I was working at NBCUniversal when I was diagnosed with MM. Someone suggested I read Tom Brokaw’s memoir A Lucky Life Interrupted, and honestly, it was a turning point in my journey.
I tend to be overdramatic. I remember when I was diagnosed with psoriasis, I thought it was the end of the world when I realized that I had a “non-fatal disease” that would plague me for the rest of my life. So imagine how I felt when a doctor explained to me that I now had a non-curable blood cancer, and that the average person lives about 8 years (of course this is no longer the case). My positive outlook turned dark, and I thought, why me? I must be the unluckiest person in life. But then I read Tom’s book (and although I am not in the medical field), he empowered me to take responsibility for my treatment and the outcome. It gave me the strength to fight, with all my might.
After I read the book, I contacted Tom via email, as we were both members of the same company email directory. When I had business in NY, I set an appointment to meet with him in person. He turned out to be somewhat of a mentor and introduced me to Kathy Giusti, via email. In turn, Kathy was a beacon of light in introducing me to the MMRF, which has furthered my path toward self-help. So I pledged to myself that I would become an ambassador of the MMRF.
I have been approached by many blood cancer and MM charities, but the MMRF—with its single purpose to assist patients with this specific disease and its funding of research to find a cure—has given me faith that one day science will find a cure within my lifetime. The Walk/Run allows me to be a “patient activist,” not just for myself, but for others, as we actively participate together in raising money to find a cure.
I’ve always considered myself a fighter, someone who never takes “no” for an answer, a creative thinker and negotiator able to influence others who say “it’s impossible” to at least consider the possibilities. But my advocacy has always been directed toward my own benefit or for the benefit of my family, company, or clients. Being considered for this award has allowed me to think broader and has made me realize that my work is meaningful, not just to me, but to others. In short, it demonstrates that the work of one person can make a difference for a community, and it has inspired me to not just be my own patient activist but to also be an activist for all those with MM.
One story I can share may represent a common reaction. Like so many other cancer survivors, I FEARED losing my hair. My hair has always been one of my greatest physical assets, my trademark, a large part of who I am. So, when the City of Hope beautician entered my hospital room after my stem cell transplant, with clippers in hand, and I looked in the mirror as she started to chop off my hair in the small cold florescent- lighted bathroom, I knew she would be hacking away at my identity.
I had prepared for this moment and talked to other cancer survivors. One friend said, “Losing your hair is going to be a shocking experience. About 3 weeks after chemotherapy, you’re going to see clumps of hair fall out. You have long hair Nancy. My advice, shave your head after treatment to spare yourself of the long torture. Get an assortment of wigs and have some fun with it. It allows you to try on different versions of yourself.”
I couldn’t see myself wearing a wig and certainly couldn’t imagine having “fun” with it. But I became proactive and had a wig made for work that looked exactly like the haircut I had worn for 20 years. I made an appointment to go wig shopping with my daughter. I loved seeing her in all those different versions of herself: Goth Ali, Dolly Parton Ali, and as a pixie-cut redhead. I didn’t buy a wig that day—I just couldn’t see myself in any way other than “Normal Nancy”.
BUT while at City of Hope I visited the beauty shop and tried on a few inexpensive wigs. There was one with hair extensions attached to a baseball cap, and I became “Sporty Nancy.” Another had a shag cut (similar to Jane Fonda in the movie Klut), which my husband coined “Rock Star Nancy.” And I began to accept my situation—actually enjoyed all those personas. I guess you could say I let go of “Normal Nancy” and discovered that life is fluid. Change can be positive or negative. But if you accept change and allow it to take you on an unexpected journey, you may discover something new about yourself. It may transform you and gift you with a broader sense of yourself and the world around you.
I’m a big believer that to a large extent, “We are in control of our own destiny.” That gives me strength to work every day on keeping myself healthy and being positive and proactive and collaborating with my family and Dr. Larson at UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center, to whom I am forever grateful.
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is delighted to recognize Nancy Eagle as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2023 MMRF Team for Cures: Los Angeles Walk/Run.
This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission. Donate to Nancy Eagle’s “Soaring Eagles” 2023 Walk/Run fundraising page to accelerate a cure today!