Nancy has been a cancer patient since 1998 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was referred to UNC Lineberger and had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Two years later, she says, “the cancer came back with a vengeance. I was Stage 4. Herceptin was FDA- approved in 2000, and I was a good candidate for that drug, so my medical oncologist, Dr. Lisa Carey, prescribed it.” She has been on it ever since.
In 2003, she had a brain tumor as a result of the breast cancer metastasizing and for that she had a surgery with neuro-oncologist Dr. Matt Ewend. Then, in 2009, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and underwent a stem cell transplant. The myeloma has since recurred, so Nancy and Dr. Peter Voorhees, her oncologist, are reassessing her chemotherapy regimen.
It was the stem cell transplant for her multiple myeloma that caused Nancy to shift her creative focus from graphics to jewelry. “I was told that it would take a year to recover, and they’re not lying. I was so tired. Energy is such a sacred resource, and if you don’t have energy, you have nothing. I was not able to continue as a graphic designer, so after my transplant, I needed to reinvent myself. I have always made jewelry for myself and for friends. Then I realized that people were complimenting my work. I thought it would be a viable way to reinvent myself. “ And it has. Nancy’s work was accepted by the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild, a professional crafts group. “When I’m designing, I lose track of time. It’s wonderful to be able to lose myself in the creative process.”
Nancy knows firsthand the progress in cancer treatment. “When I was diagnosed 15 years ago, breast cancer patients were treated pretty much like one size fits all. And now, therapies are customized for each person because they have learned about the different cancer subtypes. That’s fabulous. With my multiple myeloma, I’ve had some drug reactions, so it’s wonderful that they’re always developing new drugs. It’s a hopeful time for patients, especially if you can have a spare drug in the back pocket for when you might need it. Cancer is now being treated chronically. You can have a very good life while having cancer.”
As a longtime patient, Nancy knows her UNC care team well. “They’ve pulled me through lots of scrapes,” she says. “The physicians and the nursing staff are superb. I’m not a number. I’m a whole person. They are very respectful of all the patients I’ve seen, and I’ve been in a number of areas in the hospital.”
Her cancer experience has changed Nancy. “It has changed me for the better. I would never have met people associated with the hospital from all walks of life, the physicians, the patients, and everyone else. It has broadened my horizons. The cancer is a speed bump, not a stop sign. I choose to live my life to the fullest. Every day that I get up, the amount of energy that I have, I use it to the fullest. Maybe it’s just getting dressed and making the bed, but I’m really grateful to see the sun rise. I’m more mindful of the pleasure of small things in my life.”