NFD editor Cindy Chafin interviews Marion Spencer, co-survivor with wife Vicki, bladder cancer survivor.
Editor’s note: 2017 SURVIVORville marked the 4th event and the 5th anniversary of the Women Survivors Alliance whose “signature product” has been SURVIVORville. With any SURVIVORville event, the level of required planning is extraordinary. Every last detail is carefully orchestrated from what time each speaker arrives and what he or she needs to execute a session that requires anything from a projector screen to a clothes line you might see in grandma’s back yard, to what kinds of food will be served that won’t cause unpleasant aromas for attendees going through chemo, to what kinds of snacks the volunteers doing hair and make-up will like and counting how many outlets we will have for curling irons, flat irons, and other beauty devices.
Even with the thorough and detailed planning, there are some decisions that have to be made on the fly. Like how to maximize a space you forgot you had. This is where Marion and Vickie Spencer come in. As I was in charge of the NOU Life Expo, I already had set up the vendor area designated for New Focus Daily and was to be at the table most of the conference. Right across from me was an area designated for storage. In walks Marion and Vickie and we realize we need a place for them to display their custom-made candles, lotions, and soaps (more on that below!). I station them in what WAS the storage area so that they get great visibility as people enter the conference area and see them first thing. They are also stationed directly across from me. I’m not sure if they realized that they were NOT going to have peace and quiet when attendees were in sessions, because- they were stationed directly across from ME. Which means they got a LOT of conversation. They become my neighbors throughout the convention and we had some great conversation.
I sat down with this dynamic duo and asked them to repeat some of what our conversations held so that our NFD could hear their amazing story. We heard from Vicki last week, now it’s time to hear from Marion. They both have so much to share.
CC/NFD: Marion, it was so great hearing from Vicki in our earlier interview and magazine feature. But we want to hear about you, too! You are a co-survivor. What were some the challenges YOU faced during Vickie’s diagnosis?
MS: I was ignorant about so many facts, treatments, and types of cancer. Women Survivors Alliance was a huge eye-opener, from the first convention to the last one this summer. We have been so blessed to meet hundreds of patients, physicians, nurses, authors, and speakers on the subject of cancer. Fear of hearing the word “cancer” itself, is a sledge hammer to the stomach. If I had to say my greatest fear, I would say not knowing how this diagnosis is going to affect our future. All of our plans revolve around us, not I, or me. The Women Survivors Alliance brought resources, understanding, support, love, listening ears, and hugs and helped us understand, “You’re not alone in this!”
CC/NFD: What has been one of your best memories or experiences you have had being part of Women Survivors Alliance and SURVIVORville?
MS: The first convention occurred just after we met. Vicki informed me that if I wanted to see her, I would have to volunteer to help at the convention. I wanted to see her, so I said yes. It was that week watching her, that I fell in love. We worked together the entire week. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. By the time the second convention came around, we were married. Every convention is another honeymoon.
CC/NFD: So tell us about some of the ways you were engaged in SURVIVORville that were meaningful to the two of you as a couple?
Helping her write her second act story, we were able to mix in humor and laughter together in our stories with others. We also volunteered our limo service to transport participants in the My 2nd act to the event at the “Bluebird Café.” That way the day I met Jessica Meyer and got hear her story as a childhood cancer survivor. She insisted on riding up front with me. My life has never been the same.
CC/NFD: Tell me about the lotions and soaps. How did they come to be? And where can people get them?
MS: I’ve made candles for years. When I found out that various colors had been assigned to different cancers, I had an idea to dedicate a candle to each of the colors. We made every scent available in any color in honor of our survivors. We donated the proceeds from the sales to the organization. Vicki encouraged me not to stop there. Skin care entered with the introductions of hand lotion made with goat’s milk. We then added homemade lye soap and body washes. We designed a special label of the colors of cancer for all our products.
CC/NFD: Marion, I just need folks to know about the one “unique” candle that you have and how you managed to fool me. Can you share a little bit about this one “special” candle?
MS: We have to look for some humor in everything we do. Approximately 7 years ago, we brought a new candle scent to the table. If you see the name, you probably wouldn’t agree to smell it. After sampling several fragrances, I ask people to give me their opinion on a new scent. They smell it and love it instantly. Then they ask for the name or scent and I show them. It’s “Monkey Farts,” and they bust out in laughter. I have been told more than once, “I will buy a monkey if they smell like that.” I laugh and say, this is a candle every man needs. It has become one of our best sellers as it really has a pleasant fruity aroma.
CC/NFD: What words of wisdom or words of encouragement would you have for someone going through a cancer diagnosis or maybe through other life hardships?
MS: I remember when I started treating patients in the back of an ambulance 40 years ago. If someone was diagnosed with cancer then, it was thought to be a death sentence. As research, treatment modalities, medications, education, support groups, awareness, etc. have increased and improved, we have learned that cancer is beatable. We clung to a bible verse, Philippians 4:13 “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me.” As men so often do, we want to fix everything. It was a hard wall to hit when the realizations set in that what my wife needed, I wasn’t capable of giving. I had to let go, give it to God and pray. I had to trust the medical team and look to them for answers. This is difficult, but necessary. It made my wife and I dive into research and spend special time together talking about what may or may not be ahead. The best thing that I ever did was to sit at the table, hold my wife’s hands, look into her eyes and tell her “we are in this together.” The open discussion was so therapeutic. Through the tears, smiles, and occasional chuckle we found comfort in hours of open discussion about her diagnosis. Vicki knows beyond any doubt, she is not alone in this fight. Believe me, she is a fighter and I love her for it!