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What Does Cancer, Family Entertainment, and Pay It Forward Have In Common?

Updated: Jan 25

Pay It Forward’ is not only a fantastic movie from 2000, but it has a great cast of Kevin Spacey, Haley Joel Osment, and Helen Hunt. It’s about a young boy that attempts to make the world a better place after his teacher gives him that chance. This movie really set the precedent for me as a kid watching this. I always had a big heart, but my mother really instilled in me to help others when you can help. Now, I’m sure you’re pretty confused by now as to why I’m rambling on about a movie from 23 years ago. Yes, you read correctly, 23 years ago.

So, to answer the question, I am giving the story officially online why I am on my path to start a family entertainment center in Port Angeles, and it has all to do with cancer, family entertainment and paying it forward.

To begin, we will rewind back a few years, not all the way to the beginning, but back to when life got…. well…..sad.

My husband and I met, married, had our first child and in 2011 moved to Port Angeles from Missouri. We had 2 other adult family members here to help us get on our feet as new parents, 2000 miles away from ‘home’. We went through some ‘bumps’ in life, such as infertility issues, depression, financial stressors, and more. Nothing too out of the ordinary that a strong marriage can’t get through together. Now, this is when life decided to try to pull us down and break us, so listen closely because sometimes you can get lost in the dark pit of…. cancer, and its trauma.

We have a bit of dark humor to get us through our dark times, so please, take no offense to my humor. Ever heard the saying ‘50 is the new 30’? Well, in my case, it is more like the other way around, 30 is the new 50. When I turned 29, I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous lump on my tongue and had 2 outpatient, micro laser tongue surgeries. This resulted in ‘death breath’ and ‘burnt marshmallow tongue’ for a few weeks/months as I healed. We thought we were in the clear and no concerns until a year later when the precancer returned but came back with a vengeance. I was now 30 years old and found that my body was against me in many ways! I was sent to Swedish Cancer Center in Seattle to receive consultation and course of action with Dr. Kim.  I was not the typical clientele, as they usually met with 50+ year old men, who smoke and drank for more than half their life. I, on the other hand, was 30 years old, female, healthy, never smoke and had some fun college years of drinking.  I was completely in shock as, Dr. Kim, sits me down and explains that I will have a very invasive facial reconstructive surgery and spend 3 days in monitored recovery, 9 days in ICU, and sent home with a trach, feeding tube, and a schedule for radiation and chemotherapy. He proceeds to tell me that they will remove a partial bone from my shoulder and replace the cancerous bone in my jaw, and graft skin and fatty tissue in place of nearly 50% of my tongue. Yes, you read that correctly, I am missing nearly 50% of my tongue. I am left with a 10-inch scar along my neck and another on my back shoulder blade area. My face has been left forever asymmetrical, which probably bothers me more than any scars or lack of mobility, or side effect. Our brains tell us we need to be symmetrical, so photos are tough on me now. Right before I entered Chemotherapy and Radiation, I gathered enough courage to ask what Stage of Squamous Cell Carcinoma I had. The Doctor reported with a confidently unclear answer. Confused? Yeah, it was a bit hard to comprehend myself too. For this type of cancer, there are the typical Stages 1-4, but also, 4A and 4B. These distinguish whether the cancer had advanced into the blood and will spread to other regions with a higher prognosis of death or that it is considered ‘curable’ with treatment.  The Doctor reported to me that I was Stage 4 but that we wouldn’t know completely if it was 4a or 4b until further into the treatment plan. So in all I spent the next 6 months learning to use a feeding tube, physical therapy to move my arm again, learn to drive again, as my arm doesn’t lift about belly button height. I lost my swallow reflex, had to sleep in an upright position every night, lost half my salivary glands, and really had to learn to talk and eat again by mouth. All the while, life still moved forward with kids getting removed from summer childcare (you think they may have been having a rough time with a parent fighting cancer and all), kids entering preschool, kindergarten, 2nd and 4th grade. Yes, 4 kids at the time, all between ages of 4 to 8 years old. My husband was an amazing inspiration who not only handled himself, financially supporting the family, the kids, and taking care of me. We had family, friends, colleagues, and strangers come to support us as a family. People who only knew of us but never met us stepped in to help. We used GoFundMe campaign and within a few hours we shut it down as we were able to make a dent in our financial pit. You can only imagine what facial reconstruction costs, let alone daily radiation for 33 sessions put a hole in your pocket.  I had help with house cleaning from my kids’ friends’ parents, colleagues from different organizations reached out to help, friends that drove me to appts, picked up/dropped off kids, and cooked meals. I would go to a community event and people would recognize who I was and know me, without me having any idea of who they were! These people easily payed it forward without hesitation, it was not only inspiring but a miracle. The care team that I had Swedish Cancer Center, Sequim Cancer Center, Eleven Eleven Dental, Therapeutic Associates, and Turella’s Office were all instrumental in my recovery. The Radiation and Chemotherapy teams at Sequim Cancer Center saw me at my worst and each year at my follow up appointments, I stop in to say hi! It is great to see them, as their smiling faces and laughter were always so helpful in the darkest of days.

Fast forward to 2023, I am now 5 years out and am considered NED! NED is an acronym for No Evidence of Disease. I am so happy that I was given this opportunity and now as a family of 8, with 6 kids aged from 3-18 years old, I can teach our kids the value of paying it forward. The importance of it and how it is not only my story but it’s a part of theirs as well.

So, to finally connect all the dots, this post is to explain why I am on the path of creating a family entertainment center in Port Angeles. To pay it forward, to give a new fun safe outlet for our community members and their families, to create memories for the community while staying LOCAL! We don’t always have the ability to take off to Seattle or Silverdale to go do something fun, so why not bring some of the city resources to us! You will be able to host birthdays, we will host different family fun events like date nights with childcare, holiday parties and celebrations, programs that will help encourage reading, physical activity, and STEM activities. As we have been members of the foster care community for a handful of years now, I see/feel the disconnect of foster families. The need for support, community, and togetherness, these are areas of the community we would like to help support and help the retention of foster parents. Clallam County has more foster children in need of places to go than homes available.

There are so many opportunities that OUR community is missing merely because of some mountains and water. After COVID arrived and I found myself at home with the children, I realized my path. I finally found my path in life to help others while giving back and allowing myself to still be here for my family. I created Strait Up Foam Fun as a steppingstone to get to my large goal of an indoor family entertainment center. My next step is to get indoors in 2024 with a couple of smaller attractions to get started and later advance into more attractions with food and beverage. Keep an eye out for more blog posts about what we are doing to advance the business and to get more information on other events and businesses in the community.

Nic’s Knack

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