi and holding her hand. Treating her like a princess, he even let Heidi put barrettes in his hair.

Later, Heidi’s two younger sisters followed. After Heidi was in chemotherapy for sixth months, Jan realized she was pregnant with her fourth child, Holly. While Heidi became sick after each chemotherapy treatment, Jan was also sick with her pregnancy. Subsequently, Jan found a reason to celebrate with the birth of her last child, Amy, at the same time that Heidi’s treatments were ending.

During the three years of intense chemotherapy for their child, Jan and Gordon were told by doctors that there was the possibility Heidi would have numerous learning disabilities, specifically with mathematics. Today, however, Heidi, now a senior at Culpeper County High School, is a top student who is playing the part of Sandra Dee in her school’s performance of the musical Grease.
Heidi, officially in remission when she finished her chemotherapy, has participated with her parents and siblings in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life since 2001. She was a sophomore when she started her own team, Heidi’s Heroes. Heidi is the captain, with her mother as co-captain. Her whole family participates and supports fund-raising activities. “We love Relay for Life, ” said Jan.

Reflecting, Jan said, “You don’t want to go back and re-live the experience, but I think the whole experience gave us a different perspective on life. Every moment is important with people you love.”
She advised others, “Do not let petty things bother you. Family, love, support, friends, faith–these are all that matter.”

Jan shared her story to family, friends, church members, doctors and others who made the journey with them in faith. Part of her writings are shared here.

â??We feel extremely blessed. We estimate that Heidi has endured 3000 oral doses of medicine, over 250 shots, finger pokes and IV port accesses, 20 spinal taps with intrathecal injections of chemo, five bone marrow aspirations in her hip, dozens of gallons of chemo through IV, and numerous other uncomfortable procedures. She finished chemotherapy on May 9, 2001. She received a final spinal tap and bone marrow aspiration on May 15, 2001 to confirm her continued remission. This was a â??red letterâ? day.

Heidi is a survivor. Unlike the survivor in the popular TV show, she does not aspire to win a million dollarsâ??only to live. To live a life free from cancer. Her future is bright with stars of hope. You all are numbered among them. You are dear to our hearts. It is impossible to find the words to thank you for everything you have done for us, but you can see the reward, when you are lucky enough to catch one, in a smile from Heidi.â?

“You don’t know what other people’s battles are. I have deeper love and compassion for those who are suffering with hardships and trials.” She added, “Our hearts are with families going through the battle. While others are still struggling, our story gives hope. We are blessed beyond measure.”

Culpeper’s Relay for Life

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is the world’s largest and most impactful fundraising event to end cancer. It unites communities across the globe to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action to finish the fight once and for all. Today, with the support of thousands of volunteers, the American Cancer Society is helping save more than 400 lives a day.

Culpeper’s event is this year but the volunteers and teams that make it happen work year round. To sign up, donate or get involved in Culpeper’s Relay for Life, contact Christina Ballard at Christina.Ballard@CANCER.org or 240.994.2863
To date: 42 teams and 343 participants have raised $22,925.99

Relay For Life of Culpeper County
Eastern View High School
Saturday, May 16, 2015
11a.m.-7 a.m.