I’m Not “Big Stace,” But I Do Play Her on TV
One Cancer Warrior’s Journey to Establish Her Identity
Above all else, cancer is a thief. It ruthlessly steals and takes everything it possibly can from us – our health, time with our friends and family, our bodies, our ability to think clearly, our happiness, and our money, just to name a few. One thing it stole from me was my identity.
I was Stacy Hurt, M.H.A., M.B.A., Vice President of Training and Development of a compound pharmacy. That’s right; I was a corporate big wig. An actual power broker. A decision maker. People would look at me and ask, “What do YOU think, Stacy?” And then something magical would happen – they’d listen to me. Oh, and I made fat cash. I was valued for my talents, knowledge, and experience. I’d worked VERY hard to get where I was. And I was thrilled that finally, at age 43, I had arrived at the pinnacle of my career.
That all changed on my 44th birthday, when I was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer in my rectum, liver, lungs, and lymph nodes. Now I was Stacy Hurt, cancer patient. Forget everything; I was fighting for my life. My prognosis was bleak. My oncologist told my doctor, “I just hope Stacy gets some time…” No longer was I a corporate big whig; I was a life small whig.
I didn’t want to go to another meeting; I just wanted to see my 45th birthday.
Other than battling Stage IV colorectal cancer, I have another huge situation that I contend with. I have 2 sons, Griffin (age 13) and Emmett (age 11). Emmett was born with a rare (and when I say rare, I mean 1 of 3 known cases in the world) chromosome disorder. It renders him without the ability to walk, talk, or do anything for himself. He has multiple special needs and medical issues. He is an 80 pound baby who cannot be left unsupervised and needs lifted, carried, diapered and fed several times a day. Emmett is a full time job. These 2 boys, particularly Emmett, were who I was fighting for. Dying was NOT an option.
Fast forward 2 ½ years, 49 chemotherapies, 2 surgeries, 3 radiation treatments, 2 blood transfusions, 1 stay in the ICU, and a lot of tears, nausea, fatigue. I’m still here, and I’m NED (no evidence of disease)! Other than achieving that miraculous status, I also achieved something else: a new identity.
Somewhere along the way I started applying my gift of gab (part of my career was spent in sales), my knowledge of the healthcare industry, my extremely tenacious, positive attitude, and my stature (I am 5’11”, rather broad shouldered, and with the longest arms you’ve ever seen), and my off the wall sense of humor to helping others with cancer and disabilities in no particular way other than what felt right at the time. I’ve done some public speaking, advocating for fellow warriors’ care, and posting on social media which have (so I’ve been told) inspired others to feel good, fight harder, and have hope that they could rise above their own adverse situation.
The person who does all of this is “Big Stace.” Who is “Big Stace?” you ask.
She is fearless.
She is tenacious.
She doesn’t take no for an answer.
She calls people out with tough love and straight talk, but with a dose of sarcasm capped off with an enormous dimpled smile.
She will pick you up, dust you off, and set you on your own course of purpose-filled disruption.
She leads by example, she empowers, she loves deeply and greatly.
Where did the name “Big Stace” originate? Good question… it was kind of a joke between my husband and me that before I fell ill and was working outside the home in my big job, I still managed to coordinate all of Emmett’s care and be a fabulous wife and mother. So when he’d ask, “Did you do this? Did you schedule that?”, I’d respond coolly, “Relax, Big Stace is on it!” I think I was so impressed and amazed with myself that I couldn’t believe I was handling all of that! Kind of like, “this isn’t me doing all of this, it’s Big Stace! Then I started referring to myself as Big Stace to my friends when they were concerned about my health to allay their fears; “Don’t worry, Big Stace has got this!” They were mostly confused. I’d reply, “Big Stace isn’t big; she’s larger than life!” They understood and embraced it. Knowing my outgoing personality, they definitely got it. Just by chance, my last name of Hurt definitely helped drive the point home. And today once you put anything in social media and hashtag it, it’s pretty much the law.
So then when the cancer thing hit, while I did work for a while, it was more finding a way to beat it, (also still coordinating Emmett’s care and being a fabulous wife and mother.) I channeled Big Stace. What would Big Stace do? She is a superhero. She is stronger and tougher than any cancer or chemo side effects. Big Stace told her oncologist, “If you’re saying this all depends on me and how I respond, then I am telling you that I will KICK ASS.” Big Stace will overcome this, because that’s what she does!! And not only that, but she will be a role model for others who need to beat this, because that’s how she rolls! She’s a do-er! 1000% pure energy. Clicking on 5 cylinders in high gear. Anything less is unacceptable.
The next question usually is, do Big Stace and the real Stacy overlap? Somewhat…my best comparison is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock is prettymuch just an exaggerated image of Dwayne – both are good guys. While Dwayne was wrestling, he was The Rock. Now that he’s acting, he’s moved onto being Dwayne. But everyone still knows he’s The Rock, and everyone loves both of his personas. He embraces The Rock, and we still see The Rock come out on occasion. Right now, I’m wrestling cancer (still am by the way…on maintenance chemotherapy indefinitely) and Emmett’s disabilities as Big Stace. But I can tell you that the real Stacy hates needles, is terrified of cancer every single day, is a very spiritual woman of faith, and prefers one-on-one time with friends to large crowds. Seemingly a few contrasts to Big Stace…
What can we learn from Big Stace? Mostly, that cancer doesn’t define you. Do not for one second think that you are a cancer patient, because once you get that in your head, you are one and will always be one. I was a cancer patient for one day, until I processed the situation and decided that I wasn’t going to be one. You don’t have to take on some alter ego to beat cancer. Just focus, commit fully, maintain balance, and believe in yourself and your own power within. Find your own new normal and new identity that maximizes as much quality of life as possible. Enjoy and be present in every single solitary moment that happens. Big Stace and Stacy would want you to.
All about Stacy:
Stacy Hurt has spent 20+ years in healthcare and physician practice management in such areas as sales, marketing, training, operations, customer service, strategy, and human resources. Her experience and knowledge on the care delivery side have advantaged her on the patient side as an advocate for not only herself as she battles Stage IV colorectal cancer, but also for her disabled, special needs son. Her professional and personal worlds have synergized to fuel Stacy’s recent work as an advocate, public speaker, and fundraiser for those with all types of cancer and disabilities. Her mission is to raise awareness and inclusion and exemplify a positive, “keep it real” approach. Stacy holds a B.S. from Penn State University and an M.H.A. and M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. In her free time, Stacy enjoys laughter with friends and family, and exercise. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and her two sons, Griffin (13) and Emmett (11). Find her on social at: www.stacyhurt.net / Twitter: @stacy_hurt / Facebook: stacyhurt17