Airman based at RAF Mildenhall says ‘cherish every moment’ after son, six, dies

Ty Nordstrom, five, giggles as a bearded dragon reptile sits on his head July 2008, at Houston Zoo,

Ty Nordstrom, five, giggles as a bearded dragon reptile sits on his head July 2008, at Houston Zoo, Texas. - Credit: Archant

An American airman has spoken out about the death of his six-year-old son from cancer in a bid to raise awareness of the disease.

Master Sergeant Lyle Nordstrom, based at RAF Mildenhall, lost son Ty in 2009, and is now hoping his experience can help others in the same situation.

The member of the 352nd Special Operations Group from Iron River, Michigan, was living in the United States at the time.

Ty was diagnosed with non-rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of muscle, nerve or fat tissues, just before his fifth birthday.

“He started suffering from a stiff neck, and when he turned his head left to right, he would compensate by moving his shoulders, so originally we were being seen for that,” explained Mstr Sgt Nordstrom.

“They did a lot of imagery but didn’t see anything of concern – that was probably about February 2007. But he just kept getting worse and worse – the pain was becoming unbearable for him, almost paralysing in his neck, to the point that most of his day would be spent lying down.”

In October 2007, following an MRI scan, doctors discovered a tumour in Ty’s neck. Sgt Mstr Nordstrom continued: “It was very aggressive and fast-growing.

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“We immediately thought he was going to die sooner or later, then once they gave us the prognosis, it was even more grim.

“When he was initially diagnosed, we stayed in the hospital for 30 days with him. They did a full body scan – he had a cancerous mass above his kidney and another on his mediastinum, and it had spread throughout his abdomen. We lived in the hospital with him the whole time.”

Mstr Sgt Nordstrom explained that Ty underwent several treatments including chemotherapy.

The death of Ty put a strain on his marriage, with the couple, who have two children and are expecting another next month, drifting apart.

He said: “I think we both struggled individually. It took a toll on our marriage for quite some time. We drifted apart and paralleled with our own grieving process we were both going to individual therapy.”

The family then moved to RAF Mildenhall. “[The move] meant we could allow ourselves to heal better, and get away from all the emotional triggers in the area,” he said.

“Ty was an energetic, playful child. He was always one to make a joke or pull a prank on somebody, and he very much loved the outdoors. One of his favourite activities was fishing, and anything to do with animals, whether it was feeding the ducks or seeing the animals at a local zoo.

“We try and spread the word about it [childhood cancer] through social media, and during Christmas we do a big toy drive called ‘Ty’s Toys’. The toys are donated to Cook Children’s Hospital at Fort Worth, Texas.”

Giving advice to those in his same situation, he added: “You really have to find a good support network. My wife and I found it helpful to lean on parents who were going through the same thing. Cherish every moment.”