Since 1998, Nan Kelley’s talent, charm, and sunny personality have made her a fixture on television - first as a host on the Nashville Network, and in more recent years, as the host of Opry Live and other shows on the GAC network. But in 2008, Nan’s optimistic spirit faced its greatest challenge when she was diagnosed with cancer – specifically, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Nan recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) to discuss what happened. Here are some excerpts:
Tony Rossi: In 2008, you had an experience that a lot of people have. Everything seemed to be going well in your life and your career. Then the unexpected hit. You were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. How did you first discover you had cancer?
Nan Kelley: I was hosting a fundraising event, and I put my hand up on my neck while talking to people and I felt this lump. I thought for a moment, “That seems weird.” The next day I showed it to my husband and he said, ‘That doesn’t feel right.’ So we were at the doctors by noon that day. We had a diagnosis within a week that it was indeed Hodgkins. We had a biopsy surgery and they verified that. When you get a cancer diagnosis, it’s earthshaking. But the blessing for me and my family was that the type of cancer that I had is curable. Not every cancer has that hope.
TR: You’re talking about blessings, and you’ve described your faith as your core. So when you heard the diagnosis of cancer, did you have a ‘Why me, Lord’ moment?
Nan Kelley: I didn’t. Something you don’t know that we haven’t really made public – Three weeks after I finished my radiation, my husband Charlie, who’s 40 years old, was diagnosed with colon cancer. A husband and a wife who within six months had back-to-back cancer diagnoses is amazing. He had ten inches of his colon removed. There is no cancer anywhere else. That is great that we both had a very positive prognosis. So to come back around to your question – I never once asked ‘Why me, God?’ because I think of the words to a Crabbe family song that said, “He never said the road would be easy, but He said He would be there with you always.”
TR: Chemotherapy is a rough road so what gave you the strength to endure that whole thing? Was it family, friends, faith, all of the above?
Nan Kelley: All of the above, definitely…The biggest thing for me as a person on television - I chose to share it with the audience. My husband, after we got the diagnosis, said to me, “Nan, you have an opportunity here to take what is a hard road and to share it with people. By sharing, you open up both ways and maybe you could help someone. If your journey is very public – and the person at home, theirs is very private and they’re feeling the same things you’re feeling – maybe there’s a channel of health and hope there.” So that’s why I shared it with the TV audience. In doing that, I thought, ‘Perhaps I can be a help.’ But honestly, the help came back to me. It blessed me because (there was an) outpouring from the people that watch our network and that emailed & sent cards – months later the cards are still in my room covering up everything! To know that so many people are praying for you…that is healing.
TR: Nan, you mentioned before that you and Charlie were going through this at the same time. I think it’s pretty common for couples who’ve been married a number of years to start taking each other for granted. Did this experience of cancer together give you both a deeper appreciation for your marriage and relationship?
Nan Kelley: Very, very much… You know, Charlie shaved my head for me when I was losing my hair. It comes out in weird patches and spurts, and it’s frustrating because you have no control over it. So finally I said, “Charlie, I want you to shave my head today.” And Charlie ran into the bathroom and got the scissors and said, “Okay, let’s go!” So we went out to the backyard in broad daylight. I’m crying and it’s emotional. But you have to cut the hair first, you can’t just start shaving. So he starts giving me these haircuts – and he’s no haircutter, trust me (laughs). And he said, “Oh look, a little bob. Look how adorable you are.” And I was like, “Thank you” through tears. Then he goes and gives me this punk, rock-and-roll, messed-up do and he goes, “Oh look at this, that’s funny!” I look in the mirror and go, “That’s pretty wild looking!” Then we get to the shaving part, and by that point I’m laughing. He turned it from tears to laughter. And my head is bald at the end and he says, “Look how beautiful you are.” I don’t know if there will be a more bonding moment in our marriage than that one because he took me from what is trauma for a woman – to lose your hair – to, “Okay, my husband thinks I’m beautiful and he did this for me.” There will never be a more bonding moment than that one.
(To download the full “Christopher Closeup” interview with Nan Kelley, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)