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  • Tasha Schuh

The Power of Influence – My Tribute to TJ Helgeson

In this journey called life, there are people that enter your life and after doing so they impact you so much that you will never be the same. For me, one of those people was TJ Helgeson.

I met TJ in 2009 after he began dating my neighbor Renee. Renee and I had become friends after she moved into her new home in 2008. We were the only single women in our neighborhood and so we hit it off after meeting.

I remember Renee telling me how she met TJ and how she was excited for me to meet him. Shortly after that, I was introduced to him. We quickly found out what a small world it was as I knew his uncle and had been good friends with him and his wife for a couple of years prior to meeting TJ.

In the busyness of life, we would see each other in passing and they would stop over to my house every so often. One time they stopped over to introduce their new dog, Mya. I tried to warn them as they entered the house with their proud new puppy, but before I could say anything my cat Lily jumped up to show this dog who’s house this was and who was in control. Thankfully, she’s declawed in the front so she did not hurt him but it was a funny site to see this little cat thinking that she was bigger than a chocolate lab!

It was the following Easter that I heard the news that TJ had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. I instantly began following his CaringBridge page and every time I received a notification I would read it immediately. I would pray for him multiple times a day and was so encouraged by his faith, his positive attitude, and his courage. When reading his journal entries I could see the pain that he was going through, and yet the determination he had to overcome was bigger than the cancer.

During this time I was going through some of my own struggles. I had recently been in a relationship that ended badly, which was very difficult for me. Shortly after that I had developed a skin sore in which doctors told me I would need to be in bed until it healed; approximately two and a half months that I would spend in bed flat on my back. There were days that were difficult and frustrating, and yet I would remember that TJ was going through worse things…. If he could do it, so could I. I was thankful that I could be at home, whereas TJ was forced to stay in the hospital away from germs because his immune system was so weak. I was not sick or nauseous; TJ was dealing with routine vomiting and skin sores that covered the inside of his mouth and throat. After he came home from the hospital, I would look down at their house from my big bedroom window and remind myself how fortunate I was. I remembered TJ, and thus made a daily decision to be thankful for where I was even though it was less than ideal. I continued reading his journal entries and could not wait to tell him how much he inspired me during this time.

After he was home and in remission we decided to meet and hang out. I was so excited to tell him how he had helped me during my time of being laid up in bed, but before I could get the words out he began telling me how much I inspired him when he was going through his recovery after coming home from the hospital. His words tell it best from his journal entries on his CaringBridge site:

“It was at this same time when I barely had enough energy to scrape myself out of bed to walk to the bathroom. Doctors told me it would be beneficial to my recovery if I pushed myself within reason. Taking small walks was the best thing I could do to prevent lung infections, etc. It was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I was feeling sorry for myself and had every excuse in the book not to go and push myself. I remember on many occasions walking past my front door and looking out the window. What did I see? I saw Tasha’s house. I froze and would think to myself…Tasha would give anything to be able to stand from her wheelchair and walk around the block. And here I am, standing on able legs and feeling sorry for myself. I looked at life from Tasha’s PERSPECTIVE for a change. It was shortly thereafter I found myself tying my shoes, putting on a jacket, my mask and making the slowest walk ever to the end of my road.”

We realized in these moments that without knowing it, we had helped each other through a very difficult time. Looking at life through a different lens, another person’s perspective, gave us both strength to persevere and to not give up.

Since that time in 2011 TJ has continued to be my inspiration. I had the privilege of watching him and Renee become parents first to their son Kadyn, and then last September their daughter Blakely was born. Witnessing TJ go back to work even though it was hard getting his energy back motivated me to give my best effort every day. I was truly devastated and heartbroken when I received the CaringBridge notification titled “5 Year relapse” and then read the journal entry that said the cancer was back and no longer curable; he was going home to make the most of his last days.

TJ lost his battle to cancer and went to heaven on July 6, 2016. He was only 32 years old. Today I see him as my hero. TJ has influenced my life in so many ways through his struggles, love of life, and determination. I will never forget him and plan on taking his story with me as I travel and speak. His legacy will live on and I am determined that the world will know who he was. Even though he wasn’t able to speak and share his story I am hoping that my words can tell of his passion and zeal for life, and just maybe help others to be thankful for each day and to live life to the fullest.

Whether we know it or not, we all have influence. Every interaction that we have is either positive or negative – there is no neutral. When I leave this earth I want to be remembered how I remember TJ today… That we changed lives for the better and made a positive difference. And so I ask you today, how are you impacting and influencing lives for the better? What legacy will you leave on this earth when you are no longer here? What can you change in your life that, will in turn, influence others and help them to live life to the fullest?

I want to leave you today with some of the words that TJ wrote in his journals on CaringBridge; they not only impacted me but I believe will impact you as well!

“The fun that I had this weekend was just a great reminder that within my personal "to do" list will have a task that reads, "Make a memory". How often a person decides to do this task is their decision but I know after what I have experienced this past year, it will be much more frequent on my list. We can't remember all of life's tasks but we can remember life's memories.”

“To "Live like you are dying" is to realize how "rich" we all really are despite what we possess or how thick our wallet is. It is making each day the best for ourselves and more importantly for everyone around us. Offer a smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, whatever it is you have to offer because when you are faced with a

fight for your life, these are the things you will be remembered by.”

Thank you TJ for all that you gave me...I know I will see you again!

“Don’t complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many." Mark Twain

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