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‘The toughest marathon’: Belchertown woman shares cancer experience for Toastmasters Club

  • Nancy Cook (right) running in the Chicago Marathon during her battle with cancer a decade ago.  SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Nancy Cook is seen during a Speakeasy Toastmasters meeting. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Nancy Cook is a cancer survivor who later went on to share her personal story through the Speakeasy Toastmasters.  SUBMITTED PHOTO



Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2020

Nancy Cook, 56 of Belchertown, has been cancer-free for more than a decade. She has been telling her personal story about her battle with Stage 4 lymphoma as part of the local Speakeasy Toastmasters Club, which is part of Toastmasters International, a global organization that fosters public speaking, communication and leadership skills.

Cook, who is president of the Speakeasy Toastmasters Club and works in marketing and fundraising, recently participated in a regional speech competition hosted by Toastmasters International, in which she came in fourth place out of 10 participants from across New England as well as New York. Each participant delivered a four- to seven-minute speech via Zoom.

“It was the toughest marathon in my life,” she said of her battle with cancer, which was the topic of her speech.

“I ran the Chicago Marathon two-thirds of my way through chemo treatment, and I basically talked about the whole journey of my cancer treatment and learning how to listen to my body and stay positive. And just trying to inspire, but also being realistic about those hurdles that you go through when you have cancer and those thoughts that go through your head in really dealing with that type of disease.”

Cook ran the Chicago Marathon while wearing a cape, she said.

“It was almost the end of my treatment, so my body was pretty beat up from chemo,” she said. “I had lost a bunch of weight … I ran the Chicago Marathon in a Wonder Woman outfit and a cape, and my girlfriend had on a Batgirl outfit. My sister had made the outfits. I actually ran a Boston qualifier time ... four hours. I did pretty well considering I was in the middle of treatment.”

Cook joined the toastmasters about two years ago because she has long had a love for public speaking. She wanted to learn more about delivering speeches and improving her skills.

The local club that she joined was founded in 1983 and includes more than 20 members. She said the “educational path” of the club encourages leadership, community efforts and professional levels of public speaking.

Cook appreciates being “a resource [for people] or a shoulder to lean on … someone that they can relate to,” she said. “I’ve had people come up to me afterwards and thank me and really connect with me.”

For more information about Speakeasy Toastmasters, visit toastofnorthampton.org.