Cancer journey inspires teacher to give back

September 26, 2017
Bromley Chamberlain, ATA News Staff
Organized by ATA executive staff officer Nancy Luyckfassel, Kickin’ It NancyStyle is an annual run that raises money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. The event took place Sept. 10 in Fort Saskatchewan.

When Nancy Luyckfassel was teaching, she always answered truthfully whenever a student asked her age.

Every birthday is a gift, was her philosophy, and it’s one that was solidified when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

“I have known far too many people in my life who didn’t get the privilege of being as old as I am,” Luyckfassel said with tears in her eyes. “I had roommates at the Cross Cancer Institute who did not survive.”

Now an executive staff officer in the Professional Development program area of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Luyckfassel no longer has to field student questions about her age, but her philosophy of celebrating her birthday is stronger than ever. On that day for the past two years she’s hosted Kickin’ It NancyStyle, a fundraising run for the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Patient Financial Assistance Program.

“My family and I wanted to give back for the life-saving assistance I got and make the journey easier for others who follow on this path,” she said.

A Fort Saskatchewan resident, Luyckfassel was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma (a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) on Dec. 3, 2015. Later that month she began intense chemotherapy that required her to stay at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute for five to eight days at a time. She spent Christmas in the hospital and had many more stays there over the subsequent year.

During that time she realized that, although the Alberta health care system is very good, having cancer can be a financial burden to many patients for a variety of reasons.

“Something simple like an antinausea drug that you get for free when you are staying in the Cross costs you $25 a pill once you leave,” she said. “If you don’t have a benefit plan, you are making choices: do I take an antinausea drug, or do I not?”

Throughout her battle with cancer, Luyckfassel was thankful that both she and her husband had good employer benefits.

“I had roommates who came from Grande Prairie who were moms that worked hourly-wage jobs at retail stores,” Luyckfassel said. “They had no benefits. If they missed their work they had no pay.”

In June 2016 Luyckfassel’s treatment was deemed successful, and she switched to a maintenance plan involving less frequent chemotherapy. Having learned of the financial hardship that accompanies cancer for many, she started brainstorming ways she could give back and, since she has always been a runner, decided that organizing a fundraising run was a good fit.

The first Kickin’ It NancyStyle event took place on Sept. 10, 2016 and raised $18,000. Fundraising totals from the 2017 edition haven’t been finalized, but the event did attract about 150 participants from all over the province.

“Many of them are in my life because I was a teacher,” Luyckfassel said. “There were more than 10 former students, from the eight-year-old that I taught to the 30-something-year-olds that I taught at the beginning of my teaching career.”

Luyckfassel said it means a lot to her to have people gather to support a cause that has left a profound impact on her life.

“I really feel that I have had post-traumatic growth because going through this experience has given me some things that are positive,” she said. “I have an increased appreciation for life in general and an increased desire to balance the parts of my life — work, home life, family and friends.” ❚

Lottery campaignNancy Luyckfassel’s story has been featured as part of the advertising campaign for the Cash and Cars Lottery, a fundraising campaign for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. The television commercials have been airing throughout Alberta since late July.

Contributions — Donations to Kickin’ It NancyStyle will be accepted until the end of November at https://albertacancer.ca/kickinitnancystyle.