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Bremerton junior leads cancer fight

Tessie Goheen stands between her sisters, Katie, a cancer survivor, and Becky, who is currently battling the disease. Goheen was recently recognized for her advocacy efforts by the American Cancer Society. - Photo by Charles Melton
Tessie Goheen stands between her sisters, Katie, a cancer survivor, and Becky, who is currently battling the disease. Goheen was recently recognized for her advocacy efforts by the American Cancer Society.
— image credit: Photo by Charles Melton

Tessie Goheen learned her ABCs as a child but only one of the 26 letters struck a chord that has reverberated throughout her life: C as in cancer.

Goheen, a junior at Bremerton High School, experienced the effects of cancer firsthand at the age of 4, when her father lost his battle with the disease.

“The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word cancer is my dad,” Goheen said. “Then it’s the hospital because when my dad was sick we spent a lot of time in the hospital and there were nights when we slept in the waiting room of the hospital.”

Even though cancer has been a factor throughout her life, Goheen has found a way to make a difference in the lives of others and been named the 2004 winner of the American Cancer Society SpeakOUT Youth Advocate of the Year Award.

“I guess it is a tribute to my dad, and I got the award based on my other prevention work,” she said. “I remembered my dad did several Relays for Life and he was a team captain even when he was in the hospital he was doing things for Relay for Life and getting money for cancer research and things like that.”

Goheen, who recorded more than 600 hours of community service this past year, said her father’s memory provides inspiration for her continued advocacy work.

“What motivates me is helping other people,” she said. “I want people to know there is somebody who has been in that situation before.”

While everyone’s feelings about a problem may be different, Goheen said she believes she can relate to people in similar situations.

“When my dad was sick and people would come into talk and there was never youth or somebody young,” she said. “It was always an adult and there was never anyone even close to our own age to say I lost my dad too.”

Not having anyone close to her age to speak with about her experiences caused her to feel alone, which is one of the reasons she joined the American Cancer Society, she said.

“I think it’s important that kids know there are other teenagers and youth experiencing the same thing, and we’re here to support them, too,” she said.

Cancer has reached beyond her father and directly impacted the lives of her two younger sisters, both of whom have battled the disease before the age of 14.

“We all have a genetic disorder and it’s Li-Fraumeni syndrome and cancer is passed down through the genes,” she said. “With regular people cancer isn’t hereditary, with our family we’re 1 in 600 in the world that have this that they know about.”

The disease, which is passed on through male genes, creates a predisposition to cancer.

“Both of my sisters got their cancer around puberty age and they said that may have been what triggered it,” she said. “That can happen, so I guess it’s made me more conscious about what I’m doing.”

Even though diet and exercise are important, doctors have said that little can be done to prevent cancer in those affected by the disease, she said.

“There’s nothing really I can do to prevent it,” she said. “It’s just natural and it’s going to come if it’s going to come.”

Cancer is not a unchangeable certainty for her, but there is a higher probability for the disease, she said.

“My sisters had cancer at young ages and I’ve already passed that age, so they’re not too worried about it,” she said.

Even though she knows the risks, Goheen said genetic testing is not something she is considering.

“The test would just be extra knowledge and I’m kind of curious,” she said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to have live my life questioning will this be the day that I find out that I’m sick.”

Goheen said her mother has played a big role in her life and has helped shape her outlook on life.

“My mom always made us look at things from a positive light,” she said. “We just really didn’t look at things negatively.”

Cancer has had a demonstrated effect on her personality and has made her family stronger, she said.

“It has made me a stronger person but it has definitely affected me a lot, especially my personality would a lot different if we hadn’t gone through what we through with cancer,” she said.

Cancer has made her more understanding and helped her relate to other people, she said.

“My mom and my sisters are my best friends,” she said. “I probably tell my mom more than I tell my friends my own age, but that’s just kind of how our family’s always been really tight.”

While she values the friendships she has with her classmates at school, the relationships were her family are paramount, she said.

“I care more about the relationships I have with my family, because in the end they’re ones who are going to be there for me,” she said. “If I were to get cancer, my mom would be the one taking care of me.”

As she looks to the future, Goheen knows cancer will always be there at least in the back of her mind, and it could play a prominent role in her future.

“If I don’t become a police officer, I’d like to work with the American Cancer Society and be a full-time advocate,” she said.

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