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Personal History for Heidi Kuhn

Your Family and Ancestry

List the names and birthdates of your mother, father, maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, paternal grandfather and other great grandfathers and grandmothers. What did you call them?

MOTHER--Barbara Ann Rowan, October 27, 1929
FATHER--Robert Scott Thomas, August 4, 1929

GRANDMOTHER--Lucretia McNear Thomas, October 17, 1896
GRANDFATHER--William Hill Thomas, August 20, 1896

GRANDMOTHER--Helen Margaret Gleason, February 25, 1910
GRANDFATHER--Alfred Rowan, November

Special Community Chapter on Surviving Cancer

In what month and year were you first diagnosed with cancer?

June 1988, Juneau, Alaska

Cancer is a landmine. Indescriminate of the sandal of a mother or the boot of a father, one never knows when they will step upon this life-threatening diagnosis. Boom! Suddenly your life is transformed into a new realm where survival becomes a daily reality. Terms such as "oncologists" enter into your vocabulary, and you suddenly realize the serious nature of every footsteps as the maze of cancer treatment unfolds.

The first three decades of my life were a fairytale growing up in Marin County, California, where my grandparents instilled a deep appreciation in my heart for the land.
As a fifth generation descendent of pioneer family, I was always taught that the true value of land transcended the dollar and was embedded in the "soil and soul" of the people who nurtured the earth.
Graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I married my college sweetheart, Gary, whom I met at 19 years old. Majoring in Political Economics of Industrial Societies, I was always deeply committed to international affairs and exploring a world beyond the borders of the panoramic San Francisco Bay Area.

Gary and I were married on Valentine's Day in 1981, and as we flew off in a helicopter from Mt. Tamalpias, we never looked down. Beyond the white lace and promises, little did we know that we were destined for a life in the minefields.
And, the first major minefield we walked through was the terror of being diagnosed with malignant cervical cancer.

One day, Gary came home from IBM with a promotion to Alaska.
The term "IBM" took on a whole new meaning of "I've Been Moved" but never did I think that it would lead to the Last Frontier. While I promised in my marriage vows to follow him to the ends of the earth, I never expected him to take me literally!

Yet, off we flew to Juneau in January 1998 with three small children in tow! Following my 30th birthday on The Epiphany, January 6th, I was reminded of the Wisemen who had followed the stars to Bethlahem seeking faith and wisdom from the stars above. My eyes remained focused on the North Star and the Big Dipper as we crossed the border from Canada to the Alaskan border. As the plane landed at noon, I wondered who turned off the lights. Suddenly I realized "why" it was called the Land of the Midnight Sun. For conversely during the winter season, the sun rarely comes up as darkness sets in for several months at a time. Sigh... The pioneer spirit of my ancestors would have to sustain me during the long, dark hours in a new land where there were only 40 miles of highway. Nothing was able to get in or out--except by either barge or airplane. Motherhood is challenging enough, but with no friends and 23 hours of darkness, this took a bit of creativity and faith!

The packing company had gathered all of our earthly belongings from Marin County and checked the destination box "Foreign". This is when I knew that I was really in trouble, as they did not even realize that this was the 49th state! My homeland was referred to as "The Lower 48" and the mother's were more concerned about protecting their children from bears rather than kidnappers--since there was nowhere for them to go!

My husband, Gary, was immediately sent to Harvard School of Business for IBM Management Training, which left me in a large home with nothing but darkness as I awaited the arrival of the barge! Prior to his urgent departure mandated by management, I was able to negotiate a visit to the grocery store SUPER BEAR for supplies. While I was adverse to television sets to influence our children, I immediately bought a small television to entertain all of us as the bitter cold snow fell in darkness throughout the day and night. Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was a welcome relief to the silence of the northern frontier in winter, as I cuddled and nurtured my darling children alone.

As the winter days grew into weeks, I decided to get a small part-time job to take me out of the home for a few hours.
Quietly, I applied to the local television station for an internship to learn about the field of broadcasting. After a meeting with the General Manager, he informed me that I was hired as "Weather Anchor" on the Six O'Clock Evening News! It became the perfect job, as I would shrink every night into the television set where my children marveled at the magic of their mother! And, there was no need to learn how to write backwards, as there were still magnets to reflect the sub-zero temperatures from KJUD television station! Cold, cold and colder!

As a mother of three children--ages 1, 3, and 5 years old--I was teaching my children to take their first footsteps during my day job. The joy in a mother's heart to see the face of their child stand on their own two feet and garner the confidence to take their "first step" forward in the world is an extraordinary experience. Step by step, they have the confidence to trust the earth as they learn to walk, trot, skip and run. Such freedom and trust are taken away when there are landmines in the ground, as I was to one day learn...

One day, I was feeling a strong pain in my neck and finally decided to seek medical attention. Alaska is a male dominated territory, and there are primarily General Practioners to provide treatment. As I entered the examination room, the nurse told me to put my feet up on the stirups for a PAP exam. I argued with her, as I told her that it was my neck that was hurting and nothing below my waist. The nurse was a neighbor with a bulldog personality that would not take "no" for an answer. She said there were no gynocologists in Juneau--the capital of the largest state in the United States of America--a concept that I found apalling! Finally, I conceded.

The PAP smear could not be reviewed by the lab in Juneau, so it was flown to Seattle as standard proceedure. This was a stunning contrast to my hometown where there are dozens of gynocologits and labratories within the local hospital.

Weeks later, I received a stunning telephone call while the children were squeeling in the background. As the rain poured down outside our panoramic windows, so did the tears flow down my face. The same nurse told me that I was diagnosed with malignant cervical cancer. On a scale of 1-4, I was a 4 1/2 and had to fly to the Lower '48 for immediate treatment. I told her that this was impossible, as I had three small children. The doctor got on the phone, and explained that this was life-threatening. Silence.

As I gazed outside at the Mendenhall Glacier and the pristine snow-capped mountains above the Gastineau Channel, I realized that "each day is a gift". Peering into the eyes of my small children, I vowed to give something back to life if God granted me the gift of seeing my children grow up.

And, this is the beginning of the story of "how" a mother dedicates her life towards the eradication of landmines--by planting the roots of peace on earth.

Cancer is a landmine with no cure.
Landmines have a cure--removal.