Nov 08, 2018 9:00 AM

Dan Nelson on his bike, getting a kiss on the cheek from a family member
Dan, with his family and friends, rode, walked, and ran in the Huntsman Sports Festival in June as part of the #DanStrong team.

By Dianne Nelson, a wife, mother, and caregiver for her husband, Dan. Dan was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer in 2016. For the past two and a half years, Dan has received the best possible care at HCI, including participation in clinical trials.

To illustrate her family’s day to day experience with her husband’s diagnosis, Dianne writes to her friends weekly with an update on their cancer experience. Here is an excerpt from one of her weekly emails, which reveals the power of what it means to be a cancer caregiver and the hope that this role can bring to a loved one who receives a life-changing cancer diagnosis.  

This month hasn’t been an easy one. We have had to roll up our sleeves and fight for our memories and find our beautiful moments through the fog and tears. We have found those moments and held on to them tightly.

My heart has been heavy as I watch Dan spend more time sleeping and recharging his batteries in bed rather than resting in his chair. There is a weight that bears down on my soul when we hug and I feel him tremble and lean on me a little more than a few months ago. As I look over and catch a glimpse and see he is weaker, it’s hard not to step away and let the tears fall. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to walk this journey and even more to put on your armor and fight for every day. In those moments when I reach to find the strength, I look over at Dan and watch him reach deep down inside and find the courage to get out of his chair and wait a moment to find his balance before he walks to his destination. I say, “There it is right in front of me.” The courage this guy has makes my heart burst.

The other day as I was driving home in rush hour traffic, I couldn’t help but notice the majestic mountains that surrounded me. The intense fall colors and the calmness of the clouds spoke to my soul. The rush of traffic was no longer my focus, but the entire landscape. It was no longer a repetitive motion—I was present and aware of every sound, smell, sight, and sensation. I clearly heard the message as it was whispered into my ear. “This journey is hard and I know you’re tired but it’s also so incredibly beautiful. Don’t waste a single breath. See, feel, hear, and smell it. You’re stronger than you realize. You can do this. You will never be alone.” I am not going to say that it’s easier, but my eyes are open and I am once again reminded not to get lost in the uncertainty of our journey but to be present in the now.

This message came with perfect timing with Dan’s follow-up appointments next week. The days leading up to these appointments, no matter where we are, send all of us on edge. We know there isn’t anything we can do to change what we hear or the images we see from his MRI, but it doesn’t get easier. I always visualize and expect to hear the same specific message from his doctors. I’ll never let go of that image until it I hear it.

The universe must have known that we were all struggling with the weight of our journey and provided us all with a little something extra to lift our spirits. It started with my last-minute trip to Kansas for some much needed time with Sam. We miss that girl of ours and our time together was perfect.

Dan had the opportunity to attend a retreat with Reel Recovery and they were amazing. The trip was hard for Dan, but it was just what he needed. Not only did Dan meet some incredible souls and other men walking his journey, but he caught the fish of a lifetime (10-pound, 30-inch brown). He was also featured in a Trout Unlimited article. If you know Dan, you know that fishing has been part of his life since he was little and this meant a lot to him.

We also received a badge of courage award from the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, which was an incredible honor. Very unexpected. Words cannot express how much this meant to us. My eyes may have leaked a little. And Dan’s smile—well, that was priceless. Our story was also mentioned at the Huntsman Heroes event (thank you Steve and Donna for being there and sharing).

I have said this before, our journey is a little messy. It may not look like it from the outside, but it is. It’s hard and it hurts, but oh my…it’s beautiful. And we are stronger, better, and more alive because of it. Hope never dies. Our hope is tested, but it holds on. And so do we.

Read Dan and Dianne's story of support from the #DanStrong community, Pushing Up A Hill.

Visit the American Cancer Society for information about caring for someone with cancer, how to take care of yourself, where to find support, and more.

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