The Facts about Cancer in America
• At any given time, roughly 15 million of us are living with cancer.
• This year alone, more than 1.6 million of us will be newly diagnosed with cancer.
• More than 1/3 of us (approximately 38.5%) will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes.
• Cancer will kill more than 600,000 of us before this year ends.
The night before a planned vacation to Disneyland,
Amy Nappa was shocked to find out she had life-threatening cancer. Trip cancelled, she and her husband Mike began frantic preparations for surgery, chemotherapy, and the great unknowns to follow.
To keep Amy’s family and a few close friends updated on her progress, Mike started a secret Facebook group with about 20 people. “We’ll just tell everyone the truth,” Mike promised his wife, “and let the chips fall where they may.” And so they did.
Before long, hundreds of people belonged to that so-called “secret”
group—and because they kept sharing posts, thousands more were
reading about Amy every day on the Internet.
Now, for the first time in print, here is the full collection of those
writings, the entire beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring, as-it-happened
story of Amy Nappa’s Hard Way Home.
Amy Wakefield Nappa was born on November 10, 1963, in Portsmouth, VA, to Norm and Winnie Wakefield. She moved to heaven on September 11, 2016. Amy was a sister, a wife, a mother, grandmother, and friend. She loved her family and her friends dearly. Her greatest joys were to spend time with family, to hang out with her friends, to laugh, and to mentor those a little behind her in the journey of life. Amy loved Jesus with all her heart, and her greatest desire was to be remembered as a woman who shined the love of Jesus.
She dies at the end.
I think you should know that up front, so you are prepared, so you know what you’re getting into.
I was tempted not to tell you, to keep it a mystery. After all, when we lived this moment, we didn’t know at first whether she would survive or die. Why should it be any different for you? But I’ve learned from experience that it’s hard to watch death creeping toward someone you love, not knowing whether he’s just peeking or planning to walk in and stay awhile. And I think you are going to love my wife, so I wanted to give you fair warning:
Our girl dies in the end.
I guess I should also tell you why we call Amy “our girl,” because you’ll see that quite a bit in this book.
Early in our marriage I used to call Amy “my best girl” and somewhere along the decades it got shortened to just “my girl.” It was kind of my nickname for her whenever I needed an excuse to do something fun or buy something I knew she’d want. “My girl says I need to look pretty for the Christmas party,” I’d say flippantly, or “My girl wants chocolate ice cream, so she gets chocolate ice cream.” It made me happy to talk about Amy this way, and I think she liked it too. And then, as the months passed from 2015 into 2016, I realized the truth about my girl…
Turns out she belonged to more people than I could’ve imagined! She’d filled the hearts and lives of so many people that one day during chemotherapy I finally understood she was not just “my girl.” To hundreds and hundreds of caring friends and coworkers—and even to people she barely knew—she was “our girl.” And she still is.
So this book is about what happened to our girl—as it happened—after Amy was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV-B uterine cancer. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t know I was writing this book when I wrote it. I thought I was just keeping a few friends and family members up to date on Amy’s medical situation (and occasional Disney obsession).
See, a few days before her first surgery, Amy was stressed about keeping our family and a few close friends updated on her condition so I said, “I’ll take care of it.” That was my husband code for, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it; you just concentrate on fighting this deadly cancer.”
To make sure she wouldn’t worry, that night I started a secret Facebook group called “Amy! Makes Me Smile.” (Yes, our girl always spelled her name with an exclamation point; and yes, it fit her well.) I put about 20 people in the group and informed Amy I’d just tell everyone the truth about whatever happened, and we’d all find our way through it somehow.
What I didn’t realize was that there were a lot more than 20 people who loved Amy and wanted to walk beside her through this whole cancer journey.
More of her friends asked to be added to the group, then more, then so many I lost count of them all. And then they started copying my updates and sending them out to all their friends too. (No, I guess they didn’t understand what the word “secret” meant in “Facebook secret group.”) In the end there were hundreds of “friends” in this supposedly-secret group, and thousands more reading daily about Amy’s fight with cancer on Facebook—most of whom I still don’t know. But they knew Amy, and they loved her with a determination I’ve never seen before or since. They loved her all the way to the finish line and became an immense source of strength for her as she suffered.
Yeah, those people are pretty cool.
And so that’s what the bulk of this book is: updates from Amy! Makes Me Smile on Facebook, along with a few letters from Amy’s journal, which I’ve added at the end.
I struggled with the decision of whether to publish this book, and I’ll tell you why. When you turn the pages in here, my girl will just be a character in a story to you, almost a beautiful little fiction to pass your Sunday afternoon. To me she was indescribably more.
Amy! was a living, breathing, breathtaking soul that, for 30 years, inhabited and influenced every moment of my existence. She was my laughter and my heartbreak, my joy and my confidante, my playmate and errand buddy, my breath and my courage to start each new day. Amy’s hands held me up, wiped away my tears, strengthened my weakening bones. Amy’s emerald eyes made me understand what beauty looked like. Her smile gave me purpose in life; her existence reminded me every day that God is very much alive—and very much involved in the smallest details of me.
Amy was to me—to my heart, body, and soul—the closest thing to heaven I’ll ever see with my own eyes or touch with my own lips.
Try to remember that for me, will you?
Remember that my girl was not just a beautiful story for you to read about, but an irreplaceable gift from God into my often-bleary and sin-sick world. Knowing you are doing that, I think, will help me just a little as I tell you what happened to her. To us.
All right. Enough with the long-winded prelude. Just one last thing and then we’ll get started.
Before she went into hospice, I made Amy write her own obituary. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Here’s what she wrote, how she wanted to be remembered:
Foreword, from James Taylor
Twas the Night Before Disneyland…
Does Your Husband Love You?
You Look Like Hell
Ring the Bell
Maybe It’s Pneumonia…
Fullness of Joy
Afterword, from Pete Docter
Appendix: Letters from Amy
About the Authors
If You’d Like More…
Read more chapters now at HarvestHousePublishers.com
Amy & Mike Nappa went to a Mimi’s Café in California for their first date, way back in their college days. They got engaged 10 days later, and married just a few months after that.
Thirty years later Mike & Amy had their last date in a Hospice room, on the top floor of a Colorado hospital.
Yes, they held hands.
And yes, Mike kissed her goodnight.