Chelsea Kuhs knows that each day is special and tomorrow is not a guarantee. Being diagnosed with a rare cancer at age 9 made her a strong, incredible person. She has overcome something that most people can’t even fathom going through–and she has done it with a great attitude and view on life. She’s the type of person that has big dreams and will accomplish those dreams because she knows she was put here for a reason, and she is determined to live that way. She is an inspiration to those around her and she is definitely an inspiration to me.
Tell us about yourself– where are you from, what do you study and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
“I grew up in Portland, Oregon then moved to Grants Pass, Oregon. My family flipped houses so we moved around. I am majoring in Marine Science and hope to minor in Spanish and Environmental Studies and maybe Coastal Management, if I have time. I hope to continue on to Grad school and become a coral reef conservationist. In my free time I like to do a lot of crafty things like making jewelry and cooking. I’m the best 80-year-old woman. I’m kind of like a jack of all trades. I like to try something, master it, and then move on to the next thing.”
I was inspired when I heard you tell your story at the Relay for Life Kick-Off. Can you tell me about your journey with cancer?
“We were caught off guard when I had a seizure when I was 5 years old. We didn’t know why. The hospital where I lived was small and had little technology so they sent me away with anti-seizure medicine. One day when I was 9, I hit my head on the monkey bars. My dad is a worrier so he took me to the hospital. The doctor said they found something and I would have to come back. I remember walking out of my 4th grade class and my dad talking to me in the car. He was telling me everything will be okay and we’ll get through it. As a 9-year-old I thought it would be okay too. I had to get an MRI and hated it! I was crying and wouldn’t hold still so it took about 3 hours because they couldn’t get the pictures they needed. I didn’t personally hear the news; I was outside the door. My mom came out sobbing and that’s when it hit me. Something was wrong. I was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t know the exact name. It starts with Astro- and ends in -sitoma but there are about 20 something letters in between that I don’t know. Only 27 cases have been recorded of this cancer. My parents supported me the whole way. We had to adopt an optimistic view about it and not dwell on what could/might happen. Any cancer survivor will tell you this.
We moved to Buffalo because the hospital there had the best doctors and specialists. I knew I was in good hands. I remember seeing all the other kids there and wondered if that was going to be me. Going back after, it was like, ‘how can I figure out a way to help them?’ I think everyone should go read a book to a child with cancer. It opens your eyes to how lucky you are.
I remember the day before my surgery to remove the tumor, I wanted to go to this water park. My mom said we could go after my doctor’s appointment. But during the appointment they put “cheerios” on my forehead to map out where they were going to cut, so I wasn’t allowed to go swimming. My mom said that we could go after but that’s when it hit us because we knew that there might not be an after. They were only giving me a 17 percent chance of survival within the first 24/48 hours. They had to cut from one ear to the other and cut open my skull. They had to cut a lot of my hair off to do this and I was very unhappy about that. The tumor was in my right frontal lobe and it was wrapped around my optic nerve so it was a risky procedure. They weren’t able to get as much out as they wanted but they got a large portion.
I was a bad speller and still am but I remember while they were prepping me for surgery I asked the doctor, ‘while you’re in there can you fix my speller?’ When I came out of surgery I cried because my head hurt so badly. I was in the hospital for two weeks and was doing well but then I had a reaction to a medicine. I had a seizure and when I woke up I couldn’t feel my legs. I had to return to the 4th grade in a wheelchair. I eventually moved to a walker. One day I was talking to my best friend, Lauren, and she said, ‘you are going to walk.’ And she was determined to make me walk. She would move the walker farther and farther from me and I would walk to it. One day I walked without the walker. When my mom saw me she was amazed. I had to go back to the doctor frequently to get checked and still have to go get checked but less often. I learned that today is a blessing and there might not be a tomorrow so don’t hold back.”
How did your faith help you through your journey with cancer?
“I know that God gave me this life and He saved me for a reason.”
Are you really involved with Relay for Life?
“Yes, I started doing Relay for life before I had cancer. My family was really involved. It was a town event and everyone came out. I remember seeing the survivor lap and not really knowing what it was about or what it meant. The next year I walked in that lap and everyone clapped.
I don’t normally talk at these things, but at Eckerd I wanted people to see that cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s not just for old people; everyone can be affected by it. And I want to see the enthusiasm and care that I saw at the Relays back home at Eckerd.”
Are you involved with any other organizations?
“I work at the waterfront, earth society, and outdoor adventure club.”
Do you have a quote to live by?
“You always have to get your feet wet.” Meaning you have to at least try, and my mom adds that if you fall in then you swim.
What’s one item on your bucket list?
“I hope to start coral reef conservation programs all over the world and it would be great to go back to a place where I started one and see people working for my cause. And hopefully it’s somewhere fabulous.”
If you where stranded on an aquaglide with one person who would it be?
“Kenny Chesney. I love him and he could keep me occupied.”