BIG NEWS for Nancy’s List!
BIG NEWS for the children and teens of Austin, Texas!
(Try to scroll all the way to the end)
My name is Nancy Novack. Twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. It had metastasized into my liver. In “cancer talk”, everything is compared to a fruit. My ovary was the size of a “grapefruit.” My liver was two times its appropriate size, more like a “small watermelon.”
I had no idea what any of that meant, despite living on this planet in northern California for 60 years. I didn’t know anything about the treatment, the statistics, what was really ahead of me, AND I had no one to journey with me who had survived the same diagnosis. I was happily innocent about the cancer world and said two now-remarkable things. “Thank goodness, it is not appendicitis,” and “What is stage V?”
Few doctors have said to their patients what my oncologist said to me, but I wish they would. “This is very tough. You are going to have very aggressive treatments. Hang in there. I think I can help you. I am with you.”
Those four words are my favorite words in the world. They sustained me, gave me hope, and taught me the awesome power of human connection in the healing process.
During my 21 chemo sessions, I invited my fellow kindred spirits to tell me their stories. They shared feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. They worried about not knowing what to say to their children, about telling their employers and likely losing their jobs, about the potential for bankruptcy and foreclosure, about the costs of cancer and their inability to pay for treatments and medications. They suffered feelings of isolation, fear, distrust, anger, and profound sadness.
I made a vow to make a difference for people living with cancer, for those who love and care for them, and, particularly, for the children who have their own cancer diagnosis or love someone who has. My simple and profound wish is that ‘No one will ever go through cancer alone’.
I investigated what was happening, and what was missing, in my Marin County, California community … how we were meeting the financial, emotional, spiritual challenges. My website initially was to be called “Where’s the Money???” … a list of the resources where one could find real money for basic needs, cancer screenings, medications, house-cleaning, air fare, lodging, health insurance, scholarships, camping and retreats, and much more.
The List expanded to include information and resources delineated by diagnosis, age group, ethnic groups, and sexual orientations. The very BEST section of this comprehensive website is called HOPE … where cancer patients and their loved ones have the opportunity to write honest and moving stories of their experiences living with this disease.
Someone cleverly said, “Politicos have Emily’s List; homeowners have Angie’s List; everyone else has Craig’s List. And now people with cancer have Nancy’s List.”
And with time, I envisioned my “love letter” to the universe, an expression of my profound gratitude for my miraculous recovery and my life. Nancy’s List was really launched. I created a “call-to-action” to my San Francisco Bay Area community. Nancy’s List is a community partnership to meet the epidemic of cancer. At our first large gathering of neighbors in Sausalito, I said, “It takes a village.” I placed clipboards around the room for signups … to drive patients to treatments, babysit their children, walk their dogs, prune their roses, deliver healthy meals … EVERYONE GOT IT!
Teens adopted families and prepared dinners for them on Friday nights. They stayed for the evening, played games or tutored the children, made music, laughed. Nursery schools teamed up their little ones with senior centers and they made get well cards for all the patients in the local hospitals. Many had peace signs (northern California) and they were signed “Made by Johnny, aged 3, and Henrietta, aged 92”. Famous rock stars and teen musicians gave concerts to raise money. Spas offered pampering. Fitness programs developed. Nutritionists consulted with patients. Hundreds of people volunteered … It was magnificent.
We started a group for kids called Nancy’s Club for children and teens whose lives have been touched by cancer, be it their own diagnosis or that of someone they love. Our goal is that no child or teen will ever go through cancer alone. We created magical adventures for these kids, their siblings, friends, and loved ones so they get a break from the daunting world of living with cancer. The Club offered these youngsters a sense of ‘belonging’ to a community with other youth who shared their challenges. They listened generously to one another, offered support, found hope, strength, healing, fascination, empowerment (“WOW! I can DO this!”), friendship AND they always share laughter and fun. From one Nancy’s Club member,
“I don’t want to go to a shrink and I am not into any support group … not cool.
But a Club with kids just like me …. that is way way cool.”
I continued my work as a psychologist, but my practice had changed. I have had the honor to meet and consult with many cancer patients and their loved ones. Because of my diagnosis and amazing recovery, I have worked with many women around the world with difficult gynecological cancers. I have been privileged to witness the nobility and transformation of human beings who are living with cancer. I “sit still and listen generously” to men and women as they deal with the upheavals in their lives and the possible inevitability of death, yet hold hope and will and passion to continue the life journey despite its present trauma and angst. They reassess their priorities, make their choices, count their blessings in sickness and in health, search for hope, and find their gratitude.
I want every man, woman, teenager, and child who has to walk the walk to have a hand to hold of someone who has been there, someone who understands the challenges and mysteries and who will hang in there tight when times are tough.
Cancer changed everything for me. It taught me the essence of gratitude, especially for the generosity of strangers. It refined my calling and made me a better psychologist. I found courage and resilience. It gave me the opportunity to offer hope to those who have lost theirs.
And cancer opened my heart … to love again, to trust again, and to let myself be loved. It gave me permission to live and love with wild abandon. When I reached the 10th anniversary of my diagnosis, I shouted out loud, “Follow your bliss. Follow your heart.” If I were to be true to that, I would sell my gorgeous house in Mill Valley, California, pack up my two dogs, Lucy and Bozo, and my African grey parrot Floyd, kiss goodbye to my many friends of 40 and 50 years of togetherness, say goodbye to the beauty and grandeur of the Bay Area, leave my Berkeley hippie history of which I am so proud, and live with my Cowboy (he is really not a Cowboy but I love the fantasy that he is – we have no horses) in Austin, TEXAS where the mean temperature is over 100 degrees half the year, and everyone talks fairly funny, and I knew I would never ever have a girlfriends like I do in California. And, if you know me at all, that decision took years.I totally angst-ed day and night.
I learned a whole lot during my cancer journey. To live and love as fully as I can. To say YES. And definitely, to go for pleasure.
So I did it. I put on my fabulous cowgirl hat, my black patent-leather cowgirl boots, and thanked the world for my life and for everyone who has rooted for me to be healthy and happy. Thank you to all the angels who pointed the way.
And so, in short time of moving to TEXAS, I had an editor, a designer, a publisher and created our anthology, I Am with You: Love Letters to Cancer Patients. This collection of 46 essays is written by survivors and their loved ones who are on the cancer journey. They have volunteered to write about their experiences to support courage and hope and to provide truth, wisdom, wit, understanding, and compassion to new and old patients.
My decision to create this anthology came from my extraordinary curiosity about healing. I wondered how one’s intimate relationship with the disease affected the struggle … how one defined the “fight” or, rather, how one integrated cancer into one’s life; who and what the patient found to nourish the spirit and expand the reach of the heart. I concluded that if we could offer community, hope, truth about the cancer treatment ahead, coping strategies … early on, early after the initial trauma of a diagnosis … maybe, maybe .. healing would take a more positive outcome.
I Am with You is truly a love letter. Our wish is that this offering of friendship will sustain cancer patients through those first frightening nights after they hear their diagnosis, and every night thereafter. That is the spirit in which this anthology was conceived. Every story speaks to the power of those simple, exquisite words spoken to me by my dear oncologist, Dr. Branimir Sikic, “I am with you.”
And now a new chapter begins. I am going to marry my Cowboy on September 9, 2016. He has his blue jeans pressed, his brand new Cowboy boots, and I have flowers in my hair.
And then another amazing magical thing is happening. One of my favorite parts of Nancy’s List was Nancy’s Club, the program for children and teens whose lives were touched by cancer … be it their own diagnosis or that of someone they loved. We shared ADVENTURES out in the world … far away from the daunting world of hospitalizations. The kids were kids, laughing and smiling and sharing, and for those shining experiences each weekend, they forgot they even had cancer. This project was very successful for 4 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am totally inspired to recreate it for the children and teens who are living with cancer in Austin, Texas.
More to follow … we move fast!