Relay's Honorary Chair: Dean Nelson
Dean Nelson, Mantorville, is Honorary Chair for the 2017 Dodge County Relay for Life.
Nelson, 56, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the fall of 2007. There was a lump on the side of his throat, he said. He put off going to the doctor for a little while but then he decided he should have it checked.
“I felt fine,” he said. “I had no other symptoms.”
And no one in his family has ever had cancer.
Nelson went in for a biopsy on a Friday and didn’t get the results until the following Monday. That was a tense weekend, he said.
After the diagnosis, it was worse.
“It was a scary feeling,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. There are different types of cancer that are out there. What was it really going to affect? How would I react? How would the kids react? And mostly, you think, it’ll never happen to you.”
For treatment, he had to swallow a radioactive isotope and have a dose of radiation. He spent two days in the hospital and had several lymph nodes in his neck removed.
So far, so good, right?
But then, in 2009, a routine ultrasound found more cancer, so he had to repeat the treatment.
In some ways, the second diagnosis was worse.
“You know what’s coming,” which is both good and bad, Nelson said. He and his partner, Cindy, have three children, Zachary, 32, Nathanial, 28, and Clarisa, 23. They also have a foster daughter, 14-month-old Mylaa.
Cindy said each of them reacted differently to their father’s news.
“Zachary was mad. Nathanial asked appropriate questions, and of course Clarisa was tearful, but God sent an angel each time the news had to be given to the kids,” she said. “A close friend, Jacob Gosch, who is like a son to us, showed up without any reason, but was there for the comfort. We thank God for that.”
How did the whole experience change Nelson’s life?
“It made me slow down and live one day at a time,” he said. “You never know. Live life to its fullest. Don’t have any regrets. Don’t have any more ‘what-if’s?’ Do the things you want to do.
“It made me slow down some and take life a little easier. I enjoy the simple things and spending time with my family and friends. It’s no longer all about work, work, work, and money.”
How did the experience affect his family?
“It woke everybody up that it could happen to anybody,” Nelson said. “And once it affects someone in your family, you know what they go through. The kids say, ‘You know what? Dad had it. Live every day like it could be your last.’”
Dean was also the children’s coach, Cindy said, so they were doubly a ected. He was the boys’ wresting coach and Clarissa’s softball coach.
“He was always very supportive of their sports,” she said. “He was a very well- loved coach.”
Cindy also credits the family’s faith for pulling them through.
“Our faith is pretty strong,” she said. “We’ve always understood that God is in control of the journey and you don't know if you'll have little pebbles or big rocks in your road. Our faith has gotten us through it all. Don’t question why. Just make the best of it.”
She said Dean only questioned it one time. One time, he used the word ‘Why.’ That was when more cancer was found in 2009.
But his family was there for him and he pulled through. Now he’s been cancer-free for seven years.
Nelson also made a few changes to his lifestyle, although what caused the cancer is unknown.
“I never smoked. I only drink a beer once in a while,” he said. “I do eat more healthily now.”
And every year, the family attends the Dodge County Stroll: Relay for Life.
“We walk around the track and support all the other teams that are there,” he said. “It’s a great evening. The music is good, the food is delicious. It’s a great event.”