Patients of Courage

Nanci was first diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 1999 at age 32 when her son Andrew was 16 months old. She discovered it through a self breast exam. She underwent a lumpectomy, six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. Due to the chemotherapy regimen, it was uncertain if she would be able to conceive again. Fortunately, she went on to have her blessing . . . daughter Johanna in 2002 without any complications. In 2006, a mammogram revealed breast cancer again in the opposite breast. Prior to the diagnosis, she had been researching what her options might be if the cancer returned and was very interested in skin sparing mastectomy with DIEP (Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator) flap reconstruction. After learning her diagnosis, the surgeon who had performed the previous lumpectomy stated that she must have a mastectomy within the next two weeks. When she questioned the surgeon about the DIEP flap procedure, he was not receptive to her questions. He directed all of his answers to Nanci’s husband, ignoring his patient. Since she wanted reconstruction, he reluctantly referred her to a plastic surgeon in Peoria, Illinois. Nanci’s meeting with the plastic surgeon was disappointing as he did not perform the DIEP flap procedure.

Nanci turned to her best friend since third grade, Monisa Clark, who had recently undergone breast cancer treatment and the DIEP flap procedure that Nanci wanted. Monisa recommended the Breast Center at SIU with surgical oncologist, Dr. Gary Dunnington and plastic surgeons Drs. Nicole Sommer and Michael W. Neumeister.

Nanci went on to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with skin sparing DIEP flap reconstruction followed by 5 ½ months of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of radiation. She undergoes full body scans every year. She has also undergone nipple reconstruction as well as areola tattooing and is amazed at the results. This was definitely the procedure for her. Nanci became an inspiration in her small village. Only one week after being discharged, she was riding her bike and walking everywhere. Many commented on her ability to move beyond her diagnosis and surgeries by making the most of every day. She says “Every day is a good day . . . some are just better than others.” She has had two t-shirts made to make others grin. One says “I survived cancer twice and all I got was this t-shirt. . . (back) AND MY LIFE!” The other says “Birth of son . . . $10,000, Birth of daughter . . . $11,000, Surviving breast cancer twice to see them grow up . . . (back) PRICELESS. Another shirt is in the works. Since the theme of the 2008 Relay For Life is “Mardi Gras”, this one will say “Every day is Mardi Gras after cancer!”.

Nanci has been very open about her cancer with her family and her small community of 350 people and she feels this has only been a strength. By speaking about her cancer, she has been educating her family, her friends and anyone who will listen. She feels that she is still alive by the grace of God and must educate as many people as she can reach. The past two years she has been a part of the local radio stations’ education segment concerning breast cancer. Having worked at the station, she had kept in contact with her friend and radio personality, Cosmo Leone, who contacted her to do a guest spot. The station sells special music CD’s for $5 each. 100% of the proceeds go to the American Cancer Society. This year’s CD was dedicated to her. She has also become a board member for the local Relay for Life in Henderson County Illinois and looks forward to many more years helping make it one of the best in the area. She had been the baseball coach for her daughter's t-ball team as well as the fundraiser chair for her sons’ Cub Scout Pack during her treatments.

She always tried to maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible during her ordeal, including a family vacation to South Dakota and Wyoming while completely bald. This also afforded her the opportunity to speak with others as they would giggle at her shirts and feel the need to approach her. When asked how she stays so positive, Nanci often replies “It is what it is, I have cancer and I’m going to beat it.” Nanci is working with another breast cancer survivor and a local oncology group to create the Pink Rose Society. They offer no medical advice. In her words, “We will wrap each patient in a blanket of love and let them marinate in it.” Support is to be done over the phone and/or via the internet. They will also try to meet quarterly for a more personal experience. The support group will be up and running as soon as they get the final details worked out. (Hopefully by early summer 2008).

After her diagnosis in 1999 Nanci founded a hat club to locate “fancy lady’ hats vs. baseball caps for breast cancer patients to wear during different stages of their treatment. With the help of the local radio station (107.3 KGRS), she was able to get over 200 hats. These were distributed through her Oncology treatment center. Nanci has also worked with her area American Cancer Society and spoke to over 400 people at the University Relay for Life in Des Moines, Iowa to help educate and train teams for the important ACS fundraiser.