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July 29, 2014

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Jack Rielly and Helen Barnes-Rielly are all smiles during their wedding and are trying to stay positive as Jack battles cancer. Photo by Susan Krohn

Originally published: 2013-12-26 15:14:55
Last modified: 2013-12-26 15:14:55

Todd man fights melanoma

By Heather Samudio

An Ashe County man and Todd resident, Jack Rielly, and his wife, Helen Barnes-Rielly, have vowed to stay positive during Jack's battle with cancer, made a little easier through the network of support they have found through family, friends and their community.

Jack was diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma in May, which his wife noted as ironic since May is Melanoma Awareness Month.

With his initial diagnosis, doctors found five tumors, including one in each lung, one in his adrenal gland, one in the liver and one in the spleen.

"In late September, after getting the results from a scan that showed he was responding to treatments, we were dealt another blow when he came down with headaches and they discovered another tumor. This one, roughly the size of a golf ball in his brain," Helen said.

Jack was then treated with a week of focused X-rays in late October. Earlier this month, he returned from his latest scan at the Duke Cancer Institute and experienced worsening headaches and vomiting.

"We called triage at Duke and rushed back," Helen said. "They admitted him for bleeding in the brain at the site of the tumor, but also discovered another tumor in his head had appeared."

Jack has been undergoing whole head radiation to stop or slow the bleeding and was set to meet with his doctor to talk about the next step, his options and his latest prognosis.

The diagnosis and subsequent treatments have brought a whirlwind of emotions for the couple, who wed in 2010.

"It's a sucker punch," Helen said. "And then when you think you have a handle on it, it throws another punch. When Jack was first diagnosed, we cried a lot. But then we looked at each other and decided that we didn't want to spend this time crying and morose, but rather to stay positive and strong."

Helen, who is the proprietor of Todd Mercantile, said their family, friends and community have been very supportive.

"When I needed to leave to go with Jack to Duke for treatments, family or friends came in to run the store," she said. "Jack has been on total disability since the diagnosis and has resigned as a realtor and owner in the store. We decided he needed to manage his illness and all the paperwork, which takes all his energy.

"Jack tries to keep some normalcy in his life, but spends his time talking to creditors, hospitals, social services, etc.," Helen said. "My daughter has put her life on hold to move here and run the store during the week until the store closes at the end of December."

The couple said they have been truly blessed by what the community has done.

On Saturday, Dec. 14, a benefit was held by friends and neighbors in Todd at the mercantile, featuring a concert, silent auction and refreshments, with all money going to help the couple with bills and medical expenses.

"The benefit was amazing," Helen said. "Linda Foulsham, Phil Lewis, Lainey Edminsten and Jim Lewis organized the silent auction and food and Cecil and Julie Gurganus lined up the amazing musicians. They and numerous others worked tirelessly putting the whole thing together.

"The silent auction had items from just about everyone in Todd and from our family," Helen said. "And the musicians, wow, the talent. Charles Welch and Jon Kirby, the Elkville String Band, Mary Greene, Mark Freed and Cecil and the Jones House Jam Kids were great."

Although Helen and Jack had just returned home on Friday, Dec. 13, he rested all day and was able to attend the benefit with his wife and stayed until the end of the event.

"Jack and I have talked about this so often," Helen said, regarding the support they've been given. "We are so very lucky to live in Todd. The overwhelming love and support that everyone in the community has shown us is nothing short of astounding. We are humbled by the outpouring of love, kindness and generosity we have received."

Helen said they were thankful to everyone who donated, bid and braved the weather to attend the benefit.

"We love Todd and this proves what Jack always says, 'Todd isn't just a zip code. It's a state of mind,'" Helen said.

Jack was an owner and broker of Heart of the High Country Realty, located in the Todd Mercantile, but is now on total disability.

The disease Jack is facing is often terminal; however, Helen said the treatment he is receiving is on the cutting edge of cancer treatments.

He does not have health insurance, so friends and family have been trying to help. Linda Foulsham set up an account which will be used to help pay the couple's bills and expenses.

Anyone who would like to help or send a donation may send it to Linda Foulsham at 10788 Highway 194 North, Todd, NC 28684.

Individuals who would like to follow the couple's journey can find Jack's blog at

For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.

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