Nancy Foote believes that attitude determines destiny.
Foote – an award-winning conceptual physics teacher at Higley Unified’s Sossaman Middle School in Queen Creek, public speaker, Gilbert resident, mother of three adult children and grandmother of 13 – has written a book on her premise to help others during the pandemic.
“Coca Cola Hot Pants, Cancer & Other Stories of Good Fortune: How Your Attitude Determines Your Destiny,” published on Amazon.com reached bestseller status.
Foote was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2016 and breast cancer in 2017: she had a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma in one breast and, before she could catch her breath, a diagnosis of invasive ductile carcinoma in the other.
Then this year, COVID-19 hit and she has been confined to her home since March without even trips to a grocery store or a restaurant because of her high-risk health status.
Her children and grandchildren, the youngest of whom is 3, occasionally visit her in her backyard.
Even with cancer treatments, she continued to teach at least once a week in her classroom and didn’t slow down.
“When COVID hit, I was totally lost. I am very extroverted. I get energy and joy from my students, my coworkers, my family,” she said.
With the onset of the pandemic, her oncologist asked her to isolate because she is still on oral medication for cancer treatment.
“I don’t like COVID and I feel that COVID has taken a lot more from me than cancer or Parkinson’s,” she said. “Everything felt so hopeless to me.”
“I thought I could write this book and it would give people hope, then maybe that will help. I wrote the book, I thought if anybody is given even a little bit of hope, it’s worth it,” she said.
“So, I started writing about times that brought joy to me, and how my attitude made them happier,” Foote added. “Even cancer, such an awful thing, was made better when I looked at it from a different point of view. When I changed my attitude.”
Even before she authored the 175-page book, Foote said she was in the midst of writing a book for teachers about how to be a good teacher and a good parent.
“When I was a young mom and I had three kids, I would go to school and come home and I’d be exhausted,” she said. “I would hate to say this, but I leave my best self at school. And my kids got the leftovers.”
“So, when I talked to teachers, I say it’s very important that you don’t do that. One of the things that teachers need to hear is that it’s OK to set limits at what you do at school. It’s OK to leave some papers ungraded.
“It’s OK to put time limits on your job, because if you quit your job, they would replace you tomorrow. But if your family lost you, you could never be replaced,” she said.
Even while she was writing a book along those lines, there was another pull: “I kept being drawn to my stories,” she said, because she’s “a storyteller at heart.”
“Coca Cola Hot Pants, Cancer & Other Stories of Good Fortune” contains 13 stories from various times in her life.
“Stories when my attitude had a big impact on the results,” she said. “It’s upbeat, funny.”
One story details how she won a Coca Cola hot pants from a radio competition when she was a child, despite her parents’ refusal to buy her one and forbidding her to wear it. Another tells how she became an honorary Playboy Bunny at age 18.
Foote said readers may read this book as a series of fun stories. Or, on a deeper level, as a series of thought-provoking questions and challenges.
Foote believes anyone can make their life better by simply changing their attitude.
“While I say “simply,” there’s nothing simple about it. I give you 14 challenges — things to do to help you look at your own life and your attitudes. Taking a close look at these will help you find ways to have a happier, more joyful, and more positive experience,” she said.
Foote tried out a series of jobs before she embarked on teaching. She has worked as a balloon delivery clown, in law office administration and at a CPA firm, among others.
Many years ago, she was a chemist for the Sherwin-Williams Company, using her bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Loyola University of Chicago.
It was a lucrative job, but, as a young mother to a son, “I realized there was a whole lot more to life than money.”
She also realized that the chemicals she was working with were carcinogenic.
After moving to Arizona in 1985, she obtained her masters in education from Arizona State University. From 1997-99, she was principal of Saint Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic School.
She joined Higley Unified 15 years ago, and has been at Sossamon Middle School since it opened about seven years ago.
Her teaching has garnered the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Most Valuable Teacher of the Year in 2017 by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
She is the only teacher to receive the Educator of the Year award from both the Town of Gilbert Chamber of Commerce (2015) and the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce (2016).
Foote has also developed her talent as a speaker and travels to different conferences, where she speaks on various topics including how teachers teach science with only the stuff that they buy at the Dollar Tree store with their own money.
Her life story and how she maintains a positive attitude, are popular topics. “Life is always going to throw stuff at us. We don’t get a choice on that. The only choice we have is how we deal with it,” she said.
With her doctors anticipating her cancer will return, and with Parkinson’s degenerating her brain, she still sees some positivity in her situation.
“My brain is as good today as it’s going to get. It’s only going to get worse from here. Frankly, that frightens me a little bit. I’m worried about if I get dementia. I won’t remember my family or I won’t remember my students, who have been such a huge part of my life for some 30-plus years.
“It’s out of my hands,” Foote said. “I can’t worry about it. I just have to say I’m going to take today for today and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Coca Cola Hot Pants, Cancer & Other Stories of Good Fortune: How Your Attitude Determines Your Destiny is available at Amazon.com for $2.99 on Kindle and at $9.99 for a paperback. Read her blog at theunintentionalgeek.com.