by Dani Burlison

Pacific Sun
December 2-8, 2011
Nancy DSC_0130

Photograph by Robert Vente

When Nancy Novack was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer in 2004, she had no idea how her life would change. And the community around her had no idea what good would come out of her difficult journey once she fully recovered a few years later.

Upon meeting Novack, it is difficult to imagine her in poor health. Vibrant, lively and teeming with positivity, she has taken her gratitude for her full recovery from cancer and created a gift for those fighting—and otherwise affected by—cancer throughout Marin County and beyond. Her nonprofit organization, Nancy’s List, is her “thank you gift” for surviving.

“When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea how serious it was,” says Novack, 67, on a recent morning in Mill Valley. “My doctor said ‘stage four’ and so I asked him to tell me about stage five.”

As some know all-too-well, stage IV is as advanced as cancer gets. At this point it has spread to other organs in the body such as the liver, as in Novack’s case.

After undergoing 21 chemotherapy treatments spread out over the course of two years, she came to realize the importance of having not only the financial ability to cover all the additional costs—like the white blood cell boosters she needed to self-administer at home—but the crucial need for a supportive community. She set out to help people connect to resources and one another and Nancy’s List was born with the goal to help improve the lives of the many people who are living with cancer and those who love and care for them.

“One of the first things I thought of when I recovered was about the people who don’t have access to money,”
says Novack. “Most of the people dealing with bankruptcy are people living with cancer. We have to take care of each other.”

In response to her own needs while battling cancer, she began compiling a list of resources, including financial assistance organizations and links to scholarships for children. Soon, she found herself adding lists of support groups, information for caregivers and resources on nutrition; she even developed a buddy system for simple everyday tasks and support.

Through her work with Nancy’s List, Novack has developed an especially soft spot for children living with cancer. As Marin has no treatment programs available for youth with cancer, many must travel to Oakland Children’s Hospital, Stanford Hospital or UCSF Medical Center for their numerous appointments. And, she says, treatment for children is often longer than it is for adults. Nancy’s Club infuses a little fun into the lives of children living with cancer. Last year, Novack began a free sailing program for children and adults with cancer with Pegasus Voyage’s Richard Gillette.

“The children and teens really have my heart,” she says. “They are so inspiring and it means a lot when a family gets to share something so special.”

Stage-four cancer survivor Novack founded Nancy’s List with a mission: ‘No one will ever go through cancer alone.’

Every week more than a dozen people who have received a cancer diagnosis contact Novack. Although a lot of people seeking support are local, many others are referred to Nancy’s List from around the country.

Sailing trips for people living with cancer are free and available to adults as well as children, thanks to Nancy’s List and Pegasus Voyages. Check event listings at www. for upcoming trips. Novack hopes to expand the children’s cancer programs to include field trips to Giants games, Audubon Canyon Ranch and more.

When not volunteering her time with outreach to people living with cancer, Novack works as a private practice clinical psychologist.

In addition to offering a million resources, Nancy’s List also has a club for children and teens who are battling cancer or who have a loved one with cancer. The service is free of charge.

Because of the unique structure of Nancy’s List, the nonprofit is often not eligible for foundation grants and relies heavily on donations and fundraising events. To donate or find out about upcoming events, visit

Aside from connecting people to resources, Novack is determined to keep anyone from having to face cancer alone. Even small, everyday tasks can be a challenge for individuals and families facing cancer. The forum helps connect people to volunteers who run errands, prepare meals, baby-sit, give rides to appointments and even walk dogs for people with cancer.

Through Nancy Novack’s selfless devotion, hundreds of people around the country are living life with a little more ease. As a survivor, she is also a symbol of hope for countless more throughout the world. For this, she is the Pacific Sun’s Hero of Courage.