Battling Cancer Together

updated 09/01/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When her husband, Dan, 73, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in May, Nancy Stringer says, "I laughed and I said, 'Now what do you really have?'" After all, the Stringers had already faced more than their share of tests: Nancy, 73, has been fighting multiple myeloma since 2002, and their son Tyler, 40, had surgery for a plum-sized brain tumor last year. "We do joke a lot about it," says Nancy. "I don't know if that's bad or good, but that's the way we handle it." Even the welcome mat in front of their Newport Beach, Calif., home reads, We'd Invite You In, But Our Life's a Mess.

Humor helps—as do ever-stronger family bonds. (The Stringers are one of several families PEOPLE is spotlighting in the weeks preceding Stand Up to Cancer, a fund-raising special airing live Sept. 5 on NBC, ABC and CBS, which they plan to attend.) Nancy undergoes six hours of chemotherapy a week to combat her multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable form of cancer. "[Cancer] changed my whole attitude toward her," Dan, a dentist, says of his wife of 54 years. After her diagnosis, "we'd maybe sit here and not do anything but hold hands and talk."

Doctors removed Dan's tumor in June and pronounced him cancer-free. Tyler, an Internet strategist and father of a 2-year-old son, has been stable since getting radiation and chemo. True to the family sense of humor, he took advantage of his partially shaved head after surgery and went for a full-blown Mohawk. He was nearing 40 and figured, "When am I going to be able to do a Mohawk again?"

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