Thanksgiving is a lousy week to start a diet.
But this week is a wonderful time to reflect and give thanks. I thank God for three wonderful children. I was also so lucky 36 years ago when my then-future wife Kathy said yes. There is one other thing I think about a lot during the holidays, I thank God that Kathy and I went to get new sunglasses—because those sunglasses saved her life.
That is not a joke. Let me explain. When our second book, “The Happy in a Hurry Cookbook” was released in fall of 2020, because of the pandemic, there was no in-person book tour, so Kathy and I recorded a video that explained how we became cookbook authors. We explained how years earlier, Kathy and I planned to take the kids on a vacation to Florida. Our sunglass prescriptions were years old, so we went to see our local eye doctor Patrick Clancy.
My new prescription was the same as my previous one. Then Dr. Clancy examined Kathy. Her examination was much longer than mine, and when he called me in to join Kathy, he said “It’s probably nothing, but she’s got what looks like a freckle on the back of her eye.”
Freckles don’t sound scary, and he said there was nothing to worry about. Just come back in a few months, and we did. About a minute after he started that second exam he said he’d like to have a local retina doctor take a look. We saw that doctor within the hour. He had a different tone in his voice and asked if we could go to Philadelphia. “Sure,” Kathy said and asked when? He said “Right now.”
At that moment a significant blizzard was shutting down the New York City area, but at 5 AM, we were on a snow-packed I-95 en route to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
After a day of tests one of America’s foremost eye doctors, Carol Shields said, “Kathy, you have eye cancer.” We both stopped breathing. “But” the doctor said “I can save your life.”
Kathy had a very rare and deadly ocular melanoma. Within a few weeks, she was treated at Wills with radiation. The unspoken worry was that the melanoma would start in the eye and then quickly spread to the liver or lungs. Very late one night during the radiation therapy, with her three children sleeping in the next room at the Hilton Garden Inn Kathy worried the same thing everybody with cancer has… “What if this treatment doesn’t work?”
Somewhere that night Kathy decided that she would start writing down the recipes she’d made her kids since they were born, so they would always know how to make those happy foods from their childhood—just in case. And those handwritten notes from their mother to her children were the recipes that led Kathy to becoming a number one New York Times best-selling cookbook writer.
In the autumn of 2020 with the release of our second book, “The Happy in a Hurry Cookbook,” we ran a videotape that explained how we became cookbook writers and explaining Kathy’s cancer treatment.
Halfway across the country, Pastor Terry Keeney was watching. Kathy’s cancer sounded exactly like what his friend Vickie Sonnenberg in Tennessee had just been diagnosed with the week before—so he called her and told her to find Kathy’s story online and see if it might help her. I heard about Vickie’s story when Pastor Terry posted a thank-you to Kathy for sharing her story on Facebook.
When I heard about Vickie, I tracked her down, and as I dialed the last four digits of her phone number, I realized they were the same last four digits of Kathy’s cell phone. Coincidence, I’ve always said, is God’s way of working anonymously. Telling Vickie that she and Kathy had the same number was the first thing I said when I got her on the phone.
“Steve, your wife and I have more in common than people realize.”
Just like Kathy, Vickie had no idea she had eye cancer before she and her husband had gone to the mall to get a new prescription for glasses. The results were normal, but as they were about to leave the nurse told them that they had a new 3D machine that could look at the back of their eyes to see if there were any problems, however that test cost an extra $15. Vickie told me she was from a family with ten children and spent her life in hand-me-downs “I am as tight as bark on a tree” and said to the nurse they weren’t going to spend the money on the test.
Then her husband, who had just been successfully treated for prostate cancer, told the nurse, “We’re going to do it”and they did.
Her husband’s eyes were fine, but something was not right at the back of Vickie’s eye— they thought the retina was detaching, and she was immediately sent to a specialist, who spotted a melanoma tumor and got them in quickly to see a surgeon. He gave Vickie two treatment options, radiation therapy or enucleation— taking out the whole eye. She said she would have to think and pray on it. They told her not to take too long; it really couldn’t wait. Vickie thought carefully and decided to get rid of all the cancer at once—she would have her entire eye removed.
But as luck would have it two days later, Vickie’s friend saw Kathy Doocy talk on TV about how she battled and overcame cancer, and he immediately called Vickie and said she had to listen to Kathy’s story. So she did, and it changed her mind—instead of having her eye removed, she would have the same surgery Kathy did by a highly recommended surgeon who happened to have been trained by Kathy’s doctors. The good news: Vickie’s radiation treatment was successful—and she kept both eyes and her vision.
Vickie told me she had just been to her doctor and the tumor continued to shrink. The doctor also said, “Next time you see that optometrist, thank him for saving your life.” She has thanked him plenty of times since. “I truly believe in guardian angels,” Vickie told me, and that optometrist was her guardian angel.
“If I hadn’t seen that show and heard your wife’s story, Steve, Vickie would not have gone down that road,” Pastor Terry told me. “And I don’t think she would have made it. Thank God I saw it.” Then he paused a moment. “Honestly,” Terry said with his voice cracking on the phone, “your wife probably saved her life.”
Vickie was not the only one. Over the last four years, we have heard from countless people who’d never heard of eye cancer until Kathy talked about it on TV. She’s also commiserated with others who’d gotten that same terrible diagnosis. In fact as I was typing out that last paragraph, I got a text message from a husband who’d spoken to us and arranged for his wife to see Kathy’s doctor in Philly. They were reaching out to say thank you for helping them figure out what to do. So relieved to finally have a plan of action, their doctor will monitor the freckle on the back of her eye—every six months—just in case.
Today Kathy’s had some significant challenges from the effects of the radiation, the better news is she’s been cancer-free for more than five years. Just know that Kathy donates a lot of money from our cookbooks toward eye cancer research—which we pray will someday eradicate this awful killer. Until then the key is early detection. So even if you don’t wear glasses—please get your eyes checked, just in case. We are thankful so many Americans have taken Kathy’s advice and done just that.
At the very least, you can always get a prescription for new sunglasses.
This is one of the stories adapted from Steve & Kathy Doocy’s new book “The Simply Happy Cookbook.” To order your copy, click here. Used with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved.