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Love, Kindness & Gratitude: Lessons Learned by a Cancer Survivor

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.

Nancy and other Steve & Kayla fans with Stephen & Mary Beth during auction lunchI 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.

Several images featuring Nancy surrounded by friends and family
Surrounded by family and friends.

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.

Nancy before cancer with her youngest daughter, and after cancer with her son and husband
Me before cancer with my daughter Abby, with my son Thomas and with my husband.

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.

Nancy with some fellow Steve & Kayla fans
In L.A. with some of my fellow Steve & Kayla fans!

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.

Trust Your Journey quoteAdditionally, 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!

18 Comments

  1. Proud to call Nancy my friend. We met on Twitter before thanksgiving last year, and have followed her journey with a respectful distance. Great, inspiring story, Nancy. Thank you.

  2. Michelle Gray

    Thanks for sharing your story Nancy, i have been inspired watching your journey of fighting cancer on Facebook and I am so proud of your courage and so happy that you are well again. Thank you Mary Beth for such a lovely Thanksgiving blog.

  3. Thank you Nancy for sharing your story. You have come out on the other side and know what life is truly about.

  4. We are all so blessed to have shared in a part of Nancy’s journey here! Truly, truly inspiring. Heartfelt thanks Mary Beth for allowing us to see into this remarkable woman’s soul. You were both meant to meet and sharing Nancy’s story is a gift for us all 🙂
    Continued blessings Nancy. I wish you all the best xo.

  5. May God continue to bless you and keep you. Thank you so much for sharing your heroic story. It is truly worth reminding ones self to ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ and to be kind even when no one is looking. Good luck to you on your treatment and may cancer never darken your doorway again.

  6. Well done Nancy-what an inspiring story. I feel proud that our S&K connection has meant wonderful and real friendships have been formed. I know that’s true for me. Nancy I hope you keep that positive attitude and strength and success. Congratulations.

  7. Kelley Garner

    Nancy, what a heartfelt story. May God heal you completely! My mother had a procedure yesterday… and now we wait! That is so difficult but I’m trusting in my God for good results! May you have a great day of Thanks, I’m looking forward to meeting you one Day!

  8. Diana B.

    Thanks for sharing the story. It brought tears to my eyes. I was diagnosed with a rare disease and been fighting everyday to get better. With my family and Gods help I am staying positive and finishing my masters degree in psychology. I feel blessed and it has made me stronger. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Have a blessed day.

  9. I’m blessed to have met Nancy and all these s and k fans at day of days! You’re truly amazing Nancy to share your journey with us! The Steve and Kayla effect has brought so many together to form wonderful friendships, no one quite understands Blessings to all!

  10. Terri from Cincinnati, OH

    Wow…..as I’m sitting her watching my husband finish his final touches on the turkey, I decided to check in and saw PLANK had been posted. Such good timing. What a powerful story. Some of my biggest blessings have come to me when I have been broken. I’m so happy for Nancy that she found blessings during her brokenness. I will certainly look for an opportunity to pay it forward in her honor. Stay brave!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. My good friend and I are planning to attend the Charlotte event in the spring, and since I feel like I know some of you “Twitter People” through following MB & SN, don’t be surprised if I walk up to you, give you a hug and say hi!! 🙂

  11. Such a heartfelt real experience, Nancy I follow your YT channel. Kudos to you. I was an oncology nurse for 20 years. 15 years spent in bone marrow transplant. I have learned that people are inspiring, you are inspiring. Suggestions, for hair loss, own it, temporary tattoos are great, there are organizations that offer wigs, some insurances cover them as well, but sometimes hair follicles are painful remember… breast cancer can be cured. You will be in my prayers. Continue to inspire, happy thanksgiving 💚Life is a gift💚

  12. I loved having Nancy as guest blogger today. Her story is an emotional one.
    She is such a courageous woman & I’m always inspired by her.
    I’m proud to call her my friend. We wouldn’t even know each other if it wasn’t for our love of S&K, Stephen & you, Mary Beth. I’m so grateful!

    Thank you for sharing Nancy’s story!

  13. Traci Whiting

    Beautiful story, thanks for sharing Nancy!

  14. Tamra P.

    Nancy is an amazing lady and I’m so blessed to have her in my life. She inspires me every day with her courage, her attitude, and her spunk. I love her spunk! 🙂 She helps me put things in perspective in my own life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Hold your loved ones close. Be kind because everyone is fighting some sort of battle. Thank you Mary Beth for sharing Nan’s story. I hope others who read it will be inspired as well.

  15. Andrea Welmaker

    This is beautiful! Nancy is a survivor and has encouraged me more than she will ever know! Thank you Mary Beth and Nancy for this blog today! I’m so blessed to have known Nancy through twitter and now to have met her. Love her so much!

  16. Patricia Kominowski

    I want to first say thank you, Mary Beth for giving your time to do the OWSS lunch. It was wonderful to talk with you and spend time with you. Big Thank You to Tamra for asking me to come as well.

    Nancy is truly and amazing person and I am so proud to call her my friend and sistah. I couldn’t have been more proud of her when she told her story to you and Stephen at lunch as I know she was so nervous and scared to do so. She is one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met.

    I remember vividly when she was diagnosed and shared it with us. I remember direct messaging her and telling Nancy that she is going to get through this and I expect to see her at Day of Days in November. She said she will be there. Here journey to get there was tough and rough but she made it through and came out to D of D.
    On November 10, I went to LAX to pick up Nancy (as I arrived in LA a few days prior) we shared the biggest tightest hug (such an emotional moment) . I feel so blessed to have spent this week with her and can’t wait to see her again.

    Thank you so much Mary Beth for having Nancy as your guest blogger. She truly is an amazing, inspiring and kind soul. I just adore her. I know this blog will inspire everyone who reads it.

    I also want to say Thank You to you and Stephen as I know if it were not for you both (Steve And Kayla) Nancy and I would never have met. I know we will be close friends for life.

  17. Christie

    MB, terrific choice for plank! I met Nancy in LA last week and a friendship was formed. We talked a lot about our families and her cancer. What a struggle she’s had, but boy has she rebounded beautifully. I’m proud to call her my friend💖
    Everyone has a story. Each has some wisdom to share. I’m so happy this blog is a place for sharing and learning. Thank you, MB.

  18. Susan Nolen (Suzzy1969)

    Such a beautiful heartfelt blog Mary Beth!…Thank you for letting Nancy share her story with us!
    Nancy, you grabbed my heart sweet friend. Thank you for sharing your story with us. You’re always in my prayers. #kindnessis

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