Thursday, July 8, 2010

Autopsy Report


Here's a little synopsis of the report:

Dad was diagnosed with a high-grade astrocytoma. This is the most common type of glioma and most common primary brain cancer. Primary brain cancer means that the cancer started in his brain, it did not spread from anywhere else. This is not a lymphoma. An "astrocytoma" means that the cancer cells were astrocytes. Astrocytes are cells that help support nerves and other brain cells in your brain. Astrocytes are a type of glial cell (helper cells in the brain) and that is why it is also called a glioma. In other words, an astrocytoma is a type of glioma.

Gliomas occur in about 5 out of 100,000 people every year in the United States. This means they are rare, but in Mesa, for example, there may be about 20 people every year that are diagnosed with a glioma.

There are NO known risk factors for developing an astrocytoma, and there is no known genetic component. This means that the rest of the Thomas family has NO increased risk of developing an astrocytoma.

Also there was nothing in Dad's life that could have caused or prevented this from happening. Cancers occur from spontaneous mutations that build up until the cells start multiplying out of control.

Senator Ted Kennedy was also diagnosed with a glioma and he lived about as long as Dad did after his first symptoms. Dad received the best care available for his condition even though he wasn't diagnosed until after the autopsy.

High-grade astrocytomas are especially difficult to diagnose because they spread all throughout normal cells and can be hard to find until the end. The pathologist looked at the previous biopsies done when Dad was alive and they couldn't see the cancer that they found in the autopsy. This means that either the cancer progressed very quickly in the months between the biopsy and autopsy, or they missed the cancer cells in the biopsies because they were too rare.

Not much would have changed with Dad's treatment even if we knew the diagnosis before he passed away. There is no good treatment for astrocytoma. The chemotherapy he received actually works against astrocytoma, but it only can extend a life for a couple months, it is not usually curative.

I'd be happy to answer any more questions anyone has.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Best Dad EVER by Valerie

I was so afraid to get up in front of everyone, it is something that has always really been hard for me. I don't know if there are any words that can express what a great man my father was.

I remember when I was young he would come in every night and tell us bedtime stories. And not just read them from a book, he liked to make up his own! He would pick Bret up and put him on his back and make him part of the story, while Sarah and I would watch and laugh. I remember the expressions on his face and how much fun he made everything.

I also remember him taking us up on the roof and jumping off into the pool, taking us for hikes, and taking me on walks around the neighborhood when I was a teenager. He always took time to talk with me. And if I ever had something bad to say he gently pointed out that focusing on the bad only brings you down. He taught me to have a positive outlook and to focus on the good in things in life.

He used to hold my hand when we were sitting in church. I always made a point to sit next to Dad so I could hold his hand. I remember going to a young womens activity where they had us put on a blindfold and feel the hands of all the Dads in the room to guess which one was ours. I knew right away which one was him since I had held his hand so much. I was the only one who got it on the first guess and I know he was very flattered by it.

As I got older and had my own children, I was so grateful they had such a wonderful Grandpa. He would take them to the carwash with him on Saturdays, and they usually came home with some kind of toy or candy he would let them pick out. He took my boys to lunch every Saturday with him and his good friend Bill. He made bow and arrows with my kids, and set up the zip line in the back yard for them. He even organized a food fight for all the grandkids, and my favorite part about that story is that it was his idea!! He said he had always wanted to have a good food fight, so decided to make it happen. They all wore their swimsuits and we set up a table in the back yard covered with bowls of spagetti noodles, mashed potatoes, whipped cream cans, jello etc and needless to say they all had a wonderful time throwing it at each other! He was actively involved in all of their lives and made a huge impact on them.

I remember him coming home during his work day with his group of guys to get an ice cream cone after lunch. I always thought it was so funny that he needed his ice cream break during the day! Another example of him stopping to enjoy the simple things.

During his last year when he was in and out of the hospital I got to spend a lot of time talking with him. He told me he didn't want to go yet, but if he had to he had no regrets in life. He said he had a wonderful wife and 4 kids, a job that he loved, and that he had been able to travel the world. Even as sick as he was, he focused on the positive and was so grateful for everything. He also told me to try and take time every day to stop and appreciate something beautiful around me. Whether it be a beautiful flower, or sunset, there is always wonderful to see if we remember to stop and look for it.

I really wish I could have had him here for another 30 years, but I am so grateful I had him as long as I did. He was the most Chrislike, gentle, and loving man. I love you Dad!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Remembering Dad by Bret

For those of you who don’t know, last year I was fortunate enough to go on a 10 day cruise with my dad through the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. We stopped in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland and Germany. I kept a journal while we were on the trip. I’d like to read something from it. We were in Copenhagen and we’d been walking all day.

“We went into the central train station to use the restroom. It was an enormous building with an expansive, glass paned ceiling. Afterward we sat on a stone bench to rest our feet and people watch. Dad noticed there were a number of pigeons inside the enclosed train station. We talked about how they had everything they needed right there. They had food, water and shelter. Dad wondered if there were any pigeons that were born in the station and lived their entire lives there, totally unaware of the world outside. Like people who never leave the cities they were born in.”

I think this gives a good sense of who he was. He had a unique way of looking at things. He could take an ordinary event and make it into something extraordinary. He viewed the world with a childlike sense of joy and wonder. The world was a better place with him in it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts about Dad by Jacob

This past General Conference of the Church Elder Ballard gave a talk about how Fathers and sons could communicate better. During that talk I had a very strong impression to write a letter to Dad about how great a Father he has been to me. I knew I could never get him to listen to me talking about how great he was any other way. I started writing the letter the Sunday before he passed, and I was going to stop and get ready for bed, but I just had a feeling that I needed to get this done sooner than later. I thought that was strange because I had no reason to think that things would be any different for Dad that week. I didn’t quite finish it, but then on Monday night I really felt like I had to get it done and e-mail it to my Mom to print out that night. Mom brought it over and read it to Dad on Tuesday, which was literally the last possible chance for him to hear what I wrote. I wanted to share just a few parts of my last letter to Dad:

“Some of the best memories I have are our adventures we had traveling...I remember going to California with you many times. I remember one trip in particular where you took me to several different skateparks in several different cities. Looking back on that I realize that there were probably plenty of other places you would have liked to go see, but we spent the majority of that trip going to those places just for me.

And then there was the time you took me over to Chicago. I thought it was such a fun, cool city. And I still brag to people that I got to go inside the Nauvoo temple before it was finished. That was really fun getting to explore the inside of the temple and seeing things in more detail than you normally get to. I really liked that one spiral staircase. I think that trip was the reason I applied to so many schools out in Illinois. Little did I know that I would be calling Illinois home for four years.

I could go on and on about all the fun times I had going on trips with you. Now I want to tell you about your example of service to me. What always stands out to me is your selfless service you gave to Frank and his brother John.”
For those who don’t know Frank Sepko and John Kilian, they were a couple of men in our neighborhood that Dad spent countless hours helping. John was a little bit of an odd fellow, but Dad didn’t mind and he faithfully gave John a ride to church and the grocery store and let him sit with our family every week. Frank was very demanding and was always calling Dad with orders more than asking for help. Now back to the letter:

“I don’t think many people would have gone to the lengths that you did in serving them. Many people were turned off by John’s quirky behavior but I always remember you just saying good things about him. I think through that and other experiences you taught me not to judge people on their outward appearance but to enjoy them for who they are. You were able to see that he was actually a sweet man that had a difficult life living with his brother. I also was always impressed with your patience with Frank and your willingness to help him even when he was not always very polite.

...I can honestly say that I can’t think of one time in my whole life that I thought you were angry with me or that you raised your voice about something. I am even more amazed at that now that I have children of my own. Looking back, I am amazed at your self-control and that you never lost it on me during my teenage antics.”

In addition to these thoughts from my letter I wanted to share just a few stories about Dad. At my Grandpa Jack’s funeral Dad got up there and just ‘told it how it was’ about some of his quirks. I thought it only fitting that I should do the same for Dad now.

One thing you should know about Dad, that even though he loved good food, he really could not cook. In particular I remember one horrific grilled cheese sandwich he made for me. He liked to experiment with different spices, and this time he about emptied the spice drawer onto our sandwiches. I remember distinctly the sharp crunch of the spices followed by an overwhelming assault on my taste buds. He actually seemed pretty satisfied with his creation, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

If you’ve ever driven with my Dad you would know that he tended to either slam hard on the gas or hard on the brake. Once I was old enough to learn about the speed limit, I dutifully let him know that he was speeding. Then he informed that “actually, white Chevy trucks are allowed to go ten over the speed limit”.

Christmas was always big for us, and like any other kids we wanted to wake up early to get our presents. I think one year I wanted to wake up at the precise moment that it was Christmas. This was when he let me know that the next day actually starts at 4:00 a.m., not at 12:00 a.m. I went on believing this until I was well into elementary school.

He never could get our names straight. I really don’t remember him too often just calling me Jacob. It was usually Bret...uh...Jacob or Sar...uh...Jacob. And before I came around he just called all three of them “Sarahvalabret”.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sarah's Tribute to her Dad

There is not much I can say in just these few minutes that can sum up what a wonderful person my father was. Each of you is here because he touched your life in some way and I am so grateful for your support today.

My father had a very youthful energy about him and he was always on the go. Many of my memories of him as a child are of me running behind him trying to catch up. He loved to have fun and was very spontaneous; if something sounded fun he just did it.

When I was a kid he took a large board that he had found and he attached kitchen drawer pull handles to the top and wheels on the bottom. Somehow he fixed a rope on the front of the board and he would have us sit on it in the driveway while he spun us around as fast as possible. I remember hanging on for dear life and loving it. He was always doing fun things like that until my mother caught him doing it.

He had a very funny sense of humor and did some really funny things. When Valerie and I were little my mom would be bathing us and she would say, “Oh I think Mr. Shampoo man is coming to wash your hair!” Then my dad would come in in this yellow bathrobe and curly black wig and thick rimmed glasses. He would wash our hair and act silly and then he would leave and say “See you tomorrow night!” I remember thinking that everyone had a man come wash their hair at bath time until I realized one day it was my father.

He loved holidays and would always make things very exciting. I still remember one New Years Eve he was running around the house hugging each of us and saying “get the last hug of 1984” “hurry get the last kiss of 1984” and then we took out my mom’s pans and banged on them for about ten minutes past midnight.

He used to like to take us to “visit the snow” each winter. He would get us up early on a Saturday and toss us in the car and head up north. He would take us tubing or even just take us to an empty field and let us throw snow at each other until our feet got too cold in our tennis shoes. Then we would all pack into the car and head home again. One year I remember he took a shovel and filled the back on our truck with as much snow as he could. We then drove home and he spread the snow all over our front yard. All the neighborhood kids came over and thought that was the neatest thing. I remember them asking him where the snow came from and he said “we woke up and it was here – it didn’t snow at your house?”

Once when I was a little older my father came home from work one day with a huge snake. He was so excited because he had found it on a job site. He was pretty sure it wasn’t dangerous. He decided to stick it in an old gerbil cage. A little while later someone looked over and said “where is the snake?” Well of course the snake had easily pushed open the lid of the gerbil cage and was loose in the house. My sister and I ran out into the backyard and refused to come back in until he had found it. Luckily he found it just as it was crawling into a hole in the wall. I don’t know if I could have ever slept in that house again. My mother made him take it back to where he had found it.

My father found the perfect match in my mother. She was patient with him and he loved her more than anything. He didn’t always express it because he was quite shy, but I never doubted for a minute that he loved my mother and he loved me.

For better or for worse my mother was left in charge of all discipline in our home. I don’t think he wanted to burden her with that; it was just that he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was just so kindhearted and he really hated confrontation. He never raised his voice, EVER, and he never used foul or rude language. He was famous for that and I have heard that once he was working in a house and slammed a hammer on his thumb. The whole construction site went quiet as they waited to see if Steve would finally say a bad word. But he held it in and after a few seconds went back to work.

He was the hardest worker and would often work all week and even Saturdays. Then he would get up and take us all to church every Sunday. I took it for granted at the time but now I realize how much he sacrificed for us. When ever he did have a free Saturday he always wanted to be outdoors. He would take us hiking all around the valley, especially Four Peaks and his favorite, Camelback Mountain where he grew up. He would take us on treasure hunts in the Superstition Mountains and loved to tell the story of the Lost Duchman.

As most of you know my father was a painter my entire life. The smell of paint always reminds me of my childhood. I have made many many art projects out of masking tape over the years. I have always been very proud of him and his artistic abilities with his decorative painting. He had such a creative spirit and he is one of the lucky people who discover a way to make their living doing something they truly enjoy.

My father loved to learn new things and was always interested in the most unique subjects. When I was young he was into magic and I remember him having all his props around the house. He performed at my elementary school and put on quite an elaborate production. One of my uncles dressed up like Darth Vader and a friend was Princess Leia and the kids loved it.

His greatest contribution to the church was his calling as a primary teacher. He loved teaching primary and children just naturally adored him. He taught primary for many years. He was never condescending with people who were younger than him and he had a way of teaching the gospel to children so that they could understand it.

For a long time my father hated computers and refused to even touch one until finally just a few years ago we got him to use the internet. That turned out to be one of his favorite things. He loved being able to read about places and subjects. He loved travel web sites and was always looking for good travel deals. In another life he would have made a great travel agent.

He was the greatest grandpa and just adored his grandkids. He would always take them to the dollar store to get a prize or down to the park or just run around with them in the backyard. He always came up with fun projects for them to do and toys for them to play with. I don’t know how many times he tested out the Mentos / Diet Coke experiment, but he loved stuff like that.

I am so grateful that right before he became sick he was able to take a cruise to Northern Europe with my brother Bret. That trip meant a lot to him and he was so excited to explore the world.

I could tell stories about my father for hours but there will be plenty of time for that in the future. I intend on telling these stories to my children over and over so that they never forget what a wonderful man their grandfather was.

My father firmly believed that there is a God in heaven who lives and loves us. He believed that there is a purpose and a reason to each of our lives and that death is an inevitable part of that. Not too long ago my father told me that he was disappointed that he was going to have to die so soon, but he was thankful that he had lived a good life with people who cared about him and loved him. He said the blessings he had been given in his sixty one years of life had been more than anyone could ask for. His only true regret was not being able to grow old with my mother.

I would like to say a few words to Steve’s grandkids. This has been a really tough year for our family. I want you to know that Grandpa is not scared and he is not sad. He is not in pain anymore and he can move around like he used to. Grandpa is with his mom and dad and with his friends and family who have gone before him. He is with Doogie and I am sure that Doogie is introducing Grandpa to all the friends he has already made in heaven.

It is OK to be sad and its OK to cry. It is also OK to be happy and OK to laugh. Grandpa Steve and Doogie will both be watching over you for the rest of you lives. The greatest thing you can do is to live good long lives and to honor their memories. Heavenly Father loves you and wants you to be happy. He loves Grandpa Steve and he loves Doogie and he will take good care of them until we see them again.

My father loved the New Testament scriptures and I would like to close with a verse from John Chapter 4 verse 7. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” My father loved with all his heart for all of his life and that love will carry on long after today.

The hardest part of a funeral is the end. It is hard to say goodbye to a loved one and go back to the demands of daily life, but it must be done.

Goodbye father, I love you and I hope to live my life in a way that would honor you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tribute To Stephen by Mary Nielson

October 13, 2009

I’m honored to be asked to say a few things about the early life of my wonderful brother Stephen. In 1940 when Jack and Ada Thomas married, dad gave our mother a ring with 6 diamonds in it. One for each of the children they hoped to have.

Chuck was born first, I was second and then John …and they thought they were half done. But it was discovered that mother had serious spinal and back problems that might cripple her if she bore another child.

After several years her health seemed better. In her prayers she made a promise to God that if he would bless her with health and more children, she would devote her life to teaching them to love the Lord and to serve their fellow men.

After Stephen’s birth, she wrote: “Stephen is such a beautiful child. Every time I look at him I think of my wonderful blessing. He has given me new hope.”

I was 5 years older, and liked to pretend I was his mother. I was there clapping with delight when he learned something new, like sitting, walking and learning to talk. Mother said that he would talk and sing all day, but when we came home from school he would get quiet. Because when he said something, we would say “Oh, he is so cute”, and he did not like to be the center of attention. When visitors would come to our house, he would disappear. He even hid at one of his own birthday parties.

Stephen was happiest when he could be outside. When he was 3, mother made a list of what she found in his pocket.
1 feather
2 checkers
6 bent nails (his fish hooks)
1 old curler
1 bottle cap
1 peg from an old ukulele
1 piece of broken glass”

When he was 8 we moved to Prescott. Stephen discovered gardening and planted bulbs and strawberry plants and carefully tended them. Mother wrote: “Stephen is still the same quiet rather shy boy that loves to feed the birds and squirrels and water anything that will grow. He has lots of friends that come here to play cowboys. He has no enemies.” (I loved that…no enemies…he was too kind to have enemies.)

He was a bit of a tease once in a while though…..Our sister Margaret tells how she would sit by Stephen at meal time. She was about 4 years old and he was 12…and was very nice to her. After the prayer was said, she would reach for her glass of water and it was always empty. So she would have to go get some more. That happened almost every night.

Years later, Stephen told her what happened. He would drink his water before the prayer was said. Then during the prayer he would switch his glass with hers.

“When he was 13 he started a morning paper route and arose at 4:30am every morning to deliver 100 papers. He liked to go to bed at dark and then get up and enjoy the morning.”
All that sleep paid off and he grew to 6’3” ….as he entered Arcadia High School.

Some things he loved were animals….all kinds. He had pigeons, snakes, rabbits and a rat named Arthur. He liked Andy Griffeth, Wallace and Ladmo and Maverick.

He liked basketball, high jumping and running. He played the cello and bass. After High School he played bass in his brother Chuck’s popular “Honey and Soul” band.

He had a Tepee, and loved to go camping and biking with his brothers. He attended NAU and then spent 2 years as a missionary in Canada and Montana. During those 2 years he devoted all of his time to the Lord by giving loving service to others.

As I think of Stephen’s life, I realize that my younger brother, who I used to “mother”, has become my teacher in many ways. He quietly served, avoiding recognition. When he saw a need and he quickly responded. He regularly visited and cared for our parents in their old age.

I believe our mother was successful in the promise she made to the Lord…..Her son truly loved and served his fellowmen.

We love you Stephen.

Mary Nielson