Last week, Stephen and I had the pleasure of joining some fans for a lunch that we auctioned off earlier this year to raise money for One World Stage & Screen. The winner of the auction, Tamra, brought along her Mom and two friends – Trish and Nancy. I learned during the lunch that Nancy was the same woman, a cancer survivor, who’d recently written me a letter about her fight and the beautiful things she discovered as a result.
I enjoyed spending time with all of these ladies, and I was especially moved by Nancy’s story. As I thought about this Thanksgiving post, I thought of gratitude … and I thought of Nancy. Who better to share a post about gratitude than someone who is so clearly and understandably grateful. So, I reached out to Nancy and asked if she’d share her story here. I think you’ll be inspired by her courage and moved her spirit.
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you – I am so very grateful that you continue to choose to join me here on PLANK.
Love, Kindness & Gratitude: Lessons Learned by a Cancer Survivor
By Nancy McCarthy
My name is Nancy McCarthy and I’m grateful for some special things that have happened to me this year.
This time last year, however, I was waiting. After years of irregular mammograms, and having dense breast tissue, I have always sort of known that I would get breast cancer one day. So, I was literally just waiting for that day to come. And on Dec. 4, 2015, with a diagnosis of Stage 2 Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, my wait ended and my fight began.
You never really know how you are going to react to such life altering news, but my doctor really set the tone. “Yes, you do have breast cancer,” she said. “But don’t worry, because I’m going to take care of you.” And just like that I knew I’d be okay – she put me completely at ease.
I started chemotherapy on Jan. 27, and after 22 long weeks, I finished the heavy treatments on June 1. One month later I had a bilateral mastectomy. I still have light chemo every three weeks until January, and then some time after that I’ll undergo reconstructive surgery.
Those are the facts about my experience with cancer, but that’s not the story. The story is what I learned because of cancer. It’s crazy, but I never once thought “why me” or felt angry that cancer happened to me … instead I’ve never felt more blessed in my life. Or more loved. Or more grateful.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by good people, and I’ve always known that. Many of my friends today are the same friends I’ve had since I was 10 years old. But, I’ve never felt … physically felt … such love and support as I did during this battle. And not just from my lifelong friends and family, but also from new friends … and from complete strangers.
No, it wasn’t an easy path. There’s no getting around what chemo does – it makes you sick and it makes your hair fall out. And honestly, I was surprised by how much my confidence was affected by the hair loss. I found myself not wanting to go in public unless I had to, or unless I could wear a beanie.
On one particularly good day, I decided that I was feeling good enough to treat myself to a pedicure. It was a beautiful day and I knew it would look silly if I wore a hat, so I decided “what the heck, who cares … it is what it is.”
When I walked into the salon there were a few other ladies getting manicures, but no one getting a pedicure, so I thought, great – I’ll have the back part of the salon to myself and I don’t have to worry about people staring.
After a wonderful pedicure I went to pay, but the owner told me that someone had paid for me. I was stunned! Who does that? The fact that someone saw me (bald), realized I was going through a difficult time in my life, and was kind enough to pay for my pedicure. And not just that … this person didn’t do it for recognition, because she left knowing I would never know who she was, or be able to thank her for the kind gesture. I think about this woman (who I can’t even picture in my mind) every day. She taught me something about kindness that day, something that I will never forget.
I know I’m a kind person. I make a conscious effort to be the best person I can be, and I’ve tried to teach my kids to be kind. But I have to admit, I have never paid it forward. And I’ve always thought there was too much hate in the world. But what I’ve discovered during this process is there’s actually far more kindness than I ever realized. So I’m going to work to pay it forward now too! And I will share my story with as many people as I can so that they will think about paying it forward also.
And the kindness doesn’t stop there. The kindness I’ve encountered from other fans of Steve & Kayla … fans who until recently I only knew from Twitter. Everything from an anonymous fan paying for my ticket to Mary Beth and Stephen’s event, to Tamra inviting me to join them for lunch – the kindness and generosity I’ve experienced from this group is beyond anything I could have imagined and it’s affected me in ways I can’t even put into words.
Cancer has also changed my perspective on so many things in life. You look at things in a different light when you’re facing on your own mortality. You don’t sweat the small stuff.
Right before my diagnosis, my daughter Megan, who is 19, told us she’d made the choice to live as a boy and asked us to call her Thomas. That was hard to accept at first and it certainly put a strain on our relationship. But after cancer, well … it just doesn’t seem that hard anymore. And today, Thomas and I are closer than ever.
Additionally, our 12-year-old nephew is unfortunately in foster care right now. It’s a difficult situation, but he’s our family, and so my husband and I are working to have him come stay with us. This is something we would have done before, but timing is everything and now we know we can handle anything.
The bottom line for me is that this life changing experience of fighting cancer has taught me the importance of love, kindness and gratitude. And that we have to see the good – in people and the world around us. And moreover, whenever we can, as often as we can, we have to be that good!