Samuelson family connects over sports, doesn’t let cancer change their outlook
December 24, 2010
It's those life-changing moments that define many people.
And one might expect the same of the Samuelsons, who were faced with mom Shannon's leukemia diagnosis in 2008 and several months of subsequent treatment away from home.
"Whenever we would leave her everybody would start crying," her daughter Emma said. "My brother, it was hard on him. He would hold it back, but you could see in his eyes that he wanted to cry."
Dad Mark shone through, his wife and the couple's four children agreed, keeping the family afloat while Shannon received treatments for many months in Denver.
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"Our life, we kept going," Mark said. "I always say she took a year off from life."
And that positive thinking, the couple contends, is what defines them as a family and kept them strong.
"I don't know that it did change us. I think it more confirmed who we are as a family," Shannon said. "We always said we need to live every day to the fullest. And that kind of confirmed that because you never know what day will be the last."
And now, with Shannon's leukemia in full remission, it's back to life as usual at the Samuelson household. It's one that keeps Mark and Shannon busy with work and the hectic schedules of their four children — Michael, 16, twins Alex and Lauren, 13, and Emma, 11. Mark also has a daughter, Celsiee Jones, 21, a student at Brigham Young University and an Army Reserve medic currently serving in Afghanistan.
"I think we all do well busy," Shannon said. "I think we're all really connected even though we're all going in different directions all the time."
Sporting way of life
Those different directions involve each of the four Samuelson kids in at least one sport a season, all but one of which are traveling teams.
"I think that's what brings us together because we travel," Mark said. "If you have three hockey games in Durango, it's a family weekend."
The kids' involvement in sports means some early mornings, a detailed spreadsheet of responsibilities and also a common interest.
All of the kids have played hockey since age 3 or 4, and Mark and Shannon both picked up the sport in their adulthood, playing for many years on local traveling teams themselves.
"We've always been a hockey family," Mark said. "I really believe that a family that plays together stays together."
Now, Mark coaches Michael's Bulldogs midget team, one of his many coaching jobs as his children have grown.
"Really what you're doing is trying to raise good adults," Mark said. "And that's why they're in sports and that's why we're involved in their sports."
Mark, who played many sports as a child and went on to be a wide receiver for the University of Northern Colorado's football team, said his family's involvement in sports is an important part of their lives.
"It teaches them good values. It teaches them how to compete — how to lose and win gracefully," he said. "It keeps them physically fit. And it keeps their time occupied."
Shannon, who swam at UNC for a year herself, agreed.
"Sports in general teach so much more about life," she said. "We gave the kids the opportunity from the get-go to try everything."
And the kids aren't complaining.
"It keeps me fit and it keeps me busy," Lauren said. "So I have something to do … and it gets you closer to your friends."
Alex said playing sports was just a natural part of growing up in the Samuelson household.
"We grew up just playing sports, and I think we look up to our older brother and he played sports and we wanted to be like him and play sports, like a chain," Alex said.
Mark and Shannon's own love of sports has taken a hiatus while the kids are growing up.
"Right now it's about our kids. In seven years, eight years, we can loop back around and start playing hockey again," Mark said. "But right now, it's all about them."
Taking care of one another
Emma said that's what makes her parents special.
"My dad's a hard worker and so is my mom, and whenever they get a chance they do something for us," she said.
Lauren said her parents, who will celebrate their 20th anniversary next month, commit to having ample time for their children and take them on frequent trips. They afford her and her siblings a lot of freedom, so long as they don't violate that trust.
"They keep us in hand," Lauren said. "They make sure we don't do anything bad. They're good parents."
Alex agreed, saying her parents keep education the kids' top priority while also having fun with them.
"They can be strict when we have bad grades," Alex said. "They're really fun and they love to watch us play sports.
"They support us a lot in school, sports, life, everything we do."
And that's no easy task, considering Mark co-owns Samuelson True Value in Craig and Meeker and Shannon is Ridgeview Elementary School's literacy coordinator.
"Parenting's the hardest job I've ever done," Shannon said. "Every day there's a new challenge."
The kids help when they can, though.
"We're all good kids," Michael said. "We all learned that at a young age."
But that doesn't keep them from picking on one another, as brothers and sisters will do.
"We joke around a lot but we're close," Lauren said, then pausing. "And my brother gets annoyed with us a lot."
Next year, when Alex and Lauren advance to freshmen at Moffat County High School, the girls expect their older brother, then a junior, will keep his distance.
"I think if something goes wrong he'll probably stick up for us but other than that he'll try to avoid us," Alex said.
Add in the sibling dynamic to their already hectic schedule and Mark said raising four children is a handful.
"Being a parent is exhausting," Mark said. "It's controlled chaos."
Community 'it says it is'
But having a supportive community like Craig can ease that chaos, Shannon and Mark contend.
"I wouldn't want to raise kids anywhere else because the community cares about your kids and they help raise your kids," Mark said. "And you help raise their kids.
"That's the beauty of Craig is that everybody helps everybody else succeed."
And that message continued to resonate, perhaps even more so, during Shannon's battle with leukemia.
She was receiving treatments at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver while her parents, from Colorado Springs, stayed with her.
Mark stayed back to keep the kids' lives going to help them to maintain a sense of normalcy.
"Mark totally was awesome. He just took on all he needed to take on and then some. He was just amazing," Shannon said. "This whole community was amazing, too. I had letters from strangers… it was overwhelming. We were just so appreciative."
Mark said friends didn't ask what they could do to help, they just did it. The family received meals and help carpooling the kids to events in addition to emotional support.
"That's when you know that Craig's really the community it says it is," Mark said.
And now, Shannon enjoys full remission and has her blood checked every two months to be sure she remains that way. It's back to that active, family-focused lifestyle each one of the Samuelsons loves.
"We never thought anything except she's going to get chemo, she's going to recover and we're going to get back to our lives," Mark said.
And so they have.