ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
by Cynthia Martens
Instead of using a rehearsed prayer on Thanksgiving day, Diane Heidel will let her grandchildren say their own prayers this year.
“One thing they’re thankful for is their grandma’s health,” Heidel said.
Heidel is in remission from a battle with acute myelognous leukemia, which was diagnosed in March 1999. But she is quick to point out that it’s in the past, and she has put that behind her.
“It’s over with-what I’m thankful for is family, friends, prayers and God,” she said.
Born and raised in Hillsboro, Heidel, 53, said her past is filled with many blessings-and challenges.
At the end of her junior year at Hillsboro High School, Heidel quit school and married Tom Tajchman from Marion. But after only six years of marriage, she and her three young children-Randy, 6, Melodie, 5, and Tammy, 6 months-experienced a tragedy in their young family.
“Tom died in a car accident coming home from Hesston when I was only 24,” she said.
In time, a friend of the family, Larry Heidel, asked her brother if it was all right to call and offer to take her son out “fishing and guy things like that,” Heidel said.
The Heidels were married July 12, 1975.
“When Larry and I married, he adopted all three of my kids, which is another blessing because he accepted me and my kids,” Heidel said. “He’s actually the only father that the kids remember because they were so young.”
For the past seven years, she has worked as a custodian in the Unified School District 410, and her husband is the principal at Canton Elementary School.
“I have a bowl of candy in my custodial closet, and two of my grandkids stop by every day after school and load up on candy,” she said. “I’m a grandma, so I can get away with it.”
Although Heidel will talk about her illness when pressed, she doesn’t dwell on it.
Prior to March 1999, she thought she had the flu because she felt exhausted at work. But when she noticed white spots in her mouth, she suspected mouth cancer and went to the dentist, who, in turn, sent her to her local physician.
By this time she also had other telltale spots on her body, and the doctor ran a blood test.
“He came back in and said, ‘I have good news and bad news-you don’t have mouth cancer, but you do have leukemia.'”
A few days later, she had an appointment with a Wichita oncologist, who took a bone marrow test and told her she had to be admitted to the hospital immediately.
“I checked into Wesley Hospital on March 8, 1999, and I was in there about 28 days,” she said.
A peace settled over Heidel during her month-long hospital stay, she said.
“I’m real active, but when I was in that hospital room, it was just amazing that God was there with me,” she said. “I wasn’t worried about my health. I knew I was going to be OK because I had things to do yet.
“I had my grandkids, and my daughter, Melodie, was pregnant with the youngest one at the time, and I asked God, ‘Please let me live to see the kids raised because they already lost their biological father.'”
Heidel added, “I left it all in God’s hands to take care of me.”
Youngest daughter Tammy kept a notebook in the hospital because Heidel said she didn’t even want to know the names of the medicines she was taking.
Keeping track of her mom’s medicines encouraged Tammy to look into nursing school, and she is now a student at Hesston Nursing College, Heidel said.
Chemotherapy treatments, following Heidel’s hospital stay, began in April 1999 and ended three weeks into July 2000.
When it became necessary to go to the Cancer Center of Kansas in Newton for seven days following her dismissal from the hospital, Heidel’s parents drove her to the center for the first treatment. But she didn’t want to ask that of them for the rest of the week. So she began driving herself each week.
“I would go in at 8 a.m., and they would hook me up,” Heidel said. “By the time they got me going, it was 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. because it drips real slow. I’d come back home, eat lunch, lay down and then I’d have to be back at 4 p.m. They’d hook me up again, I’d be there until 6 p.m., and then I’d go home.
“I did that Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. By Friday, I probably shouldn’t have been driving because I was getting kind of weak. Of course, I didn’t tell anybody that because they would have insisted they drive me.”
During her chemotherapy, Heidel developed a sinus infection.
“My doctor was afraid I was going to get pneumonia, and you know, you probably don’t die of leukemia, you die of the complications of it,” she said. “But they got me over that.”
The weekly schedule of visits to the cancer center continued until the third week of July 2000-a total of about 16 months of chemotherapy treatment.
“I got to go home on Good Friday, 1999, and so I went to church on that Sunday,” Heidel said. “I got to take flowers up to the front for people who were thankful for something. Of course, I was thankful for being in church. It was just so nice to be in church with my family.”
Her faith was strong before her illness, Heidel said.
“When I lost my husband, and I had three kids, I felt God was with me the whole way there,” she said. “God just kind of took over and said, ‘OK, Diane, you’ve got these three kids, and you’ve got to be strong for them, and I made it through that.
“I knew if I could make it through that, surely I could make it through this.”
It was difficult at first for Heidel to ask people to pray for her during her battle with leukemia, she said.
“But if you have a problem, ask people to pray for you and be thankful for God and for prayers,” Heidel said. “People from the church would stop by and say, ‘We’re praying for you,’ and I’d say, ‘Just keep on praying.'”
She now has a prayer list that she didn’t have before.
“Of course I pray for my kids and anybody else whose told me they’re struggling with illness,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who are struggling with illness or family problems. So there’s never a lack of people to pray for, and I know it works.”
Her illness is in remission, but she still has to go in for check-ups. Her visits with her oncologist are every four months, and her last one was one month ago.
“I said, ‘You know, I never wanted to ask you before because I didn’t want to hear your answer, but it’s been a couple of years now, what do you think?'” Heidel said. “He said, ‘You’re doing so good, you have such a good attitude, I think you’re going to be all right.’
“I said, ‘Don’t say anything more, I don’t want to hear anything else.'”
She added, “Once you have something like that you wonder, you hope it stays away, but if it doesn’t, I’ll deal with that.”
The little things in life don’t bother Heidel because she focuses on the beauty in things around her.
“I love being around people and laughing,” she said. “And my family-we’ve always been a close family, and I just thank God for that.”