2012-12-07 / People

Cape woman inspires, encourages survivors

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Nancy Marshall Nancy Marshall When Nancy Marshall of Cape Elizabeth was diagnosed with lung cancer 16 years ago, she had the same array of emotions that many cancer patients feel after they first hear the news.

First, Marshall said she was overcome by an “absolute” sense of fear. A smoker since college, Marshall said she didn’t think she was going to make it. Then, a sense of denial set in. She didn’t feel any symptoms, but a biopsy showed a tumor in her lung.

Marshall had surgery to remove the stagethree cancer and part of her lung. The operation was followed by six months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Six years after she was first diagnosed with cancer, in 2004, Marshall was told she had developed cancer in her bladder. Doctors were able to remove the tumor without taking out any of the bladder, but Marshall had to go through about two years of chemolike treatments.

Now, Marshall has chosen to help cancer patients who are experiencing the same emotions she did when she was diagnosed. She volunteers with Cancer Community Center in South Portland as part of the center’s lung cancer support group, and as part of the Maine Buddy Program.

“As a two time survivor I feel very fortunate to be alive,” Marshall said. “I thought having been diagnosed with lung cancer, I could be a help to people and their families.”

Since she began volunteering at the center just after she moved to Maine in 2005, Marshall has spoken with 21 buddies through the program, and she has remained involved in the support groups, which still run every month.

Marshall, 80, said many of the people who participate in the buddy program or the support groups want to know if what they’re going through is normal, or if they’re the only people who feel a certain way.

As an example, Marshall described what she called “chemo-brain;” The tendency for patients who have undergone chemotherapy, whether for brain surgery or not, to have difficulty concentrating or become absentminded. That’s a completely normal side effect, Marshall said, because of the toll chemotherapy takes on the entire body.

“It’s a matter of helping them understand, you’re not the only ones going through these side effects,” Marshall said of the center’s programs.

Marshall came to Maine from Williamsburg, Va., where she worked as the dean of university libraries at the College of William and Mary. She spent 14 years in that job, the first woman to hold the position. Before that, she attended library school at the University of Wisconsin, became the acting library director, and raised four children in Madison.

Marshall retired from her career in libraries in 1997, in a move that came before and was completely unrelated to her cancer diagnosis, she noted. But when she moved to Cape Elizabeth she remained busy in retirement.

Along with her involvement in the community center, she served on the Thomas Memorial Library Study Committee that ultimately recommended a new facility. The ballot measure was defeated by voters in November, a choice Marshall called “unconscionable.”

Her continued busy lifestyle comes out of more than a desire to avoid boredom in retirement. Marshall said it also is a part of her philosophy of how to live her life as a two-time cancer survivor.

“I decided was going to live with this cancer, but it was not going to take over my life,” she said. “I would attempt to acknowledge its presence, but not let it determine all my actions. That was my attitude.”

The next monthly meeting for the lung cancer support group at the Cancer Community Center will be held on Thursday Dec. 27. A full schedule of events and programs can be found at the center’s website, CancerCommunityCenter.org.

About Neighbors

Neighbors is a weekly profile that features a community member from South Portland or Cape Elizabeth. Know someone you would like to see featured in the Sentry? Contact Jack Flagler at news@inthesentry.com.

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