When something like this happens, it affects everyone differently. Our family is small, but our family is mighty.
Here is OUR story:
I always love to receive calls from our kids…but not the two calls from Colin hours apart on 9/2/18:
Mom, GJ had a seizure and
Mom, GJ has a brain tumor.
I don’t remember much between 9/2 and 9/6 (the date of surgery). It was all far more than I could handle, but on 9/6, despite waiting HOURS for a delayed surgery, when they came to take GJ to the Operating Room, I vividly recall him saying “Time to dance”? Through the last six months, GJ has sailed through a seizure, a diagnosis, chemo, proton radiation and now more chemo and the Optune cap. I can honestly say he has not complained ONCE. His ability to say “Time to dance” as he was leaving to have his skull cut open from ear to ear to remove a tumor is something I still can’t understand. I have found it very difficult to navigate my new role…I’m supposed to be the strong one; I’m the mom! I have feared joining this club my mom belonged to….the one where moms are told: “Your child has cancer”. Yet here I am.
What helps me Get up, Dress up and Show up? Family, friends and faith…and most of all GJ. My best days are when I’m with him, because honestly, there’s not one sign of illness…not one! He’s an amazing young man who knows that even though ‘statistically’, there is a very small percentage of people that has no recurrence for years, he strongly believes “someone has to be in that percentage and it’s going to be me”. Another quotable quote from the early days is when he found me crying and asked “What’s wrong”? When I said “I’m so scared of the unknown”, he replied “That’s probably not a very smart thing”. Although I’m the mom, he continues to hold ME up!
Shortly after the tumor was confirmed to be the most aggressive form of brain cancer, a GBM, we went to a play in NYC. One of the lines was a verse from the bible “Be anxious for nothing”. I looked that up, and it, along with GJ’s advice not to let my fear of the unknown consume me, has been my mantra.
Those who know me know that I have a strong faith in God and I believe angels are constantly around my family. A couple weeks before his diagnosis I very often saw the signs they send me. I wasn’t sure why they were so prevalent….but I believe they were reminding me….we’re here with you.
Along those lines, I know that the number 11 is related to the presence of angels and serve as a reminder that I should pass my fear over to the angels. How fitting, therefore:
GJ was born on 10/2, the feast day of Guardian Angels;
GJ’s seizure (without it the cancer would have continued to grow) was on 9/2 (9+2=11);
The phone call from Colin that GJ had a brain tumor came at exactly 11:11 PM on 9/2;
We learned the pathology results on 9/13 (11 days post diagnosis; also 9/13 adds to 22, 11 doubled!)
His coin (indicating the # Procure assigned to him) is 2992 (first two and last two digits add to 11; all four together…22!).
I do know that I am humbled by the MANY (so many) people praying for GJ; I believe his positive attitude, the knowledge of doctors, researchers and scientists combined with the grace of God will result in the miracle of NED (No Evidence of Disease) in his MRIs for many many years to come.
For the past six months, our family has been strengthened by the prayers and support of friends. Additionally, though, I’ve watched our ‘kids’ step up and support each other, Geo and most of all me! It’s not how it’s suppose to work…I’m suppose to be strong for them. However, I do not know what we would do without each other. Stache Strong, baby…STACHE STRONG!!!
Before Sept 2, 2017, I could not conceive that an event would change not only my outlook on the future, but also the pattern and logistics of my every day. Up to that point my retiree outlook was that if I can’t finish a task today, I can do it tomorrow. I had plans of what I wanted to accomplish or do but they were only thoughts. That day initiated an all-consuming new world of learning medical matters as my family shared in the care of GJ needs. I also needed to ensure that my family would succeed by performing the myriad of travel logistics that were required (going between Mt Sinai in NYC, Procure in Somerset NJ, and our homes in Wurtsboro NY and Vestal NY). “StacheStrong” became the moniker of that new outlook and fortitude. My external emotions were put aside to ensure our band made it thru the journey to come. The odyssey’s first stage started out when Betsy and I had gotten a call from Colin relaying the news of GJ’s seizure that afternoon while up in Cape Cod at a friend’s house.
That next day became a forecast of the next 6 months. It began with a 6 am frantic 4 hr. trip in the rain into NYC. All the worries you can imagine ran through our heads during that long ride of unknowns. However, when we got there and saw him with that GJ smile and jokes by him it said he was handling it. I don’t know that we were ‘handling it’ as he lay in that hospital bed. We left the van in the hospital garage as our suitcase while we traveled back and forth between sleeping at GJs and spending time with him at the hospital; it was a creative logistic of ease. GJ successfully handled the Wednesday afternoon surgery like it was nothing with no physical handicaps…unbelievable. In two days he was doing laps around the ICU. However, my worries were not only of GJ’s condition but also the mental state of Betsy, Colin and Kelly. The surgeon said he could go home Friday afternoon right from ICU. My logistics antenna went up……driving someone after brain surgery across the GWB and getting stuck in traffic……. not going to do it. So, we waited until Saturday and then drove 4 hrs. back to Vestal with a just released brain surgery patient……StacheStrong.
The second stage of trips for Dr meetings into NYC city sometimes leveraged our Lake House as a mid-point to make it a little easier doing all the driving. Other times it was a 3 hr flyby to the city. Always interesting was that whether it took 1.5 or 3 hours to get to the city (always took 50 mins to go the last 2 miles to the appt…). It always seemed that, when leaving NYC, we found the FDR backed up. Google maps instructed us to go across Manhattan to get to West Side Hwy, but then we had to battle solid traffic w/stop lights in a van……. quite the experience. But we managed to make all the meetings and do all the traveling with no injury to us or the van.
The final stage of traveling to Procure in Somerset, NJ brought a need to learn new highways and logistics. We developed the pattern of everything going in boxes or plastic bins to carry in clothes, food, blow up bed, fishing gear, and dog food to our extended stay hotel room. You see, we moved in Monday and out on Friday……for 6 straight weeks. Oh and we brought Opey with us for the first two weeks until GJ’s allergies to Opey caused us to leave him home. At least now I didn’t have to carry in his crate to set up in the closet each week.
For exercise we went to walk all over …. NJ shore on the beach and boardwalk, Malls when it rained and parks that we discovered. We all became pretty close living in a single room together, sharing a small table to eat off, cooking on 1 burner stove and waiting with GJ as he did his radiation treatments. I found that his ringing of the bell at Procure when he finished that final treatment was my emotional release of holding so much inside. It was a beautiful moment and we were all Stache Strong following the strongest of our little group…. GJ.
What do you think of when you hear the word cancer, what comes to mind? Optimistic, strong, brave, positive, cheerful, and humorous are a few characteristics I think of when I hear the word cancer and think about GJ’s journey. That “GJ smile” has always been a slogan in our family, but that “GJ smile” through the last six months has resonated strength to #stachestrong and beat this cancer! Not once have I heard or seen GJ let this diagnosis or the treatments define him. He is still doing what he loves most – including two of his passions… running and golfing! His positive attitude has given all of us the perspective to take a deep breath and appreciate the smiles, laughs and memories with our friends and family.
I remember it like it was yesterday, I was in the car headed shopping at the outlets (for those good Labor Day deals of course) and Colin called, “what medication is GJ on?”. He kept reassuring me that everything was okay, GJ was out to brunch and had a seizure, he’s a trooper and everything will be okay. The rest of that day every possible scenario ran through my head and everyone reassured me everything would be okay. I passed out from exhaustion Saturday night and woke up immediately to text my mom for an update. She calmly called to let me know the seizure was caused by a brain tumor and she and Dad were on their way to the hospital. I lost it, no way was this happening, as my mom said, “I feel like I’m in a bad dream and I can’t wake up”. Thankfully I was in Long Island; I quickly packed up muffins, chips, water, and anything I felt would help us “cope” with this devastating news. I remember Colin texting me that I am strong, and when I walk into the room to be strong, GJ is no different, he’s just lying in a hospital bed. Walking into the hospital room and seeing GJ watching Sports Center and his “hello there” greeting was as if nothing was going different, just as Colin told me. He was calm, cool, collected and happy to see the muffins I was carrying (which I later learned the dude was hungry!) About an hour later, Mom, Dad, and Colin came into the room and we all just sat around and talked about the US Open and Mom and Dad’s trip to Cape Cod. We had talked to the doctors and surgery was going to be Wednesday morning. Early Wednesday morning Mom, Dad, Colin and I walked into the hospital and up to GJ’s room ready for the day ahead of us.Wednesday was such a long day of different emotions, but the four of us were together and knew GJ was going to kick butt. After surgery, Mom and Dad went into the ICU to see GJ first, Colin and I stood outside in the hallway anxiously waiting to go see GJ. Finally, Colin and I walked in to see him, I asked him: “how do you feel” his response: “I’ve had hangovers worse than this”, Colin and I just laughed and in that moment I knew everything was going to be alright. The next few weeks were a whirlwind of emotions finding out it was the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Each one of us had our own emotions but GJ was still his calm, cool, collected, happy self, reassuring each one of us that he is going to beat this cancer. Typically people hear this devastating news and their worlds are rocked. Don’t get me wrong, our worlds were rocked hearing the news, they were rocked and put back together through the love and support of our friends and family. The past 6 months has been a rollercoaster of emotions, countless hours of traveling and a camera roll of photos to capture all of these moments. Each and every day #stachestrong reminds me of GJ’s strength and attitude. It helps me find my strength and ultimately reevaluate my attitude to appreciate what I have.
My last 6 months…….The last 6 months my motto has been FAITH over Fear. Fear is useless and unproductive. Believe in Miracles and they do exist! I want to help and yet I feel helpless. When I need a happy place I go to the first weekend in August when we were all together having an awesome time! I look forward to more great times like that weekend. I want everyone to know how much I love them!!
I was tasked to write a brief statement on a family member, GJ, who I have know all of his life and the events of the past several months. After a brief moment of thought and reflection the best description of GJ is “warrior”.
I looked up the definition of “warrior” and the following description appears: a person engaged in some struggle or conflict. There were several definitions but this one caught my attention as it describes him to the fullest. Whether on the track competing, whether to be the best accountant possible, passing the CPA, and putting himself out there for the family and others; this is GJ.
I never wore any sort of jewelry but when Colin, GJ’s brother, created the idea of Stash Strong in a form of bracelet I was not going to pass up on the opportunity. Therefore, it is a friendly reminder of GJ and strength, his will to win and placing other before him but in my mind he is the fighter I wish I could aspire to. So do not feel sorry for this man but revel in his warrior-like qualities and be a better person for it.
It’s a dirty, rotten, strength sapping devil and I hate it. I especially hate it when it affects those near and dear to me. It makes me feel impotent, helpless and weak. But Cancer has chosen the wrong foe this time, this time cancer loses. GJ’s got this, cancers got no shot. Oh, there’ll be setbacks and minor wins but at the end of the day, GJ’s got this.
Why? Because that’s who he is, that’s who he’s always been.
When beset with this terrible news, most would rage with anger, bemoan the unfairness and rail against God…not GJ. He quietly went about vetting surgeons and treatment plans and moved forward with a well defined treatment regimen. Keep in mind that all the while he’s helping us through his Caring Bridge updates…long, strong and detailed and always with a smile on his face. Just another day.
Of course this hasn’t happened in a vacuum, he is the beneficiary of two strong and loving parents and a brother and sister who all love and support him at every turn.
So you see, cancer has no shot here…move along…GJ’s got this!
There are events in life when you remember every detail of a specific moment in time that will impact your life forever. GJ and I have shared these moments throughout our lifetime together but he has created more of these events in the last six months then any time before. Yes, the past six months have had tremendously sad days but honestly, I can think of more uplifting, remarkable, hysterical, and empowering days that I have shared with GJ and his tremendous friends and family than ever before.
I never thought calling GJ after hearing he suffered a seizure would have me laughing like he did: “I was out to brunch with some friends and I woke up in the ER, I thought I just had another great Sunday Funday!!!” GJ has kept his same positive mentality throughout this entire process and is unbelievably inspiring. Every visit out to GJ is a new life lesson on how to be a better person and the best thing is GJ has no idea he is creating this daily influence, he is just living his life!
He always finds a way to make the best out of every situation and making others aware, especially when you’re playing corn hole against him and he begins to make fun of you because GJ is doing math faster than I can on my phone. “And I am the one with Brain cancer!”, he tells me.
Everyday in the last six months GJ has continued to impact me and the people surrounding him in more ways than one. I have caught myself staring at GJ, not only because of his dashing good looks, but because I have the utmost respect for him and what he has done. GJ you’re truly one amazing dude, keep doing what you’re doing my friend!!!
Cancer is something you hope to never hear when it comes to your family. Unfortunately, when we were told the news about GJ we were all obviously devastated to hear his results. It took me a while for the news to sink in and for me to become positive and optimistic about the situation. But what has gotten me to this point of view is GJ’s outlook on life, positivity, and most importantly his strength. He chooses to not let cancer define him, he chooses to continue to live his life as if nothing were wrong, he chooses to continue to kick cancer in the butt. His strength and courage throughout this process has been amazing to watch and so admirable. He continues to keep me positive and optimistic each and every day.
I remember getting a phone call at work and hearing that GJ was diagnosed with cancer. At first it didn’t seem real as I was in shock, but once reality hit I remember being sick to my stomach. How was that possible? I just saw GJ at a family wedding and he was completely fine? The hard thing about cancer is you never see it coming and it knocks you to your knees, but it doesn’t knock you out unless you choose to allow it to. I have watched GJ choose to fight and battle cancer! It has been amazing watching GJ choose to not allow cancer to take the joy out of his life. It has been amazing watching family rally around GJ to support him through this journey. We recently took a family trip to NYC to visit GJ and it was an incredible trip! GJ has not slowed down one bit and its truly an inspiration watching this kid persevere. I have learned a lot from watching GJ battle cancer because he has taken the sourest lemon life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade!
It’s kind of crazy to say but in the last six months, nothing has really changed. Now, I’m sure you read that and think that’s crazy but let me spell it out for you. Yes, obviously the news of GJ’s brain cancer has been difficult but I have witnessed such wonderful things. Here is what makes it feel like nothing has changed…. GJ is the same guy, with the same witty personality, great sense of humor, laid back, and always down to just have fun with no matter who he is with. GJ doesn’t care if he has hair or not, if he has to wear a backpack out on the town, the guys owns it and doesn’t let it stop him. The Gerner Family. They have always been the kindest family and have always put family first. It just solidifies it even more when you see how Betsy, George, Colin and Kelly don’t hesitate for one second to make sure that everyone is together to support each other and GJ during this time. So yes, there has been a lot that has changed, but it’s clear to me the most change is everyone’s strength grow, and I wanted to make sure that the positive light was shining too. GJ is truly a remarkable man and is surrounded by an amazing family.
As I was sitting at the kitchen counter today, I was reminded of what the last six months have meant for my cousin, GJ. I was thinking how my uncle and his whole family are making the most out of life. Living in the here and now. Enjoying the company of each other, while never knowing what tomorrow will bring. My guess is even though raising my own teenagers is like a roller coaster, we are going through completely different issues, but through it all we are all laughing. We are all crying. We are all yelling. We are all talking.
I like to believe that I am an optimist and in doing so I like to “see the opportunity in every difficulty”. In life there are hurdles that we must all overcome and being that GJ is a long distance runner, like myself, I could find no better person who is able to conquer obstacles and leave them in the dust. The news was shocking and almost surreal as it is always unexpected. I think the fear for me came in the unknowing as to what every next step would be. It’s amazing watching GJ show no fear and no worries. For him, this is nothing to be afraid of. I think that through his courage and composure he was able to help me in more ways that I could ever help him through this ordeal.
To me nothing has changed between either GJ or myself. I remember the first day when I went to visit Kelly in Vestal and during my drive up I was terrified of her older brothers (GJ and Colin) and what they would think of me. After a little “hazing” aka breakfast shots, I was welcomed into the family as their own brother. What a feeling it was and still is to this day every time we see each other or talk. GJ is the older brother I strive to be to my younger brothers. He is always there for you and able to help in any manner. As GJ is there for me, I am there for him. I know there is no challenge or obstacle that can stop him; therefore, together nothing can stop us. GJ is the older brother to whom I can always look up to and I hope to one day accomplish everything he has so far!