Winks from God: A Mother’s Day story of hope

Winks from God: A Mother’s Day story of hope

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Sunday, 14 May 2017
Spiritual

Amanda Nerstad talks about her need to not let her battle with cancer define her, at her West Knoxville home on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

I would like to share my story of encouragement to celebrate this upcoming Mother’s Day to its fullest.

My name is Amanda Nerstad, and I am a 39-year-old mom living with stage IV nonsmoker’s lung cancer.

My family and I recently moved back to my hometown of Knoxville. We spent the previous 12 years living in and around the Greater Chicago area, but we felt a strong desire to raise our two girls, Isabella, 7, and Greta, 4, in East Tennessee.

I love everything Knoxville has to offer, and I loved growing up here (Knoxville Catholic High School alumnus). I wanted to give our kids the same opportunity to have the same wonderful memories of enjoying summer weekends on the beautiful lakes, hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains and embedding ourselves in a community that embodies our family values.

After a lot of prayer, we felt God answered our prayers and provided my husband, Gary, with a job opportunity to move to Knoxville, which we enthusiastically accepted. We moved to Knoxville in August and, after unpacking our last box, Gary and I celebrated with a high-five in our new home!

Shortly after our celebration our world changed forever as I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It was a complete shock! I went to my doctor because I thought I might have walking pneumonia, because of some chest pain I had been feeling. After many tests, a misdiagnosis of ovarian cancer and still more questions than answers, we were encouraged to go to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for a second opinion.

After a couple of surgeries, and a great oncologist at the UT Medical Center Cancer Institute (Dr. David Aljadir) who recommended genetic testing, we then found out I have a rare form of non-small cell ALK lung cancer, a genetic mutation. I take a daily targeted pill (no traditional chemotherapy or radiation) that helps keep everything stable. I will eventually gain resistance to the first generation pill and then move on to the next generation pill, which is why it is so important to continue funding for further generation therapies.

We have realized that there is such a stigma that lung cancer is a smoking disease (even I thought it was, as it was such a shock that I could have this), but anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. We continue to see Dr. Aljadir and also see a specialist (Dr. Vincent Lam) every few months in Houston, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for continuous scans and tests. Both doctors communicate together to make sure I have the best care and most advanced treatments. They have become my great medical team.

My most important role, besides taking care of myself, though, is my family and being a mom to our girls. We are trying to be as normal as we can, enjoying our new community, making new friends and making those great Knoxville memories that I had when I was growing up here. My girls have loved taking hikes, getting used to the lovely hills, kayaking around the lake, enjoying being close to my parents (Wayne and MaryAnne Walls) for their continued support with our kids, and we look forward to getting on the lake this summer.

I refuse to let cancer define me. Cancer is a sidenote, an asterisk in my life’s story, and while it brings huge financial, physical and emotional challenges at times, it does not diminish the blessings that are all around us every day.

This experience allows me to now see those winks from God — whether they are big “signs of wonder” kind of things or the small things that we look past every day … be it a sunrise overlooking the lake on our way to school that we normally don’t stop and take note of for a second, or a funny thing your child does when you would otherwise be in a hurry, a really great-tasting iced tea, the way the sprinkler that your daughter is running through makes a rainbow, etc. Those are the things that I consider “winks” that we never otherwise notice.

We continue to be positive, rely on our faith and thank God every day for our blessings. Being a mom is one of the most rewarding jobs, and I look forward to the future with hope and enjoy every “wink” more than I ever have and plan to celebrate Mother’s Day to its fullest

 

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