Cancer may have taken Nancy Koehler’s mobility and some of her hair, but she won’t let it steal her sense of humor.
As executive director of the Deaconess Foundation, Koehler has been a driving force behind garnering donations for the newly built Linda E. White Hospice House, set to open in January. She recognizes that working so hard to fund a facility that will help terminally ill patients die with dignity is both ironic and reassuring.
“I used to joke with everyone and say, ‘Maybe I’ll be the first patient.’ I knew my cancer was stable and could turn at any time. I maybe jinxed myself,” says Koehler, who is an Evansville resident and University of Southern Indiana graduate. “Patients will be able to die in a place that is accessible for their family. It’s beautiful, peaceful. It’s where people should die, with dignity. I’m very proud to be able to be a part of it.”
In October 2016, Koehler was given six months to live after learning her cancer had spread. Four years prior, she was diagnosed with a primary neoplasm of the spinal cord — which she calls a weed tumor because it is a stringy, invasive cancer that intertwines with the spinal cord, making it inoperable.
“I was well aware I wouldn’t live to be 85, but I was hoping it would be longer than this,” says Koehler, who is 45. “It’s a weird way to live. I take what comes my way and I deal with it. So for somebody to give me an end point that I actually don’t believe — I’m not a wallower. But it was bad news.”
Koehler fights her cancer with bi-weekly chemotherapy infusions, which she receives on her lunch break. Every six weeks, she also takes an oral dose of chemotherapy — which she calls “wicked chemo” for the harsh side effects it produces. Koehler says the negative effects are worth it if she can have more time with her three sons who are 7, 9, and 11.
She also says she will continue working — just as she has during her 23-year tenure at Deaconess — until she helps raise every penny of the $5 million pledged for the Linda E. White Hospice House.
“I don’t not finish things, so this is going to get done,” says Koehler with confidence. “I’m going to finish this.”
For more information about the Deaconess Foundation, visit deaconess.com/giving/foundation or call 812-450-3359. For more information about the Linda E. White Hospice House, visit deaconess.com/hospicehouse.