Choosing to Live

How does life change for a 28 year old when they begin hospice care? According to Chelsea Williams, things haven’t changed much at all.

“When you have the little ones, you just keep trucking,” Chelsea said, having just returned from an appointment at her kids’ school.

When she learned last March that she had cervical cancer, she went through chemo and radiation, but she said she mostly did that for her mother Penny’s sake.

“When you first find out, you want to at least, I guess, give it your shot, your round,” Chelsea explained. And she said she didn’t want her mom to wonder “what if....”

Chelsea zip-lining in Jamaica.
When Chelsea completed her treatment, her grandmother sent her, her mother, and sisters on a celebratory cruise to Jamaica, where they climbed to the top of the Dunn’s River Falls, and zip-lined their way back down. But when they returned home, there was bad news waiting. The cancer had metastasized to Chelsea’s lungs and bones.

“But I don’t feel any different,” Chelsea explained. “I know I have it but I just don’t feel sick, and I don’t mentally have myself in that head space. So I just go about my days and my life like I normally would any other day.” She’s been on Angela Hospice’s services for six months now.

“I’m still the same,” she said. “Nothing’s really dramatically changed.”

“The treatment they offered us was only to give her more time,” Penny said. “It wasn’t curative.” And Chelsea knew definitively she did not want to do the treatment.

Chelsea and Penny
“When I was nine, my sister Jamie died of leukemia, in literally two, three months,” Chelsea explained, citing how terrible the treatments were for her sister. “It just ate her alive. And she was only 16. So I already watched Mom go through that once. I’m so bull-headed and stubborn that I just refuse to do that.”

“I would rather just live,” she said, “not be hooked up to tubes and wires, and poked and prodded, and injected with a bunch of crazy stuff. I like doing what I do and I like being able to move, and I’m not somebody who sits still. So as long as I keep moving, then I’m good.”

And that’s what she’s been doing ever since – including planning a wedding for over 200 people in just three months.

As soon as Chelsea learned the cancer had spread, “That was the first thing that she said: Mom, I want to get married,” Penny recalled. And family, friends, community members, and strangers all worked together to make Chelsea’s dream wedding come true.

“The wedding was great – a country chic wedding,” Chelsea explained. “I’ve been with my husband for 12 years, but I’ve also known him since I’ve been six. So I got to be with my best friend.”

The couple had been engaged for years, but a wedding seemed like something that would happen some distant day. But with their timeline accelerated, many people pitched in to make it happen. Her close friend from high school did her hair, and did extra work for a makeup artist in exchange for her coming to do Chelsea’s makeup. Her cousin Becky created the wood signs, and Becky’s mother-in-law did the cake. Penny’s best friend took care of the catering. The groom, Thomas, crafted the archway for the ceremony and a wooden cupcake tier, and his mother made a lot of the d├ęcor by hand.

Local businesses helped too. Chelsea’s dress was a special edition by Randy Fenoli of Say Yes to the Dress and they waived the rush charges. When Chelsea fell in love with the $1,200 matching veil, Bella Bridal Gallery of West Bloomfield gave it to her for half off. And Dr. Stilianos at Howell Family Dentist gave Chelsea’s smile a complete makeover just days before the wedding. Chelsea didn’t have dental insurance, but Dr. Stilianos did all the work for free.

The chemo and radiation had wreaked havoc on Chelsea’s teeth. Chelsea would place her hand in front of her mouth whenever she spoke, and she had stopped smiling altogether. When she saw the transformation Dr. Stilianos’s work made – two root canals and full
veneers – Chelsea started to cry.

“I can smile again,” she said. Her wedding photos are proof of that – and they were taken free of charge by Lindsay Adkins Photography.

Even nature itself cooperated to make the wedding beautiful, giving her and Thomas the perfect August day to get married, and surprising them with a field full of sunflowers. When they had booked the venue months earlier, they had no idea what was planted behind the barn. But they happened to plan their theme with roses and sunflowers. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Penny Weeks with fellow nurses Erin Swanson, 
Joan Harold, Eric Simpkins, and Karen Gugala. 
Eric is Chelsea's case manager. "He's awesome," 
Chelsea said. She's been receiving hospice care at
her home in Brighton for the past six months.
“When people say that the world is a crappy place and nobody really cares, there’s a lot of people who care,” Penny said. “It’s just I don’t think that people should wait until somebody gets sick. I think we should be good all the time.”

As a nurse who has been with Angela Hospice since 2015, Penny knew hospice could help Chelsea do exactly what she wants to do: live every day.

A month and a half after the wedding, Chelsea’s husband Thomas surprised her with a trip to Nashville. They went to the Exit 111 three-day music festival, toured the Grand Ole Opry, then explored Mammoth Cave on the way back home.

Just last weekend Chelsea and her sisters had a slumber party at Penny’s house. And Chelsea still works 25 hours a week at Subway. She likes getting out of the house and they know she has cancer, so they let her take breaks when she needs to.

Penny worries about Chelsea wearing herself out, and she knows Chelsea has more pain than she lets on. But she also knows her daughter, who has been strong and resilient ever since she was a baby.

“I have pain issues,” Chelsea admitted. “But other than that I’m fine. If you can give birth to two kids, you can pretty much damn near handle anything.”

Not one to let a little pain get her down, Chelsea has moved on to her next project: it’s her birthday this weekend. “That’s my next mission,” she said. “I think I’m gonna do a party bus. Just me and my girlfriends.”

Cheers, Chelsea, to your next adventure.

Chelsea with her bridesmaids. From left: her friend Jessica; sisters Annie, Stacy, Jennifer, and Shelly; and friend Emma. When a butterfly flew above Chelsea's head during the wedding ceremony, they believed it was the spirit of their sister Jamie who had passed away from luekemia.

Chelsea Williams with husband Thomas Christie. “My husband is my huge advocate,” Chelsea said. “He’s keeping me alive. He’s keeping me kicking.”














Comments

  1. I'm so proud of you girl.i pray for yoy.and wish i could be there.i am in spirit.love you give the kids hugs fir me.They are beautifil.Keep on keeping on as long as you can.call me any time.im here for you.wish i could come see you.love always your other mom...

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