Nanci DeSousa, the owner of PUSH Fitness Studio who is loved by her many clients, takes nothing for granted. A breast cancer survivor for more than a year, Nanci relishes each minute of each day, whether she’s teaching the fitness classes she adores or mothering her two young children.
“Thank God I’m here. I’m so grateful that I am,” Nanci declared. “I feel blessed.”
Her mission now is to spread cancer awareness and advocate mammograms for every woman. Had she not gotten her very first mammogram the week she turned 40, her cancer would have spread undetected.
“I never, ever would have found it on my own,” Nanci said. “If I would have waited, it would have killed me.”
Nanci is warm and friendly, with an exuberant personality and her clients at PUSH feel a special connection to her. Some cried when they heard she had cancer and many donated food and gifts to help her family get through the difficult time.
One client, who contacted The Eagle about Nanci, wrote, “She is an amazing inspiration.” Humble, Nanci related that she isn’t sure she’s an inspiration, but her goal is just to help women be aware that visiting the doctor for early detection of cancer is vital.
Two years ago, Nanci embraced turning 40 and felt the best she ever had physically. “I was probably in the best shape of my life,” she recalled. “I was teaching classes. I was happy with my weight, happy with my fitness level. I felt great.”
At the doctor’s office, Nanci got her first mammogram, as he recommended it because of her age. The results were unclear, so she was sent for an ultrasound, but she wasn’t nervous because she was told this was routine. Two days later, a nurse called Nanci and told her something suspicious was visible on her scan, but that it was probably nothing and she should schedule another ultrasound in six months.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Nanci said. In the spring of last year, she made a follow-up appointment for an ultrasound, which led to another appointment with a specialist where she found out she had breast cancer.
As soon as the doctor told her, Nanci said she didn’t hear anything he said after that. She remembers the doctor and her husband talking in the office as she sat there in shock, her head swimming with questions about her future.
Nanci found out, after more waiting and more exams and appointments, that her cancer was detected early and had not spread to her lymph nodes. This helped her avoid chemotherapy. She decided almost immediately that she would have a double mastectomy to remove the cancer.
As her doctor gave her treatment options, Nanci asked him what he’d recommend she do, if she was his daughter. “He had tears in his eyes and he said, I’d tell you to have a bilateral mastectomy,” she recalled.
On June 16, 2014, one month after she found out she had cancer, Nanci had the surgery to remove the tissue in both of her breasts, eliminating the cancer from her body. After that, she had a series of reconstructive surgeries to replace her breasts.
“It was painful. I can’t even tell you how painful,” Nanci said of her recovery. Losing a part of herself was also difficult emotionally, she related. Her husband, Jason, however, had a way of understanding. Jason had testicular cancer years ago and underwent surgery.
“He really got it; he really understood,” Nanci said of Jason. “He’s been so supportive.”
Nanci and Jason both stood together to remain strong for their two children, Lauren, now 13, and Jason Jr., 5. Lauren, who understood what her mother’s diagnosis meant, suffered much anxiety over it, Nanci said. She’s done her best to be optimistic for Lauren, she said, and she’s had much support from family and friends.
When Nanci had her double mastectomy, her nipples were also removed as they potentially held cancer cells. She felt unnatural without them and, through Internet research, found a tattoo artist in Maryland who does nipple tattoos for cancer survivors that look three-dimensional.
One year after her surgery, Nanci went to Maryland, paid $800, and got the tattoos. “They’re amazing, they take your eye away from the scars,” she said.
As always, Jason supported Nanci when she said she wanted the tattoos. “He said, ‘Let’s go. We’ll get the money somehow.’ And then we were in a car going to Maryland,” she remembered.
As Nanci was being interviewed for this story, Jason sent her a text, telling her that she looked pretty that day. She beamed with love.
Community support Nanci and Jason, high school
sweethearts originally from Long Island, moved to Mountain Top a decade ago. Nanci, an elementary school teacher, worked as a substitute in the area but never found a permanent teaching job here.
“I always wanted to be a fitness instructor, but I was afraid to do it. I didn’t know if I had the nerve to do it,” she said. Jason pushed her to pursue her dream and they opened PUSH Fitness Studio.
“I didn’t expect it to take off like it did,” she remarked. Now, around 200 people work out at PUSH, coming from Mountain Top and surrounding areas.
Both Nanci and Jason teach classes at PUSH, along with eight other instructors. Push offers group fitness classes, personal training, nutrition coaching, boot camp, and even child care. Nanci, utilizing her love of children and teaching, watches clients’ children in a playroom at PUSH while they work out.
The outpouring of support Nanci and her family got from PUSH clients during her recovery was “truly amazing,” she said. Her instructors pitched in to work extra hours and