It’s 6 a.m. and my wife, Amanda, and I are on a plane traveling to MD Anderson in Houston, TX, for her 90-day appointment. We have been on this journey for the past two years, since Amanda was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer at the age of 38. Nights before our 90-day appointments are short as our day begins well before the sun rises, checking on our two peacefully sleeping daughters, Isabella (8) and Greta (5), finalizing preparations for our trip, walking our beagle, reviewing a list of items for Grandma and Grandpa to manage while taking care of the kids, and hurriedly exiting the house to catch a flight.
As I look out the plane window, it’s almost impossible to fathom how an active, healthy, non-smoking, mother of two, with no family history of cancer could be diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I also wonder what more can I do as a husband and caregiver to set the foundation for my family as we move through this journey together.
Following Amanda’s diagnosis, I immediately took on the role of caregiver by executing many task-oriented duties such as paying medical bills, managing communication lines with friends and family, providing a second set of eyes and ears during doctor appointments, and setting reminders for Amanda to take her medications. I became very disciplined in my new role and Amanda began referring to me as CG, short for Caregiver, which is usually followed by a most subtle rolling of the eyes only a trained husband could detect.
As a CG, I once believed the tasks I was completing were the most important part of my new role. I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case. In order for our family to have long-term success, we needed to establish both short and long-term goals geared towards building a foundation to meet the demands that cancer was putting on our family.
Part of this plan was to make sure we surrounded ourselves with not only the best medical team possible, but we also needed to make sure that cancer didn’t become our sole identity. Cancer would not define us, but we would incorporate cancer into our life. Our family refers to this as our new normal. We reaffirmed our commitment to living our lives in faith, enjoying date nights, limiting negative influences surrounding us, planning trips together, and striving to live with purpose and intent. We even promised to not lose our sense of humor and to tie in some occasional cancer jokes just to lighten the mood. Nothing like a little cancer humor to finish off the day! Our new normal was making sure we were focused on living life in the present while still planning for the future…but really living in the moment.
Join the LC Caregiver Twitter Chat on Wednesday, September 5th at 8pm EST to discuss "Family Challenges.” Use #LCCaregiver to join the conversation.
Gary Nerstad is a father and the husband of Amanda Nerstad, a stage IV lung cancer survivor. They live in Knoxville, TN, with their two daughters, Isabella and Greta.