Saturday, February 12, 2011

Steve & Nancy: A Love Story

The following story is not my own.

Borrowed from my friend and former Rockland, Maine newspaper boss Steve Betts, it is a poignant retelling of one couple's love story and a journey with cancer that ended it far too soon.

Steve wrote it as a column for the Herald Gazette in Camden less than a week after his wife Nancy died on April 19, 2010. And my heart broke when I first read it.

Each year, the web, TV and radio stations, and publications of all types are deluged with love-related hype in the weeks leading up to February 14.

If you strip away the sales pitches, however, you'll find many wonderful stories of true love that should be celebrated on Valentine's Day.

This is surely one of them.

My relationship with Nancy was not exactly love at first sight.
In 1982, I was a new reporter covering Rockland city government.

I entered journalism, in part, because of the efforts of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, so I was aggressive in demanding documents from the city's finance office, hoping to unearth the next Watergate.

At the time, a city hall secretary tried to set me up with a young woman named Nancy who worked in the city's finance department. Neither of us had much interest in that idea, however.

Six months later, a mutual friend invited us to her home in hopes we’d meet and go on a date. Before the night was over, I asked Nancy out for dinner at the then Camden Harbor Inn.

First dates can be awkward but we were both instantly comfortable.

Nancy would tell me I won her heart a short time later when I couldn’t go out with her one night because I had to cover a city council candidate debate. Before the debate, I delivered 12 long-stemmed roses to her apartment.

After returning home and seeing the flowers, Nancy came to the debate and told me I looked sharp in my three-piece suit. Two months later I asked her to marry me and on a rainy afternoon, April 30, 1983, we were married.

Our life together faced its first major challenge early on. Nancy became pregnant with triplets and had to stay in bed because of her high-risk pregnancy. We were frightened but also excited over the prospect of raising three children.

But as often happens, life events do not occur as planned. Nancy went into labor 12 weeks early. She was taken to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and, despite their heroic efforts, two of our children — Valerie and Jessica — did not survive beyond their first day in the world. We had little time to grieve, however, because our energy, thoughts and prayers were focused on our surviving child, Jacquelyn.

Jacquelyn weighed slightly more than one pound and seemed even smaller with the wires and medical equipment surrounding her. She was a fighter, however, and after many weeks at Maine Medical Center and Penobscot Bay Medical Center, we had our five-pound little girl home with us.

Nancy was our family’s steady, common sense voice. She calmed me down when our children — Jacquelyn and, later, Jonathan — did something to drive me crazy. As the years went on, she didn't have to say anything. She'd simply give me a disapproving look and I'd return to earth.

Nancy remembered every birthday and anniversary and bought cards and gifts for my mother. When I introduced them, my mother asked me if I should be getting married so young. She was soon won over by Nancy's warmth, however, and they became extremely close over the years.

Being the wife of a news reporter isn’t easy. I spent countless evenings covering city council and school board meetings. Nancy kept the home fires burning and never complained. She loved taking care of our family.

Eight years ago, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy and many weeks of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. For four years, it appeared she had beaten the disease. But it was not to be.

In August 2006 she was diagnosed with aggressive inflammatory breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. We were told she couldn't be cured but that there were treatments available to slow the cancer. Our online research indicated her life expectancy would be no more than 18 months.

During endless regimens of chemotherapy, Nancy never complained. She'd sit in a chair for hours as chemicals pumping through her veins hunted the invading force.

Throughout this ordeal, Nancy insisted family life be unaffected. We continued to care for our two beautiful granddaughters in the evenings when their mother worked. Their Nana continued to bake cookies with them and read stories in her reclining chair.

In recent years, there were ups and downs with Nancy's cancer battle. She went through MRIs, CT scans or PET scans every few months and we held our breath each time, praying the news would be positive. Shortly before Thanksgiving, however, the tests showed cancer had spread to her brain. There was an initial feeling of despair but that lasted only for a day as Nancy simply said she would push on as long as possible.

Nancy eventually gave up driving but continued to work. About six weeks ago, though, the long work days became too much. She decided to shorten her days to mornings only. Two weeks ago, her friends at city hall organized a party to recognize her 31st anniversary with the city. Nancy was truly moved by the outpouring of affection.

Last week, the time came to call hospice and these angels on Earth were at our home within hours. Nancy hoped to return to work the following week once they helped control her pain. But the decline was rapid and her condition worsened daily. By the past weekend, she struggled to talk but would smile when a family member visited.

Nancy left this world on April 19, less than two weeks shy of our 27th wedding anniversary. While our relationship was not love at first sight, it became a lifelong love story.

I am not the most religious person, but I do believe there is a higher power in life. Every time you see a baby born or a beautiful sunrise, you realize there has to be a greater power in our world.

And when I think of Nancy, I know only God could have created such an angel.

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