It’s been seven months since Amanda Kofoed found out she had Stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s been six months since a video of friends delivering $13,000 in donations to her flew across the internet, inspiring other acts of charity in its wake.
It’s been four weeks since the 30-year-old, previously uninsured, finished chemotherapy.
Life is slowly settling back into a normal routine, Amanda said. Her energy is up. She’s optimistic about her chances for recovery, that she’ll be around to see her four children grow up. Right now, she said, nothing sounds better than simply spending the summer with the family as she continues to recover.
Her husband, Clint, said this Mother’s Day is a special one. He planned to surprise his wife with a patio set and awning in the backyard, a special spot for Amanda to enjoy the warm weather with the kids.
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“We’re just thankful to still have mom around,” Clint said.
In November, the Kofoeds thought they were filming a thank-you video at Nampa’s Flying M Coffee Garage, a gesture of appreciation for those who had donated to a small GoFundMe campaign set up by friend Jessie Horney. Instead, the couple was surprised by 200-plus friends streaming into the coffee shop, many of them holding $100 bills.
The whole thing turned out to be part of a Praynksters setup. The Idaho group is known for flash mob-style random acts of kindness, and its founders are longtime friends of the Kofoeds.
Soon, the video took off. The Kofoeds were on CNN. The GoFundMe eventually earned more than double its $25,000 goal, taking in more than $60,000 to help fund cancer treatments for Amanda, who was uninsured when she received her diagnosis.
“The initial GoFundMe was like winning the lottery,” Amanda said. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever expected.”
And donations kept rolling in from elsewhere, she said. The family was the recipient of the Basque Association’s annual fundraiser and got financial help through Saint Alphonsus charities. Amanda said the donations not only offset the cost of medical bills, but also helped with child care and basic cost-of-living expenses.
“So many people wanted to do Christmas for us,” she said. Neighbors and friends nominated them for radio contests. She had to remind her kids that the extra presents weren’t exactly normal — though they were so appreciated.
“I think for how stressful (the diagnosis) was, it made that time really rich and full for them. To have all of that, it just put a really comforting, optimistic, hopeful feeling towards that season,” she said.
In December, soon after Amanda started chemotherapy, she expected the hubbub would die down and support would wane. It still hasn’t.
Friends bring dinners. Amanda’s sister moved back from New York to be close. Her aunts took vacation time to help take care of her.
Most important, Amanda said, was that people rallied to help her children. Sometimes that meant two or three baby sitters a day for her younger children, 5-year-old Finnegan and 3-year-old Piper.
“She really struggled with how much they were being tossed around,” Clint said. “But she also knew she needed the help.”
Amanda took comfort in the fact that her kids were with people she loves and trusts: “More than just, you know, being watched or kept safe, I know that (the sitters were) pouring their hearts and love into them. And I feel like while they haven’t had me as much, they haven’t lacked for affection and love, and I’m just really grateful for that.”
Lessons for children
Clint said that because Amanda “never wanted to look like she actually needed the help,” she struggled at first to understand the outpouring of support.
She felt guilty, undeserving compared to others, she said. She’s still humbled by it all.
“I tell (my kids) all the time to look at these people that poured out all this love to us, and what a blessing that is,” Amanda said. “And I think that’s something that, as a kid — I mean, they’re all so young that they don’t have a bigger picture.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, this is just what people do.’ And I’m like, this is not what people do, typically. This is not going to extend into the rest of your life.”
That said, she’s used the charity as a chance to try to instill those same values in her children. And she’s trying to pay it forward, contributing to crowdfunding efforts just like so many people did for her — particularly for other people fighting cancer.
“I’ll say, ‘Look at how we can do this for somebody else,’ trying to turn what we’re receiving into something for other people,” Amanda said of her conversations with her children.
When you get help, you want to give back in even bigger ways.
This part of Amanda isn’t new, Clint said, and he thinks her thoughtfulness toward others is partly responsible for the strong support the family has received.
“She never says no to anybody because she genuinely wants to help. I don’t know how we ever would’ve gotten through this without the support of others, and that’s a testament to who Amanda tries to be every day,” he said.
I want everyone to have this kind of experience through hardship. My heart aches for the people who don’t.
A mother’s worries
Cancer is confusing for everyone, especially children. Amanda’s treatments meant much of the family’s normal routine had to be abandoned. She isn’t totally sure her kids can understand or articulate what they’re feeling.
“They’re experiencing this with me, and it’s hard because I want to be more for them, especially when I see that they’re struggling,” she said. “But I’ve got to remember, part of what I’m doing for them is getting better.”
Six-year-old Oliver was initially “horrified” at the thought of his mother losing her hair from cancer treatments. Amanda wears it cropped short now in a pixie-ish style that’s a bit thinner than it used to be.
She wonders how her children will look back on these months as they grow older. She’s worried their early memories will be of rotating baby sitters or a mom who needed six-hour naps after chemo appointments.
“I think it was starting to wear on them just to not have me. I’m a pretty energetic person, and so to not have me around them doing so much, it was a lot of, ‘You’ve got to ask dad,’ or ‘I’ve just got to lay down, I can’t run around with you,’ ” Amanda said.
The Kofoeds didn’t want to disguise the realities of the diagnosis from their kids, but they didn’t want to overwhelm them, either. They were optimistic — Hodgkin’s disease is fairly treatable, and Amanda’s results have been good. But initially, they didn’t tell the children that cancer is life-threatening.
“We thought, ‘We’ll tell them if we have to tell them. We don’t need to, like, add to their worries.’ But inevitably, they start to hear about other cancers and it comes out, oh, cancer can kill people,” Amanda said.
The strategy may have worked too well.
“I would say that we got (our kids) so confident that at one point, my daughter was looking at me — Penelope, my 8-year-old — and she was like, ‘Mom, I think you’re faking it,’ ” Amanda recalled, laughing.
“I think we’ve done our duty of easing their fears, you know. They’re doing OK. They’re not carrying that fear with them.”
The Kofoeds still can’t quite understand why cancer struck their family or why they were “blessed” by a more curable type and a strong support system. Amanda said she struggled to stop everything and focus only on resting, and it’s been an important time for her to reflect on her faith.
“We think that we can understand (God’s love),” she said. “As a mom, I know how much I love my kids, and I know how much I want for my kids. And I thought I understood how much God loves me, but then this experience — just how big it was — it was more than I could have ever imagined. When you say that it’s more than you can understand, you still kind of think you understand it. And for me it’s just really been like, ‘No, I don’t understand. I don’t know the limits.’ ”
She got her diagnosis last October after finding a strange lump in her arm and seeing a doctor at the urging of a friend. She was able to get on her husband’s health insurance in January, despite initial fears that it would be too expensive. She hopes to head back to school in the fall, where she has two semesters left to finish a bachelor’s degree in education.
With her chemo treatments past, she views herself as lucky. She might need radiation to clear up “some questionable spots,” but she’s been able to give herself over to hope rather than fear.
Clint said the family is starting to step back into normalcy — preparing their own meals, getting the kids outside to play, volunteering with their church in a program that welcomes refugee families.
Those little things represent a lot to the Kofoeds: a chance to give back to the community, to heal, to solidify the notion that cancer is something that they can beat.
“Everyone’s taking a deep breath like, OK, this is normal life for us,” Amanda said. “I feel very confident that it’s going to be OK, and I’m trying to live that way in front of my kids.”