We encourage you to find more of Teisha’s writing at the blog http://betterthansleepingalone.typepad.com/my_weblog/Comment
Fear comes in an unthinkable number of arrangements, acres and acres of flower beds lined with the seeds of regret, indecision, shame, guilt and a sense that one has been forsaken, even by the oneself. Fear is odorless but tangible like a wind against the skin. It borrows from the weather storms of torrential emotion caving in and over itself, foamy and cold.
This fear pervasive and poking a level finger in whichever direction is the most opportune. It does not tire. It does not toil. There is nothing unnatural about it. We might be lost without it. We would have no knowledge of where the edges of our worlds collide.
At some point, our fears clog us up. We spurt and gasp for something soothing with which to salve these mostly innocent wounds. We glare and protest until it is all we can possibly bear and then we cease to struggle anymore. We tread at the deep end of the pool, tormented by the thought of the shark that has never been there. And then we let go, hands wide and waving above our shoulders and a sigh of rigid relief. Exhausted from feeding our faces with fear, we repent. Forget. Smile in to the sun, smile inside for a light and tender moment of time. This is what the fear is for. We would not be so content without this contrast of experiences. Gloating and aimless Fear remains crouched by our side, a seemingly relentless jock dragging behind its dingy cloak a wagons worth of unsafe ideas.
And off we seem to go, anyway.
All this blabbering is just to say that while the fear of things I cannot control or change is disseminates through many of life’s circumstances it seems to at the same time illuminate all the things that leave me fearless. Courage and hope and dreams of making good and laughs and trying to understand that it is all going to be alright.
Written 9/29/10, one year before she died and posted today for Donnie Cox who felt the fear and this week let it go.Comment
My friend Leslie, who is helping me with my writing, says that often times the first paragraph of a piece of work is the “pump primer.” Here I go.
I woke up this morning and had a good long cry. I tried to remember what I’ve been taught about crying well, it helps to breathe deeply. It felt like the release of a lot of pent up emotion, the windows were just filling with sun in the heat of this July. On Wednesday when this heat wave started we met with Dr. Meyer. She is a little younger than me (how did that happen?) and we’ve worked together for the last three and a half years. She is bright, kind and patient, she has a sense of humor. You can tell she is someone who works hard to do a good job. Dr. Lies (an expert in the field of CLL) was my “second opinion” after being diagnosed and he saw me through my transplant. I sort of accidentally called him an “asshole!” that day in his office when he told me he was leaving for the Mayo clinic. I couldn’t believe that he would leave me. “How Could You?,” came out “Asshole.” Even so, he did a wonderful job connecting me to Dr. Meyers.
At the meeting two days ago we spent some time talking about “the plan.” There is more than one option as far as moving forward to keep the Leukemia in check. The immune system given to me by that wonderful women somewhere in the world (who doesn’t know a single thing about me), put up a good fight. There was talk of adding more of her remarkable, generous immune system — the fact that a stranger let me have her cells to help me live reminds me, up close and personal in these sometimes dark ages — of the beautiful side of us humans. So many people for so many reasons are so good. No, really.
Dr. Meyer has recommended that we search the banks for another donor and attempt a second stem cell transplant. As you can imagine, this conjures up feelings of sensationally serious Eke! We had no idea this is where we’d be this summer, not in the last legs of a stem cell marathon but in the front half of what appears to be a 100 mile ride further down the road of the unknown. This morning a good friend called and, as always, genuinely wanted to know how I’m doing and so I told him the news and waited in the pregnant pause preceding his reply.
“So, are you up to it?” he asked and I felt like I was talking to a trusted coach with the key question and that’s when I hung up and had a big, fat cry. At the end of my cry I asked out loud for some “help.” I got out of bed grabbed the dogs and walked to the park. One Cancer Land book (there are so many) called “Picking up the Pieces – Moving forward after Surviving Cancer” says “a brief practice of attentive walking combines physical exercise with sensory input and personal awareness. It will help you regain a foothold in your life.” I’ll take what I can get.
I walked to the park overlooking Portland and felt lucky to live here, my hometown. I looked out at this royal looking tree that sits in the center of the park from the top of the hill as the dogs ran around in a celebratory mood. Nurse Jana suggests that the cancer experience gives a change in perspective, often a positive one. Easier to appreciate the little things in the times of knowing, so certainly, that it won’t last forever. And indeed this morning the world looked so beautiful, the green grass and leaves on trees and the light of the sun pushing its way into the day. I know this sounds sort of hokey but what I’m trying to remember is that in those moments of genuine sadness at a precarious, unknown place- there is a simmering wave of gladness to even exist at all.
“Born on August 3rd, 1969 to Deb Helgerson, Teisha arrived and immediately locked eyes with her adoring mother. So began her ability to immediately connect with people. This never changed and she amassed countless adoring friends and fans that were with her until the end.
Lifelong, abundant friendships were plentiful for Teisha and she worked hard to maintain them. Teisha grew up in Lake Oswego and attended Lake Oswego High School. At the University of Oregon she was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority where she met some of her life-long best friends. Teisha graduated in 1992 with a BA in English.
Teisha’s love of travel began at a very early age. She started learning French at the age of 3 from her Ceylonese teacher. When she was 9 years old, her mom strapped on the backpacks and off they went to France, England and Spain. In college she spent the fall semester of her junior year in Avignon, France where she polished her French, spent every last franc she had and tasted each dish put in front of her. Although she visited many countries from Portugal to Bali and several in between, France remained her first love and she returned many times, falling harder
with each visit.
Teisha loved to sing and was blessed with a melodic voice that sounded like honey. She loved being on stage and at the peak of a successful career in real estate, took a leave of absence to pursue music full time.
She formed a band with her uncles called, aptly, Say Uncle. They recorded one album. Later, Teisha co-founded Amelia with Scott Weddel and Jessie Emerson. Amelia recorded three studio albums and one live
album. They played countless live shows, including one in the Bahamas at the Atlantis resort. Teisha also sang back-up vocals for Ringo Starr on his Christmas album I Wanna Be Santa Clause.
During live shows, Teisha gave all she had to the audience. Blessed with an impeccable sense of rhythm and excellent coordination, she could play drums and sing simultaneously, even when the beat and vocal were not synchronized. Her careful preparation and confident delivery made her performances absolutely transcendent. Teisha didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight, she was the spotlight.
As a songwriter, Teisha had a wonderful imagination and a sense of melody that only a singer can have. While in the band Amelia, she woke up one morning with the lyrics and melody to Better Than Sleeping Alone practically fully formed in her mind, working with the band later that day on the song’s arrangement. One of her more recent compositions was fittingly called Go See the Doctor though, aside from the title refrain, the lyrics were not medically related.
In addition to her magnificent voice, musical skills, fluency in French and relaxed beauty, Teisha was a whip-smart business woman who owned her house outright before most of us were thinking of buying. She was extremely successful in real estate, worked her tail off and loved the challenge of the business. She was also a Board Member of Casa and the President of Slow Down Record Company.
Teisha was the proud owner of a beach house in Manzanita, where she could be found in front of a crackling fireplace, a glass of red wine in hand, writing and roaming the water’s edge with her beloved poodles, Luna and Sadie.
Teisha lived her life with passion and curiosity – she was always learning, always trying to better herself and trying new things like scuba diving, even though she was afraid of water. She was graceful and brave and so very
strong. She loved with her whole heart, laughed until tears streamed down her face and had a great sense of humor. She had countless friends and she was able to make each one feel like they were her favorite. Her enormous, loving family was immensely important to her and she was a role model to many of her nieces and nephews.
Sadly, on September 29th, 2011, the sun dimmed and Teisha June Helgerson died of complications from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
The world is a little duller without Teisha June, but her spirit, voice, laughter and love will live with us forever.
Her mother and best friend, Deb Helgerson, survive her.”
Obituary written by friend Julee Bean for Teisha. 10/8/11
First things first, I wanted a dog. Freshly graduated after five very involved years at the University of Oregon
where I gave up all hope of becoming a broadcast journalist after suffering through Duncan Macdonald’s journalism class even though he was the hottest professor on the planet and changed my major to English Literature because in high school I loved Mr. Patrick and his coffee mug full of something mildly alcoholic and his nervous energy just before smoke breaks and his loathing of almost all of us but his tolerance of my papers and his curious attention at times to my sixteen year old insights into the literature of his choosing. He gave me a B. I figured I could make a go of English in college. It would be several years before I would sign up for the Advanced Shakespeare class where I would meet the second best looking and most attractive professor the school may have ever known Lyell Asher, thank you Jesus.
Professor Asher, I thought, had a thing for me. A few years after I graduated he called me up looking for a house (explanation forthcoming) and I was elated and when I met with him he was accompanied by the woman who sat directly behind me in class. Thought I knew.
So there I am, graduated. Living back at home with my family. Completely unaware of what I’m going to do with the rest of my life but suffice it so say I know that I want a dog.
I look for a rental but find a lot of “no dogs allowed.” One Sunday morning I’m looking through the paper for a place to live. I’m looking at the real estate for sale section and I see a familiar name, it’s an old friend from Junior High, High school and College. A year ahead of me, we spent more than one after-school afternoon together. We partied some in college. I had an enormous crush on his best friend but I think he had a passing crush on me. His name was Scott. His mother owned a busting real estate company in my home town and he had gone to work for her after graduating. I called him up. He was a saving grace. I wanted a dog. He introduced me to a lending person named Mary who used my college restaurant income to qualify my for a 50,000 loan. This was 1992 and we started our search in “the hood”. I wanted to buy every house I saw. I was so excited. So much potential in those rusty places with high ceilings, open staircases, original kitchens. Scott was my protector not allowing me to make offers on houses where we heard gunshots during our showings.
I ended up buying the very last house we saw on the day he came to pick me up and I said “this is it for me, if we don’t find a house I’m going to have to rent. I have got to get out of the house of my parents”. Not that I have bad ones, I don’t. But here I am, 22 and all graduated and grown up and ready to start living a life of my own. The last house we saw that day I bought. I told my mom that night at dinner “I bought a house today,” it was heaven. I named the dog Soleil. She was pretty and sweet.
Scott’s mom helped us write the offer for the house. She lived in a fancy but not to enormous house overlooking the lake of the town where we grew up. The house has a giant dutch style fireplace oven
feature that was humbling. She told me to ask for the refrigerator even though I mentioned that it was kind of dated. Turns out it was the same fridge I would sell the house with. Whose to say how it exactly happened but I can remember asking Scott about his job. Accompanying me to inspections, drafting paperwork, hosting open houses, doing a lot of driving in his car. I think he must have mentioned to his mom that I was interested in real estate. She called me to a meeting at her office on 23rd and Burnside. I wore a skirt. “I say “jump,” you say “how high” she said to me and I was hooked. She sent me to real estate school but told me I was not to tell anyone because she did not do things like that. I was in awe. She wasn’t tall but she had it.
Had I waited even six months I would have been priced out of market that was appreciating at, at least, 6 percent a year. I drove a Toyota Tercel with personalized license plates that my friend
Jackie would not stop making fun of. He was a supremely talented singer, lover of bbq, master of the jab on the front porch that would have everyone rolling on the front lawn. Everyone loved Jackie. I saw him in passing after the funeral of the father of a good friend of ours. Jackie was big for his size, too much bacon. Our friends’ father had had a heart attack. “That scared me,” Jackie said. And before I could stop myself “it should,” I said.
Jackie died of the stroke he had while sitting in his car at 26 years old. Rugged.
The first three years of real estate where no joke. I would drive that little Toyota to company meetings every Tuesday to a parking lot filled with luxurious cars. I was the youngest agent in the company, unrelated to anyone, completely lacking any and all business experience and for the first six months I hired myself out to established agents in the company so I could learn the ropes and earn some of my modest salary back for Barbara.
Agents ranged from moms with kids in high school looking for a way to fill their time to men like Elliot who had a boat, always a nice car and always a nice date. He must of closed upwards of 15 million in sales a year and had been around for a long time. He was a natural flirt, charming, Jewish and unafraid. Then there was Carol. When she presented an offer to the seller and the seller’s agent she attached gold chocolate coins to the paperwork. If the offer was accepted, she returned to her client with a bottle of champagne. Nobody worked harder than she did, she lived to work. It defined who she was. She was good and she was scary. I liked her.
Slowly I learned to ropes. Sold one house then two. “Fake it till you make it,” I was told. At one point, I asked the top producer in the company how she made it happen. I was despondent and she was the ruler of us all.
“Don’t quit,” she said. And so I did not. Barely. It paid. I worked, and it paid. Degree, dog, house, job, I was 23.
Fast forward ten years and the band was about to have its first CD release party. I went for a massage. Lorraine, my masseuse had been giving me massages for about 10 years.
Her hands were gently working around the back of my neck and she gave a soft “hmmm, you should get these checked out,” she said, referring to the somewhat swollen lymph nodes. I don’t think I was
too worried about it. I had a CD to release. Things were looking up. The night Somewhere Left to Fall arrived the club was packed. The line stretched down the street. I was so nervous. Once the music started all the terror disappeared and it was just the beat and the sound of guitar and it was magical and perfect even though the White Eagle is haunted and the brick makes for shoddy sound.
Music over I scheduled an appointment with my nurse practitioner, Sharon. I was fond of her because as part of her exam she’d ask questions like, “do you wear your seatbelt?” She and I share the same birthday, sweet. She felt the lymph node that I pointed out and said “oh, it’s probably just swollen, not something to worry about,” “oh, good,” i said, “what about this one?” And as she felt the second one, her face sort of fell.
She decided to order a blood test and then decide what to do from there. A few days later she called and said she recommended I have a biopsy and that she had a really sharp surgeon she would recommend.
I told her I was scared. She empathized. I was sitting at the desk in my little office. The next call I made was to Jill, my friend since freshman year in college who had actually gone on to get a very real education and became a doctor. “Have you lost weight?” “No.” “Are you tired?” “Not more than normal.” “Oh, you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”
The surgeon was late for our first meeting. This was not the biopsy, it was just a meeting. The receptionist was polite and did her best to deal with me as I sat alone in the waiting room, scared, anxious and annoyed. She spent several minutes articulating what a nice man the surgeon was. I didn’t really care. Finally, he arrived.
I was so solidly convinced that nothing was really wrong with me that when he finished the exam of all of my swollen lymph nodes he looked at me and said, “it would be very unusual to have so much involvement with your lymph nodes and not have it be something serious.” I didn’t really hear what he was saying. My mind immediately settled on the fact that the biopsy would show that it was nothing to be worried about. I could not conceive of anything other than that. It was not a form of denial it was a complete inability to understand what he was really saying to me. His attempt to prepare me for the probable worst went wasted in the small exam room. I dressed and drove myself home. No tears, no trepidation, no nothing.
It was two or three days after the biopsy (which hurt by the way) before we were called. It was a Friday and, in fact, we had not heard from anyone by the start of the afternoon so I called Jill again to ask how we should proceed and she gave me medical school graduate advice to call them so I did. The same receptionist answered the phone and although the doctor was out at that moment she did expect him back and promised to have him call. He did. He had spoken with the pathologist whom he said he trusted and the diagnosis was “favorable” which was difficult for me to understand. If he was telling me I had some type of malignancy, how could he be using the word favorable? This was before I understood how a diagnosis can mean a short stint with the surgeon or six weeks to live the rest of your life. “Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia,” he said. I asked him to spell it. Then he gave me the name of someone to meet with on Monday and shortly thereafter we hung up the phone. Total shock. Intense devastation. I was not one of those people who had spent any amount of time considering what would happen if someone diagnosed me. I’d spent more time thinking about what it would be like to be in an earthquake or on a crashing plane. I was more than unprepared. It was unimaginable to me, incomprehensible. And it hurt where I’d had the biopsy. Not good.
Some people (I have met them, read about them, been utterly impressed by them) take the news of a diagnosis, throw their shoulders back, clear their throats and prepare for battle. They are calm and calculating of how they will succeed in beating this ill-fated news. They are strong and focused and determined. That was not me.
I felt strongly that the Universe had mistakenly named to wrong person. I was not the strong type who could handle a diagnosis. There was just no way I was going to be able to handle it. None of it. Living with it, dying from it, everything about it just seemed like more than I could possibly handle. I spent that weekend in bed. I would wake up very early and for several seconds I’d have forgotten what happened and then it would come rushing in and I would just start to cry, very hard. I tried to keep it quiet because mom had moved right in to my king size bed with me the night after we heard the news. On one of these mornings as I lay clutching the pillow and weeping uncontrollably with overwhelmed feelings that I was not at all prepared for what had happened Mom schooched over to my ear and said in as solid a voice as you’d want to hear in that moment and said, “this is not going to kill you.” I decided in that second to believe her because the alternative was unworkable.
Going from “I’m a healthy, normal person” to a diagnosis is a very difficult thing, obviously. It’s the zero to you-are-fucked that you feel in your deepest recesses. I was thirty-three years old and the world had completely changed. Forever. Even if I lived to be a hundred, I’d be living in a world unlike the one I had known before where serious diseases happen to people who don’t spend so much time on the treadmill or in step aerobics class — I thought I knew.
On the day we went to see the doctor to speak face to face there were four of us. “Let’s see if she can say which one of us it is,” I suggested. Mom, Jill and my friend Shelly were with me. The lobby of the Oncologists office was empty except for the four of us. I was uninsured and did not care. The doctor asked that she be able to talk with me alone. She said most people with what I have are older, white males who, once diagnosed, live about 8 to 10 years. “are you telling me I’m not going to have kids?” I remember saying. As if the dying part were beside the point. I was pissed. Mom says that when I came back into the room where the three of them waited that I was a different person. I became in the weeks and months following this visit a firm believer that no one can tell you when you are going to die. This is not how life works. You could get hit by a bus on the way home. Who fucking knows. And who wants to know? There was no cure, the doctor said. I asked for a second opinion.
The expert on what I had worked at OHSU, early 50’s. Direct. Experienced. Clear. The only chance for a cure would come from a bone marrow transplant. Given that my father is black and my mother is white it will be difficult most likely to find a match. I didn’t worry about finding a match for some reason. Right from the beginning I was sure we would find one. Go figure. I didn’t think Dr. Leis liked me very much and I told mom that my goal was to make him like me. I felt strongly that the person in charge of saving your life should like you. It would be four years before the transplant would happen. In the weeks before the procedure I was asked to sign a release which listed all of the potential downsides to the procedure. Hip replacement, infertility, death. I sobbed to him. My life was so good I said. Is this really the best decision? He told me he thought he might be able to keep me alive for another few years, with chemotherapy if I opted out of the transplant. I was 37. I signed.Comment