Since I lost my parents, I sit back often and ponder faith and family and friendships, the precious aspects of life we too often overlook until life's fragility is evident. I internalize that study. Nobody knows it or sees it. Nobody needs to.
Death has that effect on people. It is intangible but profound. And no one can understand it like you can because, well, they're not you. Suddenly, in moments like that, the line at the grocery store or the interstate traffic jam that are so exasperating in the moment are suddenly proved otherwise. They are frivolous.
I've thought about that often lately. Jim Hunter's cancer battle makes me think about it. Bobby Hutchens' loss, too.
And Marcy Scott reminded me of that Thursday morning. She, too, celebrates the little things in life we take for granted every day, and she does so multiple times a day. Marcy is the public relations director at Atlanta Motor Speedway. She is battling breast cancer. And she is indomitable.
These days she doesn't just notice others that need help; she seeks them out. Her priorities have shifted dramatically. At this point, the rat race wouldn't even qualify as mall-walking.
Facing an uncertain future -- staring death square in the eye and refusing to blink -- has that effect on a person. And that's exactly what Scott, 38, is doing. She's staring a hole through it. And she's winning.
She's always been a selfless person. I met Marcy in the late '90s, when she represented ppc Racing and driver Jeff Green, and handed out NesQuik chocolate milk coupons with her weekly press release. She always smiled and asked about my wife, Lainie. Every time.
That didn't change when she migrated to Bill Davis Racing or PPI Motorsports, or when she headed home to Atlanta to work at AMS. I remember how giddy she was to get that job.
She'd been in the road show for a long time, and a track job would afford her the opportunity to settle down a bit, find a partner and fulfill her childhood dream -- to have a family of her own.
At Atlanta she was overworked. Her department was understaffed, and the burden of picking up the slack fell her way. Others helped, certainly. (She made sure I noted that.) But she was the name on the press releases and in the contact book, so she was the fire extinguisher. PR is as much about coddling as it is about information. That's just the truth.
As a result, the job began to define her. She was an "impatient perfectionist," and her life was out of balance. Like many career-driven folks, she put the job first and herself second. Or third. Or last.
"That's gone," she said. "It's not worth it. I feel like I've been given a gift. I'd never change this ride. Do I want to do it over? No. Do I want to have a mastectomy? No. Do I like standing here right now with boy hair and one boob? No. But it doesn't matter. Do I like how I look? No. But it doesn't define me. I won't let it define me."
Marcy was diagnosed in June. Like most folks who hear the words "You have cancer," she was ill-prepared for the news. No one, nothing, can prepare you for that sentence. It literally brought her to her knees. The information hit her like a freight train, in overwhelming abundance.
She would need chemotherapy, four months' worth. Radiation, too, six weeks' worth, every day. She would require surgery following chemo to remove her breast, and when the chemo and radiation was over, a hysterectomy to remove the risk of ovarian cancer.
And that's just the formal stuff. The emotional aftermath of those things was far worse.
The biggest blow was news that chemotherapy would permanently affect her fertility. When she was a little girl, Marcy professed that she wanted 10 children. Now doctors were telling her even one was impossible. Her childhood dream was crushed.
"I had to mourn cancer first, and now have to mourn fertility," she said. "I'm pissed right now. But I'm making amends with it and understanding the impact it's had on my life."
I spoke with her one morning recently, and had to excuse myself for a moment. My infant daughter was screaming like a hyena. I was a bit frustrated. When I returned to the phone, Marcy reminded me how beautiful that sound truly is.
"Hearing your daughter makes my heart hurt a little bit," she said, holding back tears. "It's hard. A friend of mine had a child, and I went to pick out a gift and just started crying. It's so hard. I don't know how I'll come to terms with that part of this."
One thing about cancer: You can't escape it. Bad days at the office or bad haircuts or stains on the carpet consume us in the moment. But that frustration wanes quickly. Cancer is permanent. Even if you beat it, you never forget it. And it's very difficult to find someone to share that grief with that really gets it.
For Marcy that person was Amy McCauley. She once hired Marcy, and recently had her own cancer battle, with leukemia. Amy's husband, Roy, is the former crew chief for Penske Racing that led Ryan Newman to the 2008 Daytona 500 championship.
When Amy was diagnosed, Marcy sent a care package to her in the hospital, but "had no idea what she was going through." When Marcy was diagnosed, Amy returned the gesture, sending several hats for Marcy to wear once the chemo stole her hair.
She also sent the journal she kept during treatment. It was wonderful, and helped Marcy cope with laughter and tears. Marcy said Amy had her belly-laughing with tales of her friend "Baxter," the chemo infusion pump/IV-drip bearing the manufacturer's insignia, hence the name Baxter.
"I read it in two nights and called her," Marcy said. "She said it was her journal, but in my mind it was a full book on her battle with leukemia. We cried and laughed.
"It's formed a bond even stronger than we had before. We find that there are days we pick each other up. When we talk it's absolutely amazing. We 'get' each other. It's so nice to have that kinship where you don't have to say a lot and yet still get it."
Countless people contacted Marcy after her diagnosis. She was appreciative, but it didn't take long to become overwhelmed with telling the same story again and again. She created a blog to spill her thoughts, frustrations and triumphs -- and only say it once. It is a harrowing account of her journey.
I was going through chemo, and standing at the elevator one day. And someone was standing there complaining about, 'I'm just so tired.' You want to stab them. Do you really know what tired is? I'll show you tired.
”-- Marcy Scott
In the latest installment she discusses how depressed she was just before Christmas, feeling "battered and bruised due to the pain of the surgery and multiple complications."
Then, on her first day of radiation, she met Jeremy, 28. He had brain cancer, and was also taking radiation therapy. Marcy told how Jeremy was bald with a large scar across his skull. Radiation wasn't going well for him. He was nauseated and couldn't eat, and had lost 35 pounds in 21 days.
That wasn't the most heartbreaking part. Jeremy also had lost his vision and wasn't sure it would ever return due to a tumor.
"He couldn't drive. He couldn't work. And it BROKE my heart. Here I was, down in the dumps yet I could drive myself to radiation each day AND go to work afterwards. I was able to return to "normal" life. His was changed drastically and probably permanently. I felt guilty for even being down."
That paragraph makes me ashamed at some of the things I get worked up about.
Next up for Marcy is the Kobalt Tools 500 this weekend, and on Wednesday she'll have that hysterectomy. In telling me about it, she choked up. Then she giggled a bit.
"I was going through chemo, and standing at the elevator one day," she said. "And someone was standing there complaining about, 'I'm just so tired.' You want to stab them. Do you really know what tired is? I'll show you tired.
"You can't expect everyone to have the perspective. It takes a lot of patience. Until you have that perspective you don't get it. I used to be one of those people. That's OK. I'm not there anymore."
At the end of our conversation we were talking shop, and she verbalized something I wish all of us in NASCAR would live by:
"At the end of the day, we're all blessed to have a job that we enjoy coming to every day, whether it's high-profile or not," she said. "We're all gainfully employed and have something fun to do. We get caught up in the pains in the ass and the trials and tribulations, and things that make us mad and that get in our way.
"To take a step back to say, 'There are millions of people that would give their left arm to do this.' Our fans buying those tickets think you've got their dream job. You have to realize and respect that. It doesn't make you self-important -- it makes you lucky. That's how people should approach being in this industry."
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.