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Relay For Life From a Cancer Survivor's Perspective

Relay For Life of North Central Connecticut will take place June 8-9, 2013 at Suffield Middle School. There is still time to enter a team into this wonderful event that helps in the fight against cancer.

Enfield Patch editor Tim Jensen with his children, Alex and Mia, during the Survivor Lap of the 2012 Relay For Life event in Suffield. Photo credit: Anne Marie Jensen
Enfield Patch editor Tim Jensen with his children, Alex and Mia, during the Survivor Lap of the 2012 Relay For Life event in Suffield. Photo credit: Anne Marie Jensen
This article was written immediately following the 2012 Relay For Life event in Suffield, and is being re-posted today in advance of the upcoming event on June 8-9, 2013.

This past weekend, a total of 10 American Cancer Society Relay For Life events were held throughout Connecticut, and I had the privilege of participating in the North Central Connecticut Relay at Suffield Middle School.

For me, the date of the event was significant - June 2 into June 3. My final radiation treatment was three years ago, on June 3, 2009.

During the 36 months since successfully completing treatment, I have had numerous occasions to think about my life - the ups, the downs, my battle with cancer and the reasons I conquered it.

For those of you who don't know me, here's the background:

In the summer of 2008, I was on top of the world. I had two wonderful children, was editor-in-chief of my hometown newspaper, was coaching high school ice hockey and had just recorded the third hole-in-one of my life (on three different golf courses, in three different decades).

Suddenly, in September of that year, almost everything changed. I had been experiencing increasing pain in my left leg throughout the summer, and in typical guy fashion, waited about six weeks before deciding to see a doctor.

While awaiting the test results, I was laid off from my job. A week later came the diagnosis: a form of cancer called diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in my left femur. In layman's terms, cancer had eroded away some of my left thighbone.

The first step was surgery to attach more than a foot of stabilizing stainless steel to the bone. I am, to say the least, an extremely difficult patient, and Dr. Kevin Raskin and the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston did a phenomenal job during my eight-day stay there.

A few days after returning home, I began suffering excruciating pain in the leg and called East Windsor Ambulance. Within an hour of arrival at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, I was in the operating room having a massive blood clot removed. When I awoke, the surgeon, Dr. Julius Brecht, told me, "That could have killed you."

After another six-day stay in the hospital, my 55 staples and I came home for good on Nov. 22, 2008, but I still had the cancer treatment to endure. Before my first chemotherapy session in early January, I had to basically learn to walk again. At just 43 years of age, I had to rely on a walker for a month, then graduated to a cane.

2009 began with three and a half months of chemo, in which I was hooked up to machines for up to nine hours at a time. In the midst of those sessions came one of the most incredible experiences of my life, when my family and the town of Enfield rallied together to hold a benefit dinner to help with my mounting medical and living expenses.

The evening of March 14, 2009 is forever etched in my memory and my heart. Guests ranging from now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal to old college friends to people I'd never heard of showed up at the Mount Carmel Hall to help in my fight. I am eternally grateful to the hundreds of people who came to my aid during my struggle.

Once chemo ended, I had a brief respite, followed by five weeks of daily radiation. Finally, the big day arrived, and the staff at the D'Amour Center for Cancer Care in Springfield handed me a diploma as I tearfully completed my last treatment.

With the physical aspects of cancer behind me, I still had the mental anguish to deal with. No one would hire me for a full-time job for nearly another year and a half, and my despair continued until I landed the position of Enfield local editor for the Patch Media Corp. in late 2010.

Today, I exhibit a permanent limp, and scar tissue around the surgically-repaired area flares up on occasion, but I know I am luckier than many others who did not have the good fortune to survive this terrible disease as I did.

All these emotions, memories and thoughts went through my mind as I walked the Survivor Lap at Relay For Life Saturday. Cancer survivors walk once around the track with their caregivers, and for the first time, I walked that lap holding hands with both of my children.

My son Alex just turned 13, and he was part of Jane's Team, a Relay For Life group from John F. Kennedy Middle School in Enfield that formed 10 years ago in honor of former World Language department chair Jane Siwinski. The students were allowed to wear two buttons on their shirts, and my son displayed one that said: "In Honor of Tim Jensen." If that didn't start the waterworks flowing, nothing ever could.

This year, Jane's Team raised more than $14,000, bringing their decade-long total to just over $135,000. Having worked with Jane in the late 1980s, I couldn't be prouder of my son, his classmates and advisors Charlene Lauria, Barbara Hargraves and Kate Fawthrop for making such a huge difference in the lives of cancer patients.

My daughter Mia, who will turn 10 this summer, is a fourth-grade student at Eli Whitney School. During the windy downpour we endured during the Survivor Lap, she valiantly attempted to hold her umbrella with her left hand, in order to hold my left hand with her right.

Alongside my daughter walked my mom, a melanoma survivor. I welled up with tears seeing her walk without my dad, a prostate cancer survivor who passed away from heart failure in Dec. 2010.

No amount of rain could put a damper on the outpouring of love that accompanies Relay For Life. As my kids and I circled the track with other survivors and their families, the applause of hundreds of supporters caused a flood of emotions to flow inside me.

My kids are my heroes. They were just nine and six when I was diagnosed - too young to really understand the possible ramifications. However, they were savvy enough to know that their dad was sick, and they did everything they could to make me feel better.

It was because of my kids that I fought the fight against cancer. It was because of my kids that I beat it. And it was because of my kids that I will do everything in my power to help those who are affected by this disease.

I will continue to support Relay For Life for the rest of my life, which, thanks to the inspiration of my kids, should be for many more years.
Tracey June 05, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Such a beautiful article, Tim !
Lori Gates June 05, 2012 at 02:56 PM
What a beautifully written story, straight from your heart into the hearts of so many others. Very proud to know you, Tim. In every Relay for Life I have walked in since my mother passed away ten years ago it has rained...I like to think that they are tears of joy from those who have passed, for those who have survived to participate.
Jason Phelps June 11, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Tim, Thanks for putting your story out there. I'm surviving 9 years now and enjoy every opportunity to get more people involved in this fight. My Relay in NH is coming up in a couple weeks and I've been using my own blog to share my story this year. My most recent blog post can be found at http://ancientfirewineblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/fighting-cancer-with-wine.html. If you work back through the embedded links you can get back to what I kicked off with earlier in the year. Here's to continued good health! Jason Phelps (from the old Douglas Drive neighborhood where Bob & Donna, my parents, still live)
scott marek November 22, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Having been with you throughout your ordeal those years, I saw you go through your ups and downs,I look back now at how strong you were not just for yourself but you were always there for your Son & Daughter. You were always there for your friends too!
Spiff April 18, 2013 at 10:16 AM
Lucky you, Tim, congratulations and best wishes for continued good health!

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