Nick Heald


Nick Heald

It was November 2010 and I was at a book signing at the Chronicle Book Fair in Queensbury. Part of my book sales are donated to the foundation so I always have brochures on hand. A woman from a used book store came over and asked if I was having a fundraiser for Nick Heald. I asked who he was and she explained that he was a senior from South Glens Falls who had cancer. I explained that Nick was my son and his Caring Bridge site was NickHealed. The connection sparked. She told me about the South Glens Falls Marathon Dance run by local kids at that high school. They raise money and donate the funds to local charities or people who really needed it. My interest was piqued.

The idea of this book wasn’t quite formulated at that point. When I was sure I wanted to write it, I asked Natalie Mahler, the Child Life Specialist at The Melodies Center for recommendations of teens fighting cancer who also were involved in giving back. I received an email from Nick’s mom, Amy Gurdo, that Nick had just finished his final round of chemo. Amy had picked up the foundation’s brochure and saw the Fight to be Healed slogan and my Nick’s name. Plus Nick’s dad Chad had heard about Nick’s Fight to be Healed on the radio and wondered what Nick’s mom was up to now. The connection flourished.

These are the first two paragraphs of Nick Heald’s chapter in my book, What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer. There were so many connections between the two Nicks and this strongly knit family who would go to great lengths to heal their Nick.

For seven years Nick Heald fought against an enemy that threatened to keep him from the life he wanted to live. I say threatened, because if there is one thing I learned about Nick was that he is the most resilient and determined person I have ever met.


Every time Nick relapsed my heart sank. I worried. I fretted. When was this young man going to get a break? I’m sure Nick worried too, but he didn’t let it stop him. He went to college. He graduated. He got a great job, and he lived his life with passion, understanding that tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed. He married the love of his life.

Maybe that was the key. Nick knew he had to live in the moment, and he wasn’t going to waste any time being bothered by what he couldn’t control. He threw himself into what he loved and was passionate about.

From what I have seen, he was most passionate about his wife, Courtney. Although it never is enough, they lived a lifetime together. Theirs is the ultimate love story, connecting in high school and living through what some older married couples wouldn’t have been able to handle. They lived in the moment, and my heart grew every time I saw them together, loving unconditionally, being who they are right at that moment.

In my book, Nick’s Mom said, “Be in the moment. If you’re not, you are going to miss something good.”

Nick and his family and friends did that. They lived each moment like it was the the most precious moment they would ever have. That is how we should all live. Right now.

Nick, you have changed the world for the better. You have left a legacy of resiliency, true love, and the power of family. Thank you for sharing your joy and passion for life. You helped me when I was missing my boy. You will be missed terribly. I will be there for your mom and your family as you were there for me.

June, 2011 interviewing Nick Heald

Sending Signs

Photo by Alysia Thomas

This morning I woke up and thought of Ryan, a young man who passed away a year ago today from cancer. He planned to attend college and was at that stage of his life where he was excited to venture off on his own. The first year of losing a loved one feels impossible, but our minds numb us to the pain. For me the second year was harder after losing my son. I think it was because I was no longer numb and felt the loss.

What helped me and has continued to see me through missing him even after 8 years are the signs that Nick sends to me, letting me know that he  is alright. Nick always had a strong connection to and love of hawks. Hawks can often be seen around my area, but they would show up as I was thinking about Nick or when I was especially sad. Sometimes they would fly in 2 or 3’s so I knew he wasn’t alone.

Music is another way that Nick checked in. A song would come on the radio as I started the car and it was as if the words were meant specifically for me. My dreams are a big connector to my son. I have often dreamt of him at the age he was when he passed and also as a baby. When we interact, it’s like having my own personal videoconference with him.

Other people have often told me about their dreams of Nick or his signs to them such as seeing a rainbow on his birthday or getting goose bumps on just the right arm.

No connection or sign is wrong, as long as you feel it’s positive and helpful. Knowing what those signs are and writing about them opens your senses to be aware when they happen. Do you have specific signs from a loved one who has passed? What are they? How do you feel when it happens? Is there someone you have recently lost that you would love a sign from? Try writing a letter to that person. Write about some wonderful memories, places where you visited and activities you did together. What reminds you of them–a song, a book, a certain day of the year, or a pet. Ask them to send you a sign and be ready to accept.  I hope today Ryan’s family receives a sign knowing their boy is with them always.

Removing your Block


This image means so much to me. My older son, Nick, said this to my younger son, Stephen, when he was having trouble putting a Lego set together. Nick’s words have become a positive mantra every day that I miss him. Losing Nick to cancer is my block. For the past eight years, my grief has been in my face, blocking and affecting my view of life.

Everyone has a block. Maybe it’s your own grief, fear, trauma, or insecurity. A block is anything that stops you in your path to wellness, your life purpose, or everyday living.

In January 2016, I attended a 40 Days to Personal Revolution program. It’s a self-empowerment yoga program designed by Baron Baptiste. Through journaling, I learned that I shouldn’t feel guilty about my grief/my block. But perhaps instead of having that block right in my face all the time, I could place it under my arm. I wasn’t ready to let it go, and it would still affect me, but now I could see the world without that filter.

I may be able to relinquish my block for a moment, a few hours, and some days I actually put the block down for a bit. If that block shocks me in the face again, I remember Nick’s words, “Nothing is Impossible,” and I try again.

What is your block? How does it filter what you think about yourself and the world around you. What could happen if you placed that block under your arm even if only for a moment? Write it down so you can always come back to what is possible.