The beautiful life of Chelsey Horne
Marybeth Adkins/Special to the Index-Tribune
Chelsey Horne died on June 13, but not before living, laughing, loving and facing cancer with aplomb.
Diagnosed with melanoma in 2006, she went on with verve and wisdom, reaching the age of 26 and maximizing every minute. She made it clear she wanted a party, not a memorial service, so the life of this young woman, who grew up in Sonoma and thought it was the best place in the world, will be celebrated with joy, just the way she wanted.
Chelsey considered her surgeries and cancer treatments mere interruptions in the life she never let the disease diminish. Surviving with advanced melanoma for almost five years was a miracle and Chelsey seemed to know that. She continued working toward a business degree, was passionate about her role with the Diabetic Youth Foundation and made it her mission to flood her family and many friends with constant thoughtfulness and inspiration. Her job at the Paper Source fueled her creativity.
In every one of a thousand photos on her Facebook page, Chelsey is smiling. Even in the few photos taken in the hospital, she is hugging friends or mugging for the camera. Her sense of humor bubbled endlessly. Her willingness to fight melanoma, first through conventional therapies and then tackling a series of clinical trials, was indefatigable.
Chelsey was a Type-1 diabetic, and spent 19 summers attending or working at Bearskin Meadow Camp, a place she often said changed her life. The camp, run by the Diabetic Youth Foundation, is place for kids and their families to learn to manage the daily challenges of diabetes. She told her family that living with diabetes taught her how to face cancer.
In September 2006, Chelsey was attending the University of Colorado Boulder when she had surgery to remove a mole on her leg. By Christmastime, she had to leave college and return home, facing more surgery at UCSF. Her lengthy Facebook update included the line, "I'll be smiling and laughing as soon as that damn anesthesia wears off tomorrow. Business as usual, I suppose, just with IVs, a limited wardrobe and that funny hospital smell."
Next came interferon treatment, and her continued great attitude and appreciation. "For weeks now, we go to the front door after a knock and find a fully prepared meal, a basket full of gifts, plants, cute hats and scarves, DVDs, candy, bottles of wine and more food than you could ever imagine. The goodness of mankind should never be underestimated. Thank you for that," she wrote.
Things were looking up for awhile and she was able to move to San Francisco, re-enter college at the University of San Francisco and start working at Paper Source. She was forever busy working on crafts, updating her blog, cheering on the Giants and popping back to Sonoma to visit friends and family.
Loving her life while continuing regular PT scans and eventually more cancer treatments at California Pacific Medical Center, where oncologist Dr. David Minor became her hero. One of her mottos was "Always wear cute underwear when you go to the doctor's office," and she had quite an exhaustive collection.
Just weeks ago at AT&T ballpark, the Giants scoreboard message read, "Keep Fighting Chelsey Horne. We love you!" And fight she did.
Even in May when she heard the words, "We don't have any more treatment for you," she fought one more round. She and her parents flew to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, expecting to enroll in an up-to-the-minute experimental treatment. It turned out it wasn't meant to be. She arrived in Texas on May 18, eventually receiving palliative treatment there, until June 13 when on her Facebook page came the words, "From the Horne-McGuinn Family: This morning at 1:26 a.m. Chelsey left us peacefully. In celebration of her life please visit her blog, portofships.blogspot.com, share photos and enjoy each other's company in her honor. Thank you for your support and love."
Chelsey loved books and read incessantly with favorites ranging from Jack Kerouac to David Sedaris. She texted everyone avidly, and would throw a party for any reason, including an, "I Got Dumped" bash when her longtime boyfriend left her abruptly in the midst of everything.
She was as comfortable in a cocktail dress as she was in her camping clothes. Her favorite day was Fourth of July. "Nobody does it better than Sonoma does. Parade. Carnival. Fireworks. And damn proud of it," she blogged on the Fourth in 2009.
Chelsey did not think fighting cancer was her finest feat. She considered her greatest accomplishment to be hiking 110 miles to the top of Mount Whitney with a group of diabetic 16- and 17-year-olds.
On March 9, she reminisced about that hike on her blog, "It was truly one of those, 'I'm just flattered to have been asked (to be staff on this trip)' moments. It was so much fun, and so challenging, and an experience I look forward to repeating. Soon. When cancer is over, I'm doing it again."
To honor Chelsey's life, toast her with champagne, send a heartfelt card to a friend via snail mail, book some Giants tickets or curl up with a good book. And if you can, support Bearskin, the place she so loved, by contributing to the Diabetic Youth Foundation 5167 Clayton Road #F, Concord, CA, 94521. Please designate Chelsey Clarke Horne to inspire future campers to the top of Mt. Whitney.
Chels would be so pleased.