'A blessing to be here': Before competing in Family Feud, this Hay River mom survived cancer and bone disease

The Townend-Tybring family on Family Feud Canada. (Submitted/Kelsey Townend - image credit)
The Townend-Tybring family on Family Feud Canada. (Submitted/Kelsey Townend - image credit)

Always say yes, unless it's dangerous. That's been Kelsey Townend's life motto since she successfully finished cancer treatment in 2016.

And that's how the Hay River, N.W.T., resident and her family found themselves on Family Feud Canada, competing for a chance to win $10,000, after a producer who followed her cancer journey on Instagram reached out to her.

"At first, I kinda thought it was a scam. I didn't think it was real," she said. "But the more I talked to her and got to know her, I thought, what the heck."

It was 2021 when her family first auditioned. The timing was perfect: she was coming up on the five-year anniversary of her cancer journey, and she wanted to honour that somehow. What better way than competing on a national game show?

"Any opportunity now that I can get to do something exciting or different or just totally out there, I'm on board," she said. "When you experience something like I did, you realize how short life can be."

After she talked four of her family members into it, they auditioned over Zoom. The team, which she described as her "beautiful blended family," included her little brother, her stepfather, her oldest son's stepmother and her former sister-in-law.

"I think when they heard that and seen us in the audition, how well we get along and the fun we had, I think they really liked that," she said.

Although they were all super nervous, she said they had a blast participating in the show, especially after the second round when they relaxed a bit more and got into competitive mode. She said she has received a hugely positive response from the community.

"Tons of positive feedback, everybody was super excited," She said. "Anybody that I've talked to is like, 'You guys were so great!' and 'How fun!'"

Her family held a viewing party at their house for their episode, which aired March 14.

Submitted by Kelsey Townend
Submitted by Kelsey Townend

She said one main reason she wanted to do the show was to collect "cool points" with her three sons, who are four, 13 and 15 years old, and who are now pretty proud that their mom was on national television.

"At the end of it, they were all like, 'Oh you actually weren't too embarrassing,'" Townend laughed. "That was cool."

But going on the show was also a great opportunity to showcase the community she loves.

"Living in Hay River, we wanna help promote our community. We love our community," she said. "Anything to help promote it and help put it on the map, I'm all about it."

'I am a say-yes person for sure'

Townend was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma in 2016. It took four months of aggressive chemotherapy before doctors were able to remove the cancer from her body.

It's been a long, hard journey, she said, but she is grateful to be on the other side of it and able to live her life to the fullest.

Submitted/Kelsey Townend
Submitted/Kelsey Townend

"I am a say-yes person for sure, as long as it's not putting myself in absolute danger," she said. "It's a blessing to be here and I'm grateful for that."

Having cancer was, itself, incredibly difficult, but Townend said one of the hardest parts for her was watching her mother and partner go through it with her, as they both cared for her while she was getting treatment.

Her road to recovery was a difficult one. Because the cancer treatment needed to be aggressive, it included the use of Prednisone, which is used to reduce inflammation and help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy drugs. When used over longer periods of time, it can have residual side effects.

For Townend, the treatment left her with avascular necrosis in her shoulders, a bone disease where blood supply is cut off to bone tissue.

She ended up having two surgeries on her shoulders to replace them with titanium alloy. The experience made her realize that there needed to be more support in the community for people going through cancer or post-treatment.

"Once you survive, you're kind of thrown to the wolves a little bit and there's no real guidance on what to do once you go home," Townend said.

Because of this, she decided to dedicate her Instagram profile to her journey post-cancer. She wanted to connect with people who were going through similar things.

Creating a support network

She also created the Karuna Group, a peer support group that has been active since 2017.

"There was actually no local support program for cancer survivors or people who were struggling with the aftermath of treatment," she said.

The group is available to anyone who is affected by cancer in any way, which includes people going through treatment, survivors, caretakers or friends and family who have lost loved ones.

"It's important to try and help heal from the experience because it's quite traumatic for everybody involved," Townend said.

Through everything, Townend said she is grateful to continue experiencing life, she doesn't take anything for granted and is happy that she's able to take her experience and use it to help the community she loves.

She said she will continue to cherish each moment and challenge herself daily.

"You have to say yes to things, you have to try things, you have to get out of your comfort zone," she said. "It's so easy to stay comfortable."