The recent thread about "Trinidad", the cancer-stricken girl who fatally delayed treatment for the sake of her pregnancy, brought this lady back to my mind, almost 40 years after her untimely death.
Many of a certain age (including of course myself) will remember the heyday of made-for-TV movies back in the early 1970s. Some of these movies explored some formerly taboo topics in an edgy attempt at pushing the envelope of the G-rated format, and some were about young cancer victims. One of the most memorable and, in some opinions, among the best of these--- right up there with BRIAN'S SONG--- was the story of a young doomed mother who gained a brief fame for recording her thoughts for her then-toddler daughter. This was based on a series of articles, and then a book, SUNSHINE, written shortly before and after her death in 1971.
Jacquelyn "Lynn" Marie Helton (one thing I can't find is her maiden name, and it's been years since I read or even saw the book) was a teenaged bride who gave birth to her only child, Jennifer, in 1969 at age 18. Soon after, she and her first husband parted, and she quickly met, fell in love with, and married a young musician named Tom Helton, who also adopted her daughter.
During this period, Jacquelyn had received the terrible news that she had a rare form of bone cancer. She and her new husband had been living in Wyoming, where they both performed with a local band, The Lowe Brothers, that was gaining some notice. Her condition forced them to move to Denver, Colorado to be near the best treatment center at the time.
She was offered the option of amputation of one of her legs to halt the cancer's spread, but there were no guarantees, and she was reluctant to become so mutilated and helpless, if it might be futile anyway. Other treatments were tried, but she suffered greatly, as cancer patients still suffer, and often die today.
At that point, she joined in a hospital research project about terminal patients, recording her daily thoughts and actions on tape, as she had no typing skills--- what we'd call a blog these days. One day the tape recorder, with the tape, was stolen, while she was in her home; she could do nothing because she was already on crutches. She contacted a local paper to help her get the tape back at least, and that's when the nation first heard of her project.
Armed with a new tape recorder and with the support of some celebrities, including John Denver, who heard of her plight, Jacquelyn continued to record, and wrote poetry as well. One of the poems was the basis of the song "Sunshine", which Denver set to music.
The cancer soon spread to her lungs, and she had to be taken to the hospital on November 7, 1971. She died 3 days later, aged 20. Her 2nd husband, Tom, sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads" at the funeral, which was also attended by her first husband, who had never gotten over her. (He was, according to Tom's former bandmate, also on the run, having gone AWOL in the Vietnam period.) Jacquelyn was cremated and her ashes scattered in the Rocky Mountains.
Soon afterward, the book "SUNSHINE" by Naomi Klein came out, and in 1973, the TV movie starring Cristina Raines and Cliff DeYoung, with the Greenbush twins of the later "Little House on the Prairie" playing the little daughter.
Another TV Movie made a couple of years later, "MESSAGE FOR MY DAUGHTER", starring Martin Sheen, Bonnie Bedelia, and Kitty Wynn, was loosely based on the original concept. This, however concerned a "sequel" of sorts, where the now-grown, unhappy daughter (Wynn) is given her mother's (Bedelia) tapes by her stepfather (Sheen) in an effort to reconcile father, daughter, and the memory of the mother she barely knew.
The original film spawned a sequel Christmas movie with DeYoung and a short-lived TV series about the widower and his stepdaughter.
Jacquelyn Helton's Findagrave entry is here:
For some interesting insights and memories, here is the IMDB site for the specific SUNSHINE film. Her husband''s band mate posted some reminiscences that give insight into her chracter and perhaps unfortunate choice to not amputate.