By Rachel Kytonen
Terry and Kelly Nelson knew their lives would never be the same after their 8-year-old son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with cancer.
But due to the caring and kindness of their family and friends, life just got a little easier for the Nelsons.
Last week, the Nelsons received a $2,000 check due to the efforts of Cambridge fifth-grader Colton Halgrimson, and the generosity of the community. The funds will be used to support Gunner’s medical needs not covered by insurance.
Kelly explained after Colton and his brother Connor learned about Gunner’s diagnosis in March, they wanted to help. Colton came up with the idea for a “Nickels for Nelsons” drive and put collection containers at the Cambridge Primary and Intermediate Schools.
“I’m so thankful that Colton [Halgrimson] and the entire community did this for us,” Kelly said. “Colton’s parents should be extremely proud of him. This donation will be a really huge help for our family.”
Kelly explained in January and February Gunnar was having a lot of leg pain, and waking up with fevers. Some days he would be fine, but then other days the pain and fevers would come back.
On Feb. 27, Gunnar was admitted to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, and they did an MRI. Gunnar’s bone marrow tested positive for cancer, and on March 1, the family learned Gunnar had Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the white blood cells, the cells in the body that normally fight infections. ALL affects lymphoid cells.
“I was completely shocked,” Kelly said when she learned of Gunnar’s diagnosis. “I was numbed by the diagnosis. I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. My heart goes to all the families in similar situations. It can happen to your family, and those were words I thought I would never hear.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL is the most common cancer in children, representing 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15 years of age.
It occurs in about one of every 29,000 children in the United States each year.
Since his diagnosis, Gunnar has had weekly chemotherapy treatments.
Kelly explained Gunnar was the first child in Minnesota to go on a less aggressive treatment plan—a 2 1/2 year treatment plan instead of the typical 3 1/2 year treatment plant.
“After his first month of chemo, his body reacted so well to it, doctors were able to put him on this less aggressive treatment plan,” Kelly explained. “Gunnar has a lot of people praying for him, and we have people praying for him across the country through CaringBridge that we have never even met.”
Kelly said Gunnar’s name stands for “bold warrior,” and that description fits him to a tee. Every three weeks Gunnar has to go for 24-hour chemo that has him in the hospital for two to three days at a time.
“Gunnar has really been a warrior through this entire thing,” Kelly said. “He’s really been strong throughout everything.”
“Gunnar really marches through everything, day by day,” Terry added.
Kelly said Gunnar has been going to school as often as he can, and continues to thrive.
“The school has shown huge support for our family, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed,” Kelly said.
Terry said faith has played a role in all of this.
“All the prayers in the community have really given us strength,” Terry said.
“We can’t go anywhere without running into someone we know who offers their support,” Kelly added.
Both Terry and Kelly have grown up in the Cambridge area, and have lived in the community all their lives.
“We have a lot of friends and family in the area who have offered us continued support,” Kelly said.
For those interested in following Gunnar’s story, his CaringBridge page can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/gunnarnelson.