FFG: Nancy Cooley

Nancy Cooley is a fighter.  After countless radiation treatments, surgeries, and reconstructions she is recently in remission from Stage III breast cancer, the prominent disease that affects 1 in 8 women during their lives.  This week I got the chance to visit Nancy at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Virginia, where she is back educating high school students about the world of business and the importance of community service (yes, they can co-exist). With shiny, shoulder-length hair, a glowing complexion and a bounce in her step, it would honestly be impossible to peg Nancy as anything but healthy.  After winding down the halls lined with Glee posters – and after a stop to check in on some altruistic students who are deeply entrenched in her fundraising ventures – Nancy sat down with me to chronicle her difficult experience with cancer.

The Cooley Clan! (L to R) Tanner Cooley, Kirsten Cooley, Nancy Cooley, Chris Cooley, Christy Cooley

The Football Girl:  Thanks for being with me Nancy.

Nancy Cooley:  You’re welcome. Thanks for coming.

TFG:  It’s been a little over two years since you were first diagnosed with breast cancer.  Can you take us back to the day you got the news? What was your instant reaction?

NC:  It was two years ago on May 16th.  I was actually driving to work.  I had tests done and a biopsy and they called me on the way to work and told me I had cancer.  And they said I needed to get it taken care of really quickly and find my doctors, so it was pretty shocking. Chris was getting married the next Friday. But I talked to my kids and talked to Chris and he knew the Chief of Surgery at Virginia Hospital Center (Dr. Anthony Casolaro) who got me rolling on the whole two year experience.

TFG:  As you mentioned, Chris and Christy’s wedding was a week later.  What was that entire week like, balancing the news with the wedding festivities?

NC:  I’ll tell you what the week was like. Well Friday I found out, and Chris and Christy were actually on their way to South Carolina or something and they came back. They turned around and Chris had come out and had dinner so we could talk. So we did that and Saturday was Christy’s bachelorette party and my sister flew in a day early so she could be with me at the doctors the next week.  Really, I said ‘no cancer talk.’ But we went to the bachelorette party, then starting picking people up from the airport that week.  Monday was my first day with the breast surgeon.  Tuesday I met a plastic surgeon. Wednesday I had an MRI and PET Scan. They called me and said the cancer was pretty aggressive and they wanted to start chemo as soon as possible.  So Thursday I met my oncologist and Friday Chris got married.

But it was all right because maybe it happened then because all of my family was there – my brother and sisters and friends.  People stayed at my house which kept me busy. That next weekend after the wedding was Memorial Day weekend and kind of everybody was gone by then.  Tuesday I had an echo for my heart. Wednesday I had a port inserted for the chemo. {Shows scar} Thursday I had chemo counseling to tell me how much fun it was going to be. Friday I started chemo. Then I did chemo for four months.

TFG:  I’m sitting in your school right now and I know you’re a business teacher and a counselor.

NC:  Not a counselor, an FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) Adviser

TFG:  I’m sorry, a teacher and an adviser. Can you talk about how the cancer treatments impacted your day-to-day life?

NC:  I think I was a little fortunate with the timing; I mean, if you can say I was fortunate because there were only two weeks left of school. I was abIe to do the first round of chemo that Friday, then two weeks later had my second round and then I had the summer.  Then I think I had two rounds of chemo when school started in September. But by September it wears on you. I missed 52 days of work last year.  But it was alright. I have good people here.

TFG:  I read somewhere you don’t like being referred to as “Chris Cooley’s mom,” but how did being “Chris Cooley’s mom” help you in this case?

NC:  It helped with the connection because Dr. Casolaro, who is a friend of Chris’s happens to be the team doctor for the Redskins.  That was who Chris talked to and he happens to be the head of surgery at Virginia Hospital Center. So I think I got a quick appointment with Dr. Stephanie Akbari at the Virginia Hospital Center.  That was the main thing with Chris right there – and getting to the doctors fast.

TFG:  So would you say you got in faster than the average person?

NC:  I don’t know that. They knew my cancer was really aggressive at Stage 3. I think they would have done surgery as soon as they could. I think they planned on it unless it was Chris’s wedding but after the MRI and PET Scan they thought they needed to change their plan.  Dr. Casolaro said he would do the same for anybody and I know him, he definitely would have.  Things just went very fast.

TFG:  You had an event a few weeks ago, Cooley’s Rally for the Cure, which Tanner (Nancy’s other son) and Chris are behind.  Talk about the event and how this whole ordeal has strengthened your family.

NC:  We started last year because I had always done Relay for Life.  As long as I’ve been a teacher we do it with my students setting up a team. We really worked hard last year doing it, my kids here at Briar Woods High School, my FBLA group.  We decided to do this fundraiser. Actually I think someone approached me first.  Then we did it at a different venue last year. It was a pretty big event. We had a lot of players come and we raised about $27,000. This year we did it again at a different venue.  It was a little smaller due to a lot of other community service events going on that night so we didn’t have quite as many players but we had a lot and we raised about $17,000.

It is really nice working with my kids. Last year I don’t think I did a whole lot. It just came together. People just came together. This year I think my kids just had to show up.  My boys just had to show up.

TFG:  Is your previous involvement in Relay for Life all through being an educator or due to a family or friend history with breast cancer?

NC:  No, I started doing it as a teacher. It’s not a thing just for teachers obviously. But it’s at our school and if it’s an event at your school than you get a team, so yeah it’s something I’ve done just because I’ve been a teacher.

TFG:  So you already had a breast cancer awareness before it inflicted you?

NC:  Yes, it is pretty strange to be in the survivors group when you’ve observed it for 10-15 years.

TFG:  Your Relay for Life walk is this weekend.  How can people learn more and donate to your team.

NC:  We have a personal page and would very much appreciate any donations. (Click here to see Nancy’s page and donate)

TFG:  One last thing.  How are the new-look Redskins going to do this season? Any record predictions?

NC:  (Pause…. Clearly stalling)

TFG:  Playoffs?

NC:  Yes I think they’ll do very well and win 2-3 games in the post-season.

TFG:  Sounds great.  Thanks so much for the time, Nancy. You look fantastic and I really appreciate you sharing your experience.

NC:  Thank you.