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Huntington University alumna battles cancer

Article Courtesy of the Daily Press & Argus
By Lisa Roose-Church

Jennifer Spaulding doesn't think she is anything special, but the 34-year-old woman has survived two quick bouts of cancer and teaches others about living through example.

Spaulding is one of Livingston County's extraordinary women.

"She serves as a constant inspiration to all who have the privilege of knowing her and those fortunate to make her acquaintance," said Spaulding's mother, Diann Helzerman of Fowlerville. "As her mom, I simply bask in the joy of having her alive and well, and for being the best daughter a parent could ever hope to have."

Spaulding was born in January 1973, the only child of Diann and Ed Helzerman. She grew up in Fowlerville, where she graduated from high school in 1991.

She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Huntington University in Huntington, Ind., and was teaching third grade at Livingston Christian Schools while working on her master's degree at Spring Arbor University.

Spaulding married Robert in July 2003, and a short six months later, her life changed.

Spaulding noticed lumps in her neck. She dismissed it as swollen glands, but when the swelling did not decrease she knew something was not right.

After numerous tests in January 2004, Spaulding was diagnosed with lymphoma.

"That was when my ordeal began," she said. "Initially, I went through eight cycles of chemo which ended in August 2004. I was then thought to be in remission."

However, in December that year, Spaulding discovered another lump in her neck. The cancer returned and it was more aggressive.

By the following January, doctors told her that she had to have a stem cell transplant. She was lucky, however.

"I was able to be my own donor, which helped with rejection," she said. "I wouldn't reject my own stem cells. The problem is my body let the cancer grow and it hasn't been able to stop it, but the benefit is I'd have less recovery for rejection."

She had to step down from her teaching job, which broke her heart, but she remained upbeat.

"I love my job," Spaulding says. "I love working with kids. They always seem to be excited about everything. They are so positive and energetic.

"I think I knew I wanted to be a teacher at an early age. When I was a kid, I would play school with my friends," she added. "I usually was the teacher."

Spaulding said it was hard to give up teaching at the time, but it was the right thing to do for the children because she was not emotionally where she needed to be and she was physically exhausted from her treatments.

For weeks, Spaulding underwent intensive chemotherapy, which wiped out her immune system. She had one day to rest and then had the transplant done. The cells were directly injected into her body through the blood.

"I had a lot of faith, and if it didn't turn out well, I wasn't afraid to die," she said. "I don't think I really ever felt like I was going to die. I always thought it would be all right."

Spaulding was not alone. She had her husband, friends and family, including her mother who had cancer and her sister-in-law, Ann Marie Spaulding-Hutchison, who had a brain tumor, to support her.

Helzerman said her daughter never once complained or asked, "Why me?"

"She never lost her beautiful smile or positive attitude or her Christian faith," her mother said.

Spaulding is a survivor.

It is a role she takes seriously by participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life fundraiser and in teaching others about faith by example. She has since returned to teaching fourth-graders and runs the school's after school study hall.

Spaulding hopes to return to her master's studies soon, her mother said.

Spaulding's advice for others: "Don't give up hope. ... There's a lot of opportunity, I think, today for people to get all kinds of treatment. There is hope."

Contact Daily Press & Argus reporter Lisa Roose-Church at (517) 552-2846 or at

Editor's note: This article is part of a series featuring Livingston County's "Extraordinary Women."

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