Service Can Be Cathartic
Nancy Smith Survived a Year-Long Battle with Cancer and Now, She’s Helping Hurricane Survivors Cope with Loss
Hurricane Harvey was devastating. Over its life, the storm caused more than $150 billion in damages and destroyed countless lives across Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast. The disaster spurred thousands of Team Rubicon volunteers to step up and help residents rebuild in the aftermath. One of the first Greyshirts (TR volunteer) to respond was Ms. Nancy Smith.
Nancy deployed to Houston from her Southern California home in September, serving in remote operations and at the forward operating base in Kashmere Gardens, TX, an underserved area of Houston. She mucked out flooded homes and traveled with relief teams to recovery sites — but her most important work was directing crews from the base and speaking personally with hurricane survivors. “Some of these people‘s lives were completely decimated. They were incredibly grateful that we would stop and listen, and that we would actually come to their home and help. Many were not familiar with receiving help from strangers, but Team Rubicon was there to assist.”
The work proved cathartic for other reasons as well. While on scene, Nancy discovered the struggles faced by hurricane survivors were remarkably similar to her personal experience with fighting cancer. Diagnosed in 2009 with skin, breast, and anal cancers, Nancy survived a year-long battle by refocusing her life around her mission to defeat the cancer.
“During the treatment, you’re very focused on just getting through the treatment — just one step at a time, trying to do the next thing to reclaim your life. When we are helping people, for example with Hurricane Harvey, my experience is you’re meeting people with a similar struggle — becoming a long-term survivor of something that completely pulls the rug out from under your feet.”
The skills Nancy developed in ultimately defeating her illness came in handy when consoling disaster survivors. In addition, her experience with TR in Houston furthered her own recovery in myriad ways.
“I found it very satisfying to take the experience of having something that is life-changing and taking away from that, the need to serve and help the people in Houston, giving them some hope. Perhaps they can get through this long-term challenge the same way I did.”
Nancy used her experience with Team Rubicon in Houston to — in a small way — repay those who helped and supported her during her battle with cancer.
“What the cancer has done for me is say, ‘I could never thank the people who actually helped me.’ The least I can do is help — in any way I can — other people when they experience tragedy.”
Ultimately, Nancy concedes, it’s not about the physical work accomplished (although that’s a significant part of TR’s mission), it’s about the relationships made. That’s what she learned during her battle with cancer, and it’s the message she seeks to convey as a Greyshirt.
“Be present there with the people who are right in front of you. Don’t miss that opportunity to connect because you’re busy planning tomorrow or what you’re going to do later or next year. Seize that moment to be present with someone who needs a connection. Because you may never have it again.”