Remembering Nancy

It’s late on a Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in a dim waiting room at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. The rows of empty chairs are lined up neatly. A few small containers of apple juice and some packages of shortbread cookies are piled up on the small table beside me. Leftover patient snacks.

It’s quiet, other than the swishing sound of a mop being pushed around by a kind-looking man in a dark blue uniform. He smiles, stops in front of me, looks like he wants to say something but changes his mind and keeps on mopping. Brush, brush, brush.

The front desk is dark. Everyone has gone home to their lives. Not me. I am here because I was just told that I have a rare blood cancer. I am scared, alone and I can’t stop crying.

In my hand is a sweaty, scrunched up slip of paper that says to go to the second floor and wait for Dr. Jeff Lipton. So I wait.

I hear soft footsteps in the hallway behind the desk, sit up straight and rub my tears away. It’s a small woman with red hair. She is wearing a white lab coat and carrying a thick blue folder under her arm. In the other hand, a box of Kleenex. She smiles as she sits down beside me.

Hi, I’m Nancy,’ she says.

I’m Lisa, and I have leukemia and babies and I can’t die and leave them,’ I say in one breath, sputtering through tears.

She hands me the folder, which has the words CML Education written on it. I absentmindedly flip through it – Understanding Blood Results, What You Need to Know About Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, Leukemia Tests and Treatments. We don’t talk for a very long time. We just sit there together in the dark. I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of a great partnership.

A year later, Nancy Pringle and I began working to build a community for people living with CML and their families. Although she spent the majority of her time with acute leukemia patients, Nancy had a special place in her heart for CML. She would often talk about what it was like to witness the dramatic change in prognosis for CML patients with the development of Gleevec – the first drug to change CML from a death sentence to a chronic cancer that many people could live relatively well with.

Nancy believed in the value of gathering people together who shared the same experiences, and was a strong supporter of the power of lived experience, not only as a nurse, but also as a human being. She was instrumental in getting the word out to patients about the CML Network and upcoming meetings. She would giggle about replacing our meeting posters just minutes after they were taken down by grumpy clinic staff that didn’t like paper on the walls.

The CML community lost this light last month.

The last few years were not easy on Nancy as she determinedly cared for her ailing husband, while managing her own health issues. The last time I saw her, she told me tearfully that she wished she could make him better. I pictured her sitting with him quietly, as she did with me on that day so many years ago.

Nancy, for all that you did for patients and their families. For your commitment to patient education and support. And for all the times that you just sat. Thank you.

We will miss you.

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