Metamorphosis

Keyla “Nunny” Reece, 41, of Hope Mills, N.C., reacts to news of her friend’s death from breast cancer at Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Nov. 30, 2019. In 2015, Nunny felt a lump in her breast, got it checked out and was told it was a benign cyst. Two years later, Nunny felt an additional lump, this time under her armpit, while simultaneously experiencing skin blotches and extreme back pain. On June 7, 2017, doctors diagnosed her with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, and by that point the cancer spread to her ribs, lungs, spine, and pelvis. After an initial period of shock and anger, Nunny started advocating and raising awareness for MBC in women of color by becoming a Tigerlily Foundation advocate, sharing her story as often as possible, and creating TikTok videos, insightful posts and information on her social media platforms. In addition to her advocacy, Nunny is committed to fulfilling her goals on her “livelovelife” list, including renewing her vows with her husband of 20 years, Scott Reece.
Treatment options for cancer are limited in Hope Mills. Nunny must be driven nearly 2 hours from Hope Mills to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to get CT scans, chemotherapy, blood drawn, radiation and more. “Most everybody I know now that have breast cancer is my age…especially in the Black community…I didn’t know anything about breast cancer. I just know that cancer, it was different stages. Stage four mean you die.”
Nunny grasps the hands of her aunt, Tina Foster (left) and a group of her “prayer warriors” shortly after conveying the news that she has weeks, or possibly months to live. Without God, “the depression, the sadness, the pain…all of that would have took over by now. And I would not have been as strong as I am today,” she said. After Nunny’s cancer diagnosis, she began deepening her relationship with God by attending her church every Sunday and reading the Bible frequently. She also transformed a closet in her home into a “prayer closet” so that she could spend alone time with God.
Nunny lays back as she receives chemotherapy while accompanied by her husband, Scott, at the N.C. Cancer Hospital. Reece has gone through nine lines of treatment to help curb the spread of the cancer, which has spread all over her body, including her liver, lungs, bones and brain. “At this point it’s pretty much everywhere,” she said. When Nunny and Scott were initially informed about her devastating diagnosis, “the first thing Scott asked her was, is she gonna die,” said Nunny. “And, you know, he sat there and cried and I sat there and cried, and you have these two young people and this doctor sitting there with tears in her eyes.”
Nunny makes a face at her husband, Scott, at their wedding rehearsal the evening before their vow renewal. In 2000, the Reece’s married in a courthouse and promised to renew their vows in a more elaborate ceremony later on. 18 years and three kids later, Scott proposed to Nunny at her 40th birthday party, less than a year after her stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. Renewing her vows with Scott is one of Nunny’s goals on her “livelovelife” list. “People when they know they’re gonna die, they have like a, what they call a bucket list. And I have what I call is a livelove life list because I still continue to live and I want to do things, you know, while I’m celebrating life with my family.”
Nunny picks out her wedding dress while accompanied by her bridesmaids. Reece felt relieved to find her “perfect dress” because of concerns of swelling as a result of her steroid treatment. “As soon as I put it on my eyes is lit up. And I just knew that dress was for me…and it was really really beautiful.”
Nunny celebrates with her sister, Tauneka Roundtree Dolloson (left), cousin Tedra Harris (right) and bestfriend Jessica Clark (far right) at her bridal shower. The three help Scott out by accompanying Nunny to doctor’s appointments when he cannot.

(Left) Tedra Harris places a necklace around Nunny Reece’s neck while she speaks to her best friend, Jessica Clark (right) the night before her vow renewal. Reece spent the night with her best friends in a hotel where they ate food, laughed and prepared for her big day.
Nunny waits to be seen at the UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus in Hillsborough, N.C.”Treatment haven’t really been that good. I think I was stable once on one of my medications..The longest I’ve been stable for is six months.”
Ryan Reece, 10, plays games while his older brother, Tylan Reece, 20, sleeps in a hotel at Myrtle Beach, S.C. Their mother, Nunny, wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving and Ryan’s birthday at the beach to create memories and spend quality time with her loved ones. “It was hard to even to let the words out to tell my kids, but I didn’t want to lie to them, like my dad did with us, he didn’t really tell us about his cancer. And you know, the process that he was going through, and I want it to be open, because at that time, like I say, I just I didn’t know how much time I had,” said Nunny. A lot of people don’t get to know…how they’re going to die and they don’t get to say goodbye to their family. At least I know to put in that time with my family, so that way they can remember not taking anything for granted.”
Nunny gets dressed shortly before renewing her vows. ” I was able to have… the wedding of my dream. It was better than what I thought. I mean my dress, the decoration, everything was purple like I love.”
Nunny and Scott celebrate after renewing their vows, fulfilling Nunny’s dream of having a big wedding. “I just wanted to remind him…that I take my vows seriously too…I think he wanted to show me that he’s not just my caregiver, ” said Nunny. Their first wedding occurred at a courthouse. “We were so weird because I had a black dress..we had a green and black cake. It was just super weird,” said Nunny.
Nunny hugs her son Ryan after renewing her vows. “That little boy, he just makes it known that he is all about his mom. And he loves his mom. He needs me here. And he wants me here.”
Nunny clutches her husband, Scott, as he lifts her up in their home. Nunny entered in-home hospice care after running out of treatment options and relies on her husband to help her dress, bathe and get up. “You really can’t prepare for the worst…Nobody wants to change from being the active mom to the mom who can barely move. Who can’t go to baseball games anymore. [Who sometimes have to] get around in a wheelchair at her doctor’s office. Who sometimes… can’t cook, you know who depends on her husband for everything and can’t really spend that time with the kids. You really can’t prepare. You can’t prepare anybody for death.”
 
Nunny falls asleep while in hospice. Nunny struggles with staying awake, speaking and moving about as her cancer has progressed significantly. Covid protocols have resulted in her receiving very few visitors in her at-home hospice care.
Nunny’s oldest sons, Tylan (left) and Tavon (right) pay their respects to their mother. Nunny passed away on Feb. 1, 2021 – nine days before her 43rd birthday. She was laid to rest on Feb. 8, 2021, exactly one year after her wedding vow renewal. Her funeral service embodied what she loved: God, her family and purple. The homegoing service was pre-planned; Nunny picked out the worship songs, speakers and decorations she wanted before her death. She was buried with her purple wig, a tiara and T-shirt that said, “Princess Warrior”.

Scott and Nunny shared two decades, three kids and a life together. Nunny wanted her husband to ” continue moving on with life. Because he’s still young, and I don’t want him to feel like you know, now I’m alone,” she said. “Because he has spent so much time taking care of me. So I will definitely want him to enjoy, be happy and smile and just really enjoy.”