Advocate Finds Hope and Purpose Despite the Odds

“Are you brave enough?”

This is the question Christine Thelker posted on an online dating site just this past year when she decided she was ready to develop a new relationship after being widowed 14 years ago. Thelker was not being cheeky with her question, she was just being honest and she needed an honest answer.

She has had to ask others and herself to be brave since being diagnosed with a terminal illness four years ago.

The answer has sometimes been hard in coming, but Thelker has been able to find love, hope, purpose, and even a job thanks to the support of Community Futures North Okanagan and WorkBC Employment Services.

“With my illness, I have had to consider how much I want to disclose to others. Community Futures has helped me figure that out. Instead of hiding, I tell people straight up about my illness. I want people to know that it’s OK to put yourself out there,” says Thelker.

The Road to Hope

A former resident of Northern BC, Thelker moved to Vernon in 2005 after her husband passed away. She found work in the health care field as a care worker for people living with dementia, but was forced to stop working four years ago when she herself was diagnosed with early onset neural cognitive disorder combined with a cardio vascular degenerative disorder at the age of 56.

“My career was taken away from me the day I was diagnosed,” says Thelker. “I was devastated. I had no job, no ability to work and I had to come to terms with living with a terminal illness. There were no services to really help me, as I was too young to fit into a senior’s category and I didn’t fit under the mental health umbrella. The doctors were frustrated and I was struggling,” she says.

Last fall, Thelker says she hit rock bottom. Her illness was on a rampage and she was also fighting depression and financial hardship, which made her symptoms even worse.

“They were looking at facilities to place me in. I didn’t want to do that, so that’s when I starting searching for ways to help myself.”

After conducting research, Thelker became involved with a multi-national advocacy group known as the Dementia Alliance International, where she was able to connect with others in similar conditions and be privy to valuable resources.

Thelker says she also developed the courage to approach Community Futures North Okanagan where, with the help of her case manager, she was able to attain invaluable job search specific tools through the WorkBC Employment Services Program. Together, they looked into areas such as the hidden job market, cold calling strategies, self-marketing strategies, and what, when and how much disability information should be disclosed to potential employees.

After researching jobs, Thelker decided a car dealership would be an ideal place to work, as it would give her a social outlet with daytime hours. After seeing an ad for a dealership looking for someone to fill a one-day-a-week position, she sent in her resume.

“They called me for an interview. After considering how much I wanted to disclose about my illness, I decided to tell them, as when my illness acts up, it’s evident. I ended up being called back for another interview and was amazed and excited when they decided to hire me,” says Thelker. “Instead of seeing how my illness would impact my abilities, they helped me manage with the things I could do and always gave me the support I needed. I am very grateful to them.”

Looking to the Future

Thelker is now moving on to new horizons, as a public speaker and advocate.

Besides being a major contributor to an online forum that reaches people in 47 countries, Thelker recently delivered a speech on behalf of the Dementia International Alliance at its conference in Chicago and is about to deliver similar talks in Los Angeles and Jamaica. She is also part of the Health Canada strategy for people living with dementia, and is also writing a blog and is planning to release a book about her experiences.

“Before, I was desperate for a support network, but now I am supported thanks to places like CFNO. There is always someone out there that will recognize you and the gifts you have despite your illness. It’s about getting those doors to open, and once you take that first step, then you’ll be on your way.”

Before, I was desperate for a support network, but now I am supported thanks to places like CFNO. There is always someone out there that will recognize you and the gifts you have despite your illness. It’s about getting those doors to open, and once you take that first step, then you’ll be on your way.

Thelker has something else to look forward to. She is now engaged, thanks to that brave person who answered her online dating message.

“At this stage, I am probably happier than I have ever been in my life. I live well with dementia and I work every day on staying positive. I call them my silver linings of life, and I look for them every single day,” she says.

Community Futures North Okanagan offers job employment services for those living with disabilities or ongoing health issues as well as business loans through its the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP). The Employment Program of British Columbia is funded through the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

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