Overexpressed Asks is honored and privileged to feature the thoughtful, heartfelt, and honest reflections of NANCY HÉRARD-MARSHALL.
Nancy is a mother, wife, artist, dancer, teacher, therapist, and healer, who uses her various life experiences to empower and foster healing. Among her areas of expertise are treatment interventions for culturally diverse populations with an emphasis on the African Diaspora. As an educator and visiting instructor, Nancy has taught Cultural Competency and Social Justice in the Creative Arts Therapies at Pratt Institute, where she also served as a co-curriculum consultant to dismantle and decolonize the current educational program. As the proprietor of Gaya Healing Arts, Nancy is a psychotherapist, dance/movement therapist, authentic movement practitioner, Ra Sekhi Kemetic Reiki practitioner and soon-to-be Spiritual Life Coach. Nancy utilizes artistic, contemporary, and ancestral healing techniques as emotional support to Black, Indigenous, and people of color from a culturally affirming therapeutic approach. All of this speaks to Nancy’s lifelong path of being a resource for and within her community. Nancy has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2020. Moving into patient advocacy, Nancy has extended her work to include the metastatic breast cancer community. She is a Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) 2021 Hear My Voice leadership alumni and has also spoken on panels in Susan G. Komen webinars regarding palliative care as well as integrative & complementary therapies.
Using a metaphor or simile, describe your MBC journey.
My MBC journey is a tightrope. I have my toolkit to keep me balanced (meditation, spiritual practice, positive attitude, keeping negative people and things away, healthy eating, self-advocacy, etc.) but every now and then an undesirable scan result, for example, is like a wind that blows me off balance unexpectedly. Sometimes I can see it coming. Either way, any sign of progression can be equally rough and take you down a rabbit hole of uncertainty, new treatment, and side effects. The coping mechanisms that I have so carefully created get tested. I have to allow myself to feel all the feelings, validate the disappointment and fear but then get myself back up and do all the things that bring me back into balance so that I can be my best self to continue to tackle this new reality.
Using words and phrases, describe what it is like to live with MBC.
As mentioned, living with MBC is a balancing act that often shifts. You have good days and bad days. As a performer, dance/movement psychotherapist and somatic practitioner, the diagnosis has forced me into early retirement. It has been difficult dealing with the side effects of medications that help to keep me alive. Arthritis, bone and joint pain, fatigue, decrease in mobility, and lymphedema have been very challenging. At the same time, I am committed to keeping moving, dancing, and staying in joy. You have to just keep finding ways to turn lemons into lemonade as much as possible. I am blessed with so much love and overwhelming support from family and friends. I remind myself every morning of the blessing that I am still alive. Even if it means walking this tightrope, each day is a gift. It has truly created a deeper appreciation for each day so I try to be surrounded by nature and loved ones as much as possible. Sitting or dancing by the ocean, feeling a breeze against my face, smelling the sea, listening to my favorite music, working in my garden, and laughing with my husband and two sons. Engaging all the senses in pleasurable ways is a reminder of the beauty that surrounds me for as long as my spirit is still in this physical body. We are not promised tomorrow so I do my best to enjoy today.
What is one word/idea used in describing MBC that you appreciate? In two sentences, describe why.
I appreciate the idea and role of advocacy within the MBC community. The fact that patient advocates are really helping to make positive changes that affect research and treatment is deeply satisfying to me. I am gradually moving deeper into the advocacy field so that I can be a part of that change in any way possible. It has helped to move me towards a new passion and purpose.
What is one MBC word/idea that you would like to see changed? In two sentences, describe why this change is so important.
“Racial Disparity” is what I would like to see changed, not just within the MBC community, but also in all cancer communities and healthcare as a whole. As a black woman with MBC, it is yet another layer of difficulty that can be a matter of life and death.
What would you like people to stop saying or doing after they find out you have MBC? Or what would like to say to people who do not know what MBC means?
The thing that bothers me the most I think is when some people see me and a non-verbal thing happens where I can tell that they were expecting me to look like I already have one foot in the grave. I know it isn’t intentional (and in some ways a compliment) so I am careful how I respond to it. With MBC you can look relatively great on the outside but may not feel very well at all. It is still difficult to navigate that part for me. However, I understand that it can be confusing for someone who doesn’t understand MBC.
What do you know now that you did not know when you were first diagnosed?
That it isn’t an immediate death sentence. I appreciate more holistic medicine so I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of chemotherapy and the extreme toxins that are needed to fight this disease should you choose the allopathic route in whole or in part. I didn’t know that I would be strong enough to deal with chemo, radiation, and all that has been thrown my way. I pride myself on being resilient but this was the big one. I had to learn how to be more compassionate with myself and lean into extreme self care. I know now that I am a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for in the beginning.