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Paul Tinsley on honoring his daughter’s memory

Paul Tinsley (right) with daughter Rebekah (second from right) family during her remissiperiod

Paul Tinsley (right) with daughter Rebekah (second from right) and family during her remission period

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Updated: January 22, 2014 12:33PM

On May 30, 2011, my wife and I watched a beautiful light dim and then go out as our daughter, Rebekah Tinsley Klein, lost her battle with advanced uterine and ovarian cancer. For four years, she’d fought this disease with every ounce of her energy. Surrounded by her husband, her mother and me and her three closest friends, Rebekah finally slipped into peace at the much-too-young age of 41.

Before she was taken from us, Rebekah was a beautiful woman, married to the love of her life and mother to two wonderful children. My wife and I were thrilled to be grandparents and looked forward to spending many happy years with Rebekah and her family. But this was not to be. In 2007, one year after the birth of her second child, Rebekah was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer. She fought hard throughout her illness as she endured surgery, radiation treatments and ongoing chemotherapy. There was a brief time of remission and we celebrated by going on a family summer vacation to Disney World. But in the fall, the cancer returned and the fight was back on. In spite of excellent treatment, the disease continued to take its terrible toll, and we lost her.

We faced her passing with great sorrow, but also with great anger. Anger at the fact that this disease could have such a devastating effect upon its victim. Anger at the enormity of our loss. Anger at the fact that her children would have to grow up without their loving, devoted mother. No person, no family, no friends — nobody — should have to go through the nightmare that is cancer.

Six months after Rebekah died, we were still hurting from our terrible loss. In an effort to deal with our grief, we decided to find a way to honor her memory in a positive and constructive way. From her earliest years, Rebekah had been independent, conscientious and creative. Her mother and I are theater people, and although she had little interest in acting herself, it was a big part of her childhood because of us. Rebekah spent many an evening watching rehearsals while doing her homework with help from us and the other actors. She always enjoyed seeing us on stage, and because her exposure to theater made her very comfortable with adults, she’d often strike up a conversation with other audience members at a performance and tell them proudly: “That’s my mom and dad up there.”

Because of the appreciation Rebekah developed for live theater as a child and the courage with which she faced her devastating cancer diagnosis, we, with the help of some very dear friends, founded the Rebekah Theatre Project (RTP). RTP is a meaningful and appropriate way to celebrate her life — but it also gives us a tangible way to be advocates and engage our audience in the fight against cancer. Ten percent of every ticket sold to an RTP show is donated to a cancer charity. We’ve produced two shows to date, and have made donations to the Foundations for Women’s Cancer and the National Ovarian Cancer Collation. RTP is currently planning its next shows to run this spring; we’re only beginning our journey, and look forward to where the road will lead us.

If Rebekah were with us today, I think she would be proud of the theater and a bit amused at the attention it would bring her. But more importantly, I know she would be proud that RTP is inspiring her parents and so many others to tell their cancer stories, take action and donate money to defeat this cruel disease.

To find out more about RTP, visit

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