What happened to Marlene?
In 2017 Marlene Thimer was diagnosed with a rare form of Sarcoma cancer within a muscle on her back near her spinal column. Her treatments culminated in an extremely complicated surgery which itself has resulted in severe life threatening scoliosis (bending of the spine). This can only be halted with a further major surgery and custom back braces. Unable to access a minimally invasive surgery in Canada, she is reaching out to cover the cost of this specialised surgery at a clinic in Germany, to purchase custom back braces she requires to maintain mobility, and to fund lifelong ongoing physical therapy costs. The cost of surgery, travel and accommodation are estimated at $60,000 and the back braces are $14,000 - future costs for her rehabilitation are unknown. The surgery could happen as soon as December 2019 and would ensure Marlene’s continued mobility by ensuring her body does not collapse to the point where her heart and lungs are unable to function. Who is Marlene Thimer?
(Marlene Hiking 11 months post surgery)
Marlene has always been a healthy, physically, mentally strong person. Cycling across Canada at the age of 21 is a good indication of her drive. After twenty years of working as a Professional Forester and, hiking, skiing and canoeing in Northwest British Columbia she started a family with her husband Paul and turned an organic farming hobby into a Certified Organic Farm in 2008. Marlene stayed at home to run the farm and home school two boys Aidan (18) and Conor (15) while Paul worked on the farm and in the forest industry. They now make a living farming on their property East of Smithers, BC in the beautiful Bulkley Valley.
(Marlene with her pigs in 2016)
Marlene is tough and as hard working and determined as they come. She is the driving force behind Happy Pig Organic Farm. She has also been very involved in her community; volunteering as a coach with community soccer, cross country ski club and on the volunteer board of the Bulkley Valley Farmers Market.
(Marlene on a canoe trip in 2007)
(2007 Canoe trip)
(Hike with family friends hiking in 2006)
(Marlene with her friends Linda and Jen skiing in 2017, still active as ever)Why does Marlene need your help?
Throughout Marlene’s medical ordeal the family has rallied to grow the business to manage the medical costs and travel to and from Vancouver for treatment. Marlene is a very private and independent woman who has done everything in her ability to stay strong, keep moving and not be too much of a burden on the healthcare system. They constantly develop new products and ways to get their organically grown meats to market. However, the family-run Northern farm simply cannot generate the funds needed for this next stage of Marlene’s journey.
(The Happy Pig farm-to-table food truck at the Kispiox Valley Music Festival in 2018)
Please help. If you are touched by Marlene’s story, please share it with others and if it is within your means to make a donation towards the cost of the surgery or braces, Marlene, her family and friends would be forever grateful.
If you would like a more detailed description of Marlene’s journey, her personal account is directly below. Her son Conor and several friends have also written short descriptions of their relationship with Marlene and these follow. There are also some pictures of Marlene, her family and friends both pre and post surgery.
Please be aware that some of the post surgery images at the bottom of the page are potentially disturbing to view. The details of what happened to Marlene:
In 2016 she discovered a small lump next to her spine, about the size of a jelly bean. After several visits to healthcare professionals and numerous tests, the lump was diagnosed as cancer, specifically indifferential sarcoma in her spinea rectus muscle (a muscle deep in her back).
She was told that this variety of cancer, responds well to intensive radiotherapy followed by immediate surgical removal of the tumour.
Before her radiotherapy began Marlene and Paul researched as much as possible about this cancer and how to help her body fight this intruder with meditation, cannabis oils, exercise, specific foods, oils, extracts, etc. After her six weeks of radiotherapy it took three months to have the surgery. ,Twice Marlene flew to Vancouver for her scheduled surgery and was sent home until more specialist surgeons were available. When the surgery finally happened one of the doctors commented that the radiotherapy was almost pointless given the delay between its conclusion and the surgery – basically giving the tumour time to possibly recover.
Marlene’s surgery was described as major (there were five highly specialised surgeons involved), but that she would be able to recover from fully in six months to a year. She was told that there would be some extra tissue taken around the tumour to ensure clean ‘margins’ and that there was a possibility that a small portion of one or two ribs near the tumour would be removed.
After the nearly thirteen hour surgery, she spent the next two weeks in the hospital in Vancouver, followed by another four weeks living with friends to ensure availability for follow up appointments.
She survived, but what had taken place in the surgery that was planned weeks in advance utilising countless scans, x rays, and tests turned out to be far more dramatic than what was explained to her by any of her doctors.
The surgery involved the removal of large sections of four ribs, several muscles, nerves that control her abdominal muscles, a very large section of outer skin, part of her diaphragm, and some bone projections on her spinal vertebrae. Imagine a chunk approximately the size of two one pound blocks of butter side by side being taken from your body.
The plastic surgeon was left to move several muscles from their original purposes and locations in an attempt to replace those removed. There was also a large section of surgical mesh installed to cover the opening exposed by her ribs which has now overgrown with scar tissue causing constant tightness and discomfort.
The end result was that she now has no natural muscular support for her spine, and gravity is quickly pulling her helpless body downwards, eventually pressuring her lungs, heart and diaphragm which without treatment (meaning more surgery) could take her life. Surgically induced scoliosis, not an outcome she was expecting or one that was even floated as a possibility prior to surgery.
After being discharged from hospital, there was no advice provided concerning any physical or mental therapy that she should seek, and other than one visit sixteen months later, there was no future communication with any of the doctors. The 16 month visit was set up after Marlene pleaded with them to see her as her body was changing in disturbing ways.
Two years on, countless hours of self directed and personally financed intensive physical therapy, massage, chiropractic sessions, and working her muscles at the gym, she discovers that all of it may have been in vain.
She is told by other specialist doctors and physiotherapists that her scoliosis was an unavoidable outcome of her surgery, and that she should have been referred to specialists in scoliosis before leaving the hospital post surgery; and that she should have been referred for specialised physical therapy and had custom back braces fitted immediately to help slow the progression of the scoliosis.
To date all costs for travel to medical appointments, physical therapy, accommodation, chiropractor and massage therapy visits have been paid by Marlene. It could be that this money may have been better spent on braces and other types of specialised physical therapy. Following surgery Marlene was led to believe that if she worked hard her mobility and strength would return, now she knows this will require a lot more than hard work.
In regards to cancer surgery, the surgeons’ only goal is to remove the cancerous tissue and have the patient survive the surgery itself. Quality of life, and future medical challenges arising because of the surgery are not the surgeon’s primary concern. In Marlene’s case, the certainty that the surgery may cause problems in the future, that could end, or substantially affect her life after surgery were not explained. Her decision to have the surgery at all was based on what she was being told about her full recovery afterwards.
At this point Marlene’s spine is rapidly twisting downwards in a cork screw fashion. This creates pressure on her organs which causes pain, heart burn after eating, and difficulty breathing and sleeping.
To address the scoliosis her doctors in Vancouver recommend another surgery during which they will collapse her lungs, move her heart (which they have to stop temporarily) and install a metal rod with screws attached to her spine which will allow her vertebra to fuse stopping the progression of her scoliosis. This surgery has never been performed on anyone like her, and doctors are not sure if one rod will actually do the job at all – it is highly probable the rod will break, the risk is very high and Marlene has decided she will not have this type of surgery.
Through their own research Marlene and Paul have found a specialised surgeon in Germany, one of only a handful in the world who practice a much less intrusive surgery to stop scoliosis. She is scheduled to see this specialist in Germany at a clinic in August 2019. This surgery will be done utilising small entry holes rather than an open chest type surgery, and recovery is usually a matter of weeks rather than months. The risks are much less and the surgery has been successful for patients with symptoms similar to Marlene’s. This surgery will take place four to five months after the initial consultation. Conor Murphy, son of Marlene
When I learned that the cancerous tumour in my Mom's back could be surgically removed, I was thrilled. After months of seeing her so infrequently due to treatment, and a constant threat of uncertainty that comes with cancer, this seemed like the dream come true, fix all solution. It was far from that. We all quickly learned how extreme her surgery was, and it soon became clear that the cancer was the easiest part of her journey. It’s not easy watching someone you love so much put so much time and energy into physical therapy, only to feel as if it is for nothing, because after all, her spine is continuing to bend. I want my Mom to at least have a chance at living a life similar to the one she lived before, and this surgery seems like the closest chance she has to that.
(Marlene and Conor hiking in the fall of 2018)
(Marlene and her boys during her son Aidans graduation) Sue Storoschuk, cousin
Marlene Thimer. Who is she? Mother of two, wife, friend, daughter, cousin, farmer, nurturer of many things. Most of all, a stubborn, strong woman who took her cancer diagnosis and battled for her life. And she beat the cancer, killed it both with conventional medicine and alternative pathways with a passion and dedication few could do. Marlene took her strong work ethic and changed her life focus from her farm, community and family and shifted it to a focus of self-care and self-sacrifice. Marlene reshaped her life in order to kill her cancer. Isolating herself from the stress of a growing family, of running a successful organic animal farm and the commitments of community service. Marlene spent six months strengthening her body’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells that wanted to destroy her body. A dedication and strength that I admire and do not know that I have within me. Marlene trusted in the medical system, had her cancer taken out, but then the medical system simply left her on her own with little after care or thought from healthcare and no financial support. Marlene and her husband have tirelessly researched and sought out spine specialists and chiropractors who work with severe scoliosis, in desperation, to stop the stress on Marlene’s spine. If left unchecked, Marlene will simply collapse into herself, leaving her unable to work and enjoy simple tasks such as walking, things we take for granted.
Marlene is unable to work, has down-scaled her farm and has had to accept the kindness and support of her family and friends. Living in a small community and having to fly to Vancouver to meet with specialists is a costly endeavour. And then there is the cost of the custom braces she will need to support her spine.
(Marlene (right) and her cousin Sue in 2017 in Vancouver just before surgery)
Marlene has always been the person who supported and gave to others. The act of receiving is a humbling experience for Marlene but one that she has accepted with grace and gratitude. Marlene is my cousin. I’ve cycled across Canada, hiked in the remote northern mountains of BC and watched her deal with the collapse of the BC forestry industry and change from forester to farmer. All big feats in themselves, but this cancer thing has been the biggest challenge of all. A challenge Marlene has faced full on. Please support this amazing woman continue her life’s journey. Helen Samson, friend
Marlene and I have been friends for over 25 years, having met at university, and I considered her to be one of the best people I know. There simply aren’t sufficient words to describe what she and her friendship mean to me. While we have lived very different lives, at opposite ends of the province, Marlene has been a true and constant friend. She is so genuinely kind, caring, and supportive that she inspires me to be a better person. I am so proud to call Marlene my friend and am thankful that I have been able to support Marlene, even in a small way, on this journey she is facing. I would do anything for her. I can think of no one more deserving of our help. Her strength and determination are truly inspirational.
(Marlene and Helen at Vancouver General Hospital post surgery)Sharon Storoschuk, cousin
Marlene Thimer is my cousin. Growing up I didn’t spend much time with her because she was more my sisters age. They were great friends all through life. In fact, I was lucky if I saw her every 5 years or so. But then tragedy struck Marlene in the name of cancer and I was fortunate to be living in Vancouver where she came for treatment. I say fortunate, because getting to know Marlene has been such a gift in my life.
This is a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. When she talks about her two sons you feel the love, when she shows you pictures of her pigs (she’s an organic pig farmer) you feel the pride, when she talks about cooking and baking for her food truck you feel her love for her community. It’s always about the joy she has living and working on her farm in Smithers, about being a mother, about the people she serves and helps, and her love of the outdoors and being physically active.
The cancer was aggressive and a large tumour on her back near her spine. The treatment meant she had to be away from her family for about 6 weeks to get radiation in Prince George, a 4-hour drive away. Then there were so many trips to Vancouver, requiring a flight and accommodations. She spent almost an entire summer in Vancouver before and after the surgery. And nothing prepared her for the aftermath of losing so much of her body to the surgery.
(Photo taken by Sharon during another checkup in Vancouver post surgery)
The cancer and recovery meant that she had to give up farming, volunteering, cooking, biking, hiking, skiing, and taking care of her family the way she wants to. She now has to commit every day to physiotherapy and resting, even though it’s been 2 years since the surgery. Her spine has now curved 45 degrees and continues. She has to balance herself with one arm just to walk. And now she embarks on a journey to correct and prevent more spine curvature. She is a fighter and a lover, she wants to live a full life, and she needs help. There is no government assistance to help pay for the physio, the trips to Vancouver, the expensive body braces, and health care that she desperately needs. This is a woman worth helping. She is a testament on mind over matter, on how we can heal our bodies, how to overcome cancer, and how to love life! Please join me in supporting Marlene and her family! Paul Murphy, husband
The first time I met Marlene I knew we were meant for each other. Our mutual love of the outdoors and of pushing ourselves physically kept us active, healthy and happy. When she was diagnosed with cancer we all feared losing her. But she fought back and persevered, beating her cancer using every tool available. The surgery following her radiation treatment was to be the end of this tumultuous chapter in her life, and the opportunity for Marlene to get back to living without fear of cancer. But while the surgery extracted what remained of her tumour, it also brought about new life threatening problems creating a need for another major surgery.
(Marlene and Paul barely awake after a week long canoe trip)
We simply just cannot do this on our own, and she just cannot wait to have this procedure. Seeing someone you love go from healthy and strong to having difficulty walking and breathing is earth shattering. Please help to preserve what remains of Marlene’s mobility so she can continue to enjoy her life, her family, her friends, and her future.
(The whole family during Christmas 2018) GRAPHIC IMAGERY
(Marlene's back post radiotherapy)
(Marlene's back post surgery)
(Marlene's back a few months after surgery)
(Marlene's back February 2019)
(Marlene's back in April 2019)