I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer on April 29, 2004. 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 was too happily innocent about the cancer world and I said two now-remarkable things: “Thank goodness, it is not appendicitis,” and “What is stage V?”
I was blessed with a magnificent A Team. These dear friends held my hand and my heart throughout the challenging journey.
I always knew I would make it. My attitude was always one of gratitude juxtaposed with enormous denial that I would be anything but very well again. Denial was my way of escaping fear and 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 a cancer diagnosis or love someone who has. My simple and profound wish is that no one will ever go through cancer alone. I started Nancy’s List and Nancy’s Club to help my community cope with the epidemic of cancer.
On the day of the tenth anniversary of my diagnosis, I shouted out loud, “Follow your bliss. Follow your heart.” If I were to be true to that, I would need to sell my fabulous house in Mill Valley, pack up my two dogs, Lucy and Bozo, and my African grey parrot Floyd, say good-bye to my many friends of forty years of togetherness and to the beauty and grandeur of the Bay Area, leave my Berkeley hippie history of which I am so proud, and move to Austin, Texas, to be with my Cowboy (he is really not a cowboy but I love the fantasy that he is — we have no horses. He is a fabulous person and a brilliant civil rights attorney who fights the good fight), where the mean temperature is over 100 degrees half the year, and everyone talks fairly funny, and I will never ever have girlfriends like I do in California.
I angsted, day and night. Was I well enough, sane enough to leave my sacred sanctuary — my periwinkle and silver house with the periwinkle stairs and the white rose gardens? I love so many things about my California life — my truly inspiring nonprofits Nancy’s List and Nancy’s Club, all the courageous grown-ups and children I adore, my brave psychotherapy clients, and the extraordinary relationships in the Bay Area cancer community that I have formed through Nancy’s List. I would miss the sailing, the horseback riding, Stinson Beach, my Marin and San Francisco life. How could I trade the fabulous California cuisines for Texas breakfast tacos? How could I ever understand or accept the so wacko Texas politics?
During my cancer journey, I learned to live and love with an open heart. To say yes. And definitely, to go for pleasure. So I did it. I put on my fabulous cowgirl hat and my black patent leather cowgirl boots. I followed my passion and my purpose and wrote a book titled I Am With You: Love Letters to Cancer Patients. And I am happy . . . extraordinarily happy. We even got married! Thank you to everyone who rooted for me to be healthy and happy and to the many angels who pointed the way.
For me, cancer changed everything. It generated my growth. It taught me the essence of gratitude. I adore the generosity of strangers. It defined my calling and refined my purpose as a psychologist. It gave me the opportunity to offer hope to those who have lost theirs. I found my courage and resilience.
I am with you.