Time stood still that day in 2006 when Nancy Amato learned she had pancreatic cancer. The doctor’s prognosis was somber — a mere three to six months. But Nancy was determined to fight and went on to prove her doctors wrong time and time again.
Two of her children, Pat (ACCT ’03) and his brother John (MARK ’05) had already graduated from Notre Dame, the alma mater of her husband, Chris (ND ’74). While her oncologists told her otherwise, Nancy had every intention of seeing her other two — Katie ( ND ’09, ’07) and Daniel (D.R.) (FIN ’09) — walk off that same stage clutching their diplomas.
With an amazing strength and will to live, Nancy rode her quiet stubbornness all the way to this past spring — a miraculous 8 1/2 years. Throughout her arduous journey, she sustained her vibrancy, her ability to pull friends into the fold of family, her generosity of spirit. That’s the legacy she left her children and her many adopted children, affectionately dubbed “meerkittens.”
That legacy is very much being lived out and passed along today. Early on in Nancy’s fight, and touched by the support showered upon the family, the Amatos turned their thoughts from their own troubles to how they could pay it forward. Pants Off Racing (POR) was soon born, in honor of “Nancy Pants,” the nickname the Amato kids affectionately had given their strong-willed mother who, they teased, wore the pants in the family.
Initially, the goal was to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer by gathering a group of friends to meet for races around the country — the New York City Triathlon, the Austin Half Ironman and the Bourbon Chase in Kentucky, among others. That was only the beginning. After a while, the growing group launched an annual holiday drive, adopting families affected by pancreatic cancer. The idea was to bring a little happiness to the individuals and families suffering from a disease that is otherwise so miserable. POR volunteers, the “meerkats” and “meerkittens,” purchase and personally deliver mountains of gifts, Christmas trees, homemade dinners and more. They spend time with the individuals and families, taking them on outings and getting to know them in any way they can.
“We’re all about the face-to-face interactions, so we adopt these families and become friends,” Pat Amato says.
Examples of these friendships could fill an entire book. One story involves a mother of young children who relocated after the death of her husband. POR volunteers babysat the children, helped with the packing and were there when the moving trucks arrived. In another case, upon learning of a Chicago family in need, the meerkats and meerkittens contacted Notre Dame buddies in the city, and before you knew it, gift boxes from Amazon arrived for the family.
“When someone you love is diagnosed with terminal cancer, it’s difficult to look at the positive perspective,” Pat says. “Losing a loved one leaves such an emptiness in our lives.”
It is a testament to Nancy’s inspiring spirit and energy for the Amatos and POR to continue living as she had wished. “She had that never-give-up attitude that guides us to bring small tokens of happiness to those who are suffering,” Pat says. “It is uplifting to witness something so good stemming from something so tragic.”