Champaign County girl beat cancer, couldn’t overcome bullying

The parents of an 11-year-old Champaign County girl who killed herself say she was a vibrant youngster who would do anything to make a friend laugh.

Her father called Bethany a great kid who loved God, her family, animals, super heroes and swimming.

“She was full of life, fun loving,” said Paul Thompson, father of Bethany Thompson.

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Bethany, a cancer survior, was found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound at her home on Oct. 19. During surgery to remove a brain tumor, a nerve was hit that made her smile crooked. Thompson and her mother, Wendy Feucht believe their daughter was bullied because of her smile, contributing to her death.

Feucht fondly remembered a time just before Bethany’s suicide when she stuck a hair clip on her tongue and began singing the ABCs.

It’s moments like those that will stick with her mother forever.

“She was a goofball, she was funny,” Feucht said. “Always telling jokes. Making stuff up to get people to laugh. Happy.”

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But behind the jokes and laughter was a little girl with tremendous courage, Feucht said, and who faced severe self-esteem issues from the effects of the life-saving surgery to remove a brain tumor.

The family learned Bethany had cancer after she became ill at a birthday party for Feucht’s mother.

“The kids had been eating a lot of junk and were running around playing and Bethany had thrown up,” Feucht said.

The incident didn’t raise any concerns at first but Bethany continued to be sick for few days.

“She threw up a couple more times and my mom called me and said something is wrong,” Feucht said. “We went to her pediatrician and he said she was dehydrated and something wasn’t right.”

Doctors examined Bethany but were unable to find what was ailing her, so they sent her to Children’s Hospital in Columbus where a CAT scan determined she had a brain tumor.

“It was very rough on the family and our church family,” Thompson said.

Her parents said Bethany’s treatment started quickly. Within days Bethany was on an operating table while a doctor attempted to buy the then 3-year-old more time by removing the tumor.

“The surgery started at 1 p.m. and it was an eight to eight-and-a-half-hour surgery,” Feucht said.

The surgeons successfully removed the tumor, giving her a chance at surviving. A few months later she began an intense treatment of radiation, subjected to the highest possible doses 35 times.

“They went in on each side of her head behind her ears,” Feucht said. “She was bald back there on each side. They would sedate her each time, Monday through Friday starting at 8 a.m.”

Every three months for the past eight years, Bethany had to undergo follow-up scans to see if the radiation worked, and if the tumor stayed away.

“You sit in a waiting room biting your nails,” Feucht said. “That type of radiation they can only give once and if it comes back, they said there was only a 30 percent chance of survival.”

The cancer never came back.

“We were able to get through it,” Thompson said. “It was a great accomplishment and thank God, we got through that.”

But the victory came at a price.

When operating on Bethany, the surgeons accidentally hit a nerve that caused her smile to become crooked. It caused her trouble as she grew older and learned that she looked different.

“I don’t know how many times I stood in the mirror with Bethany and we looked at her face and we talked about how beautiful she was on the inside and on the outside,” Feucht said. “And how God made her this way and that he does not make mistakes and the way that her face looked saved her life. That was part of saving her life, getting the brain tumor and cancer and she would smile and be OK with it.”

However her confidence didn’t last after someone would make a remark about her smile, Feucht said, and her family would again have to boost Bethany’s self-esteem — assuring her that she was beautiful.

“I gave her all the self-confidence that I could give her,” Feucht said. “Standing in front of the mirror (saying) ‘Look. Look at yourself. You are funny, you are beautiful. Your hair is beautiful, people pay millions of dollars to get hair that looks like yours.’ And try to build her up and make her feel special.”

Feucht believes Bethany knew how much her family loved her. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the harassment at school.

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