Originally calling the east coast “home”, then the west coast, and ultimately landing south in Nashville, TN, Norm Potoksky and his wife Gwen also traversed the unexpected, unknown, and far-reaching terrain of cancer. A self-proclaimed “wanderer” in spirit, Norm became a steadfast companion and caregiver to Gwen as they traveled together along a difficult, aggressive breast cancer treatment path that spanned over three years.
From the moment of Gwen’s diagnosis, Norm willingly immersed himself in whatever it took to get Gwen through each week, which most often involved a medical appointment or treatment. Norm assumed the practical household tasks of grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, and the role of driver, as well as the critical role of communications coordinator with family and friends about Gwen’s care. Doing so graciously allowed Gwen full space to focus on her treatment, to explore participation in a clinical trial, and to remain a vital part of the company to which she dedicated many years of service, for as long as possible.
Throughout the day-in and day-out, and as options for Gwen’s recovery became fewer, Norm and Gwen both came to realize the intentional way in which we all should approach each day. It became quite clear to them that we must share our stories in order to comfort one another and stay in touch with those we love.
“In the true Gwen spirit, even during her many treatments, she often said that we should be doing more to help others,” reflects Norm. “I promised her that I would.”
Norm lost Gwen in the spring of 2010. However, he hasn’t lost the kindred spirit they cultivated together during their 30-year marriage to live in the present and to help others in their journey. Norm carries out his promise to embrace others by giving back now, not waiting until tomorrow. He plans visits with friends from across the country now, not later. His gifts from the heart just in a few short months since Gwen’s passing span across the community and beyond and include helping with a memorial garden and bench at Gwen’s alma mater; a bench (bearing the simple inscription “Sit…Remember…Smile”) at a river dock where he and Gwen spent many happy times; delivering nutritious snacks prepared by The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation’s registered dietitian to cancer patients in treatment; and designing and purchasing warm, fleece blankets to be distributed broadly to cancer patients across Middle Tennessee.
At Gwen’s memorial, Norm offered this message of giving back positive energy and hope, which we find incredibly meaningful this holiday season and every day:
“To honor Gwen, I ask that you become a caregiver. I ask of you, and promise that I will do so as well, to try and help when you can. In all of our communities there are far too many people who need help — a ride to a doctor’s appointment, someone to sit and listen to their favorite music with them, someone who would love your famous homemade soup or chocolate cake, someone to tell them that they are not alone on their journey, someone to tell them that others care. I promise you that I will do this to honor Gwen. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to do so.”