Nan Cressley of Franklin Township is a cancer survivor not once, not twice, but three times.
She had three different types of cancer. All resulted in operations. Each time she fought the disease courageously and with determination.
It started with ovarian cancer in 2004. Then in 2006 she got lung cancer. In 2007, the "Big C" attacked her thyroid.
She's been cancer-free for over five years.
On Sunday, during the annual telethon of the Carbon-Schuylkill Unit of the American Cancer Society, Cressley will be one of two individuals to be given the ACS "Courage Award."
The other recipient is Peggy Sue O'Donnell of Jim Thorpe.
The telethon will be held from noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe. It will be broadcast live on Blue Ridge Communications TV-13 and will feature continuous live entertainment.
The Courage Awards are scheduled to be awarded after 7 p.m. on Sunday.
The past decade was tough for Cressley and her family.
Ÿ In April 2003, her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Ÿ In July 2003 her mother was diagnosed with Acute Mylogenous Leukemia (AML). Despite extensive chemotherapy, she died 23 days after the diagnosis at the age of 61 from masses in her brain and other areas.
Ÿ In 2004, a cancerous tumor was discovered in Cressley's ovaries.
Ÿ On March 3, 2005, her sister died from her ovarian cancer at the young age of 45.
Ÿ In December of 2005, Cressley got a pain in her back. Eventually, it was determined she had small cell carcinoma in her lung. A lung was removed in 2006.
Ÿ In 2007, cancer of the thyroid was found in Cressley.
Ÿ In 2008, her father passed away from dementia.
Ÿ In 2009, her husband, Monroe, had open heart surgery, which was successful.
Cressley, 54, is a computer paraprofessional at Franklin Township Elementary School. She's back at work full time. She's worked for the school district for the past 24 years.
She and her husband of 37 years own Saw Mill Apiary and for years were regular exhibitors of honey products at the Pa. State Farm Show in Harrisburg. They have a son, Kirk, and his wife, Denise, of Franklin Township, who own the Kriss Pines Hatchery. They also have four grandchildren.
Two members of their household are their pet dogs, Patrick, a longhair miniature dachshund, and Dutch, a Dutch Shepherd who Kirk had rescued from a kill shelter in Ohio.
Cressley was a former 4-H leader who was in charge of the Carbon County 4-H Exchange Club for at least 10 years. Trips were taken by 4-H members to Michigan, Oregon, Montana, and Salt Lake City when she ran the club.
She recalled how frightening it was with the first bout of cancer, then to have an attack occur somewhere else in her body.
Regarding the second cancer episode, she said, "In December 2005, I started getting pain in my back. I thought I pulled a muscle. It kept getting worse. In two weeks, I went to my family doctor and they did a CT scan.
"I saw another doctor in 2006 and he did a Hi Res CT scan, then I went to Hershey for a PET scan. Every test I had showed no cancer."
She added that two tumors were detected in her upper back at the time, but none were cancerous.
She recalled her mother and sister going through extensive chemotherapy and "they had no quality of life," she said. She insisted the tumors be removed.
Halfway through the tumor surgery, the doctors told her husband, "We're taking the lung. It has small cell carcinoma."
The cancer survivor mentioned how frightening it was to be told a lung was being removed.
"The first thing when you hear they're taking a lung is you think you won't be able to breathe. I went into a panic attack," she said.
The original plan had been for her to enter the hospital on a Wednesday, go home on a Thursday, and go back to work Monday. She wasn't discharged until that Monday.
"I cried and cried," she said. "I never thought I would see the outside again."
Her doctor wanted her to do a round of chemo. She refused because of seeing the family experiences with the drug.
In April 2007, when she went to a lung doctor, nine fine needle aspirations were done in her neck. No cancer was found. She insisted he operate.
The following month, she went to have stitches removed from the surgery which had occurred. She was then told that a highly aggressive cancer was eating her thyroid sacks. She had surgery to have the cancer removed.
There are several factors which she attributes to helping her be a cancer survivor.
One was the support of her husband and family. Another was having the cancer detected in early stages. One more was finding a friend who previously had cancer; someone to talk to about the illness.
Monroe interjected that there was one more important thing which proved vital in overcoming the dreaded disease: Prayer.
The award recipient agreed.
"I was just very fortunate that God was with me. I was able to catch all three of my cancers before they spread," said Cressley.
"Without Monroe, I couldn't have done it," she said. "He nagged me to get treatment. He was there before it happened, then took care of me. He was my strength; my power behind me."
Eventually, she said, "I just made up my mind it wasn't going to beat me."
She said with each bout of cancer, many well-wishers approached and would say, "I know how you feel."
"They haven't got a clue," she said. "They don't know how you feel."
A couple lived near them but never visited. One day the man dropped by the house.
Among the things he said to Cressley was, "I know how you feel."
She responded, "No. You don't."
He said, "Yes I do. I had a lung removed."
"Talking to him was helpful," she said. "You have to find someone who went through it. I think every cancer patient should have another cancer patient to talk to.
"This man, when he came to visit, was a godsend to me," she remarked.
Another plus, she said, was that she was fortunate to have great doctors. She especially heaped praise on her family doctor. Deborah Bren of Danielsville, "who is just marvelous."
After her health improved, she became somewhat of an activist against some unhealthy habits.
"I would see a young man smoking and would pull up my shirt and scream, 'Look. Look. This could be you.'"
Monroe made her stop doing this.
She said she was a former smoker who smoked 2 1/2 packs of cigarettes a day.
"I'd think maybe I could scare at least one kid into stopping smoking himself to death," she added.
Cressley said she met people who complained of problems, and she would show them her scar, stating, "This is something to fear. You put your other problems behind you."
She has become more cognizant of people with cancer.
She noted one woman, only in her 40s, who died of breast cancer within the past two years.
Another woman was diagnosed with lung cancer and 11 days later she was dead.
A teacher was going through breast cancer when Cressley had her lung cancer. The teacher is doing very well.
In her spare time, Cressley cross-stitches baby blankets which she gives as gifts. She and her husband also enjoy taking vacations, especially to Disneyworld.
The dogs have proven to be good therapy as well as faithful. She walks about two miles every day and one of the dogs accompanies her.
She recalled when she came home from the hospital after her thyroid surgery, Patrick, the dachshund, climbed into bed and laid next to her.
"He knew I needed that closeness," she said.
She added that after Monroe had his heart surgery, Dutch did the same with him.