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Gigi Thorsen
Meet Activist Gigi Thorsen

By Nancy Keene

Gigi Thorsen, the mother of two daughters, Kelsey (7) and Kiersten (4), lived quietly in Salt Lake City, Utah. On July 2, 1996, she was thrown into the world of cancer when Kelsey was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Thorsen, a self-described computer junky, quickly found an online support group sponsored by the Association of Online Cancer Resources. Thorsen did not have much time to network with other parents on ways to cope, however. Kelsey acquired an infection and died twenty-six days after diagnosis.

Thorsen felt a need to help other families of children with cancer. She became active in her local Candlelighters childhood cancer support group and was elected president in 1997. The Rocky Mountain Candlelighters group, based in Salt Lake City, serves over 1,000 families. Thorsen says, "My heart is in helping parents find each other and get emotional support."

She stayed on the ACOR group and also became an active participant on an America Online bulletin board called the Parents of Kids with Cancer (POKWC). "Even though I lost Kelsey, I was still in it up to my eyeballs." She quickly realized that parents were very frustrated because people just didn't understand what they were going through. They heard comments like, "Oh, kids still get cancer?" or "I thought they could cure that." Even worse, some parents are asked, "That's genetic, isn't it?"

Thorsen thought that a childhood cancer awareness campaign might help explain pediatric cancer to the world. She realized that AIDS and breast cancer were household words partially because those communities were excellent at raising awareness through publicity. She said, "We needed a symbol to stand behind, to show our unity against childhood cancer." A ribbon, she thought, could serve as a constant reminder that many children get cancer and some still die from it.

When she asked parents and friends about her idea, she was greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm and excitement. The color dilemma was solved when a friend said, "Why not gold?" With support from her local Candlelighters group, her online groups, and a vote of confidence from the board of directors of the national Candlelighters, the "Gold Ribbon Childhood Cancer Awareness Campaign" was born.

"First, I told people what brand of ribbon to buy and where it was available," Thorsen explains. "People would loop it into a ribbon, stick a safety pin in, and wear it." Soon, an online friend suggested using a metal ribbon pin. Almost as if it were meant to be, James Luhn from the Houston Candlelighters called Thorsen and said that he had located a company that makes awareness pins and he was sending a sample. Luhn sent Thorsen 500 pins, and her first thought was, "Oh my gosh, what am I going to do with these?" That same online friend offered to put an order form on the web; it is now a part of Each pin costs two dollars and is accompanied by a card that says:

This gold ribbon pin is the symbol of Childhood Cancer awareness, representing our children in these and other ways:
  • It is a precious metal, as our children are precious.
  • It is the flame of hope.
  • It is the purity of our children's hearts.
Your charitable donation will help support families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer. Cure rates are steadily improving, but treatments are painfully long (up to 3+ years), families are thrown into chaos, children are challenged by long-term side effects, and despite medical advances, 35% will die. Help us fight the battle that no parent wants to have to fight for their child. We thank you for your support.

The gold ribbon campaign was inspired by the life of Kelsey Nicole Thorsen, 1989-1996.

In 1998, Thorsen gave birth to another daughter, Kendall Grace. Ten weeks later, she and her baby traveled to Washington, DC to participate in The March. Thorsen wanted to march for cancer, but she also wanted to meet the dozens of online friends from all over North America who were converging in Washington. "As I walked past the Lincoln memorial, the first thing I saw were all these gold, heart-shaped balloons with POKWC written on them. I burst into tears." Thorsen and her friends distributed hundreds of pins to march participants, including Cindy Crawford. "I bullied my way up to her and told her that my daughter had died of the same disease that killed her brother. She was very gracious and so kind," Thorsen said, "She told me that Kendall was a beautiful baby, and I gave her a pin, which she promptly wore." Since the first pins were made in spring 1998, Thorsen has distributed over 45,000 of them across the US, Canada, and several foreign countries. Two new versions of the gold ribbon pin are now available: one with an angel to honor the children who have died and one with the Candlelighters logo.

Thorsen still finds new ways to help others. She founded a private online support group for parents of children who have died from cancer. The group, called DayByDay, is a safe place to talk about feelings and grief. Thorsen says, "We talk about our kids, we cry, we laugh, we help each other." To join, send her an email at

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