Before you read about Gary’s New Normal, you can learn more about his journey with caregiving in the first part of his blog here.
Following my wife Amanda’s diagnosis, we weren’t sure how to approach our two young daughters with the news. We decided to avoid using the dreaded word cancer and simply say “mommy is sick” and will have to take pills every day to feel better. We felt this limited communication was a good strategy until our oldest daughter Isabella came home from school and mentioned that a classmate had told her that her mommy who has cancer is going to die soon. Wow! Bombshell. While most parents are having conversations with their kids about what sports they want to play or what dress they will be wearing to the birthday party this weekend, we were troubleshooting how to handle comments about our daughter’s mother dying.
We realized, as parents, we needed to control the message to our kids and if we didn’t, some other ill-informed adult would be providing Fake News. We’ve chosen to be very open with our kids and acknowledge the word cancer. We have ongoing conversations with our kids about Amanda’s lung cancer including traveling to Houston for scans and the importance of continuing research for the doctors to find a cure. We instill in our children our continued faith in God that He is with us on this journey. From that day forward, we have answered our kids’ questions openly and honestly. We attack our new normal as a family unit and commit to being as open and honest with each other as we can.
Cancer doesn’t define us. My wife has made it clear that we will be as normal as possible while attending gymnastics and cheerleading and supporting our kids. It truly takes a village. Grandparents, friends, and family all play a role. We spend time out on the water or go hiking to make sure we surround ourselves with positivity.
When Amanda was first diagnosed, we had just relocated from Chicago to Knoxville, TN, to be closer to her parents. I realized that not only did I need to lean on my in-laws for their support, but I also had to begin to create my own social network. I joined a gym, attend a weekly men’s church group, carve out time for early morning wakeboarding sessions, and even make it to an isolated stream to enjoy my passion of fly fishing occasionally. As caregivers, we must ensure that we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Once school is dismissed for the summer, it’s our family tradition for our girls to put together a summer bucket list identifying what they want to accomplish during summer break. I’ve never seen Amanda as proud as the day our two daughters approached her with an idea that they wanted to do a lemonade stand with all proceeds going to lung cancer research. We ran with the idea and partnered with LUNGevity raising over $6K in “finding a cure for mommy.” Our family is currently planning our second annual lemonade stand this October. The support from our friends and family has been overwhelming. This was our kids’ idea. They are simply amazing!
We have faith. We love family. We hate cancer!
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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.