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In 2015, Reece, of Hope Mills, N.C., felt a lump in her breast, got it checked out and was told it was a benign cyst. Two years later, she felt an additional lump, this time under her armpit, while simultaneously experiencing skin blotches and extreme back pain.
In June 2017, doctors diagnosed Reece with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. It had spread to her ribs, lungs, spine and pelvis.
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. “The thing is that you meet the women, you become close to them, and then a lot of them die,” said Nunny. ” And that’s something you have to prepare yourself for.”
Treatment options for cancer are limited in Hope Mills. Nunny must be driven to Chapel Hill or Durham to get CT scans, chemotherapy, blood drawn, radiation and more. Depending on traffic, the drive can take 2-4 hours. “It’s not just for older women anymore.,“ said Nunny. “Most everybody I know now that have breast cancer is my age…especially in the Black community.”
Nunny Reece, 42, 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 because of the progression of her stage 4 metastatic breast cancer at her home in Hope Mills, N.C. 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.
Nunny lays back during 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 informed by a doctor 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. Nearly two decades 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. “People when they know they’re gonna die, they have like a, what they call a bucket list,” said Nunny. “And I have what I call is a livelovelife 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 lit up.,” said Nunny. “And I just knew that dress was for me…and it was really really beautiful.”
Nunny celebrates with her sister, Tauneka Roundtree Dolloson (left), bestfriends Tedra Harris (right) and Jessica Clark (far right) at Nunny’s bridal shower. The trio help Scott take care of Nunny by keeping her company and taking her to appointments when he cannot.
(Left) Tedra Harris places a necklace around Nunny’s neck while she speaks to Jessica Clark (right) the night before her vow renewal. Nunny spent the night with her best friends in a hotel where they ate food, laughed and prepared for her big day. “Them are the two that you know will stay with me in the hospital, call on a weekly basis to see how I’m doing…”, said Nunny. “…having that girl time… it’s good to have that.”
Nunny waits to be seen at the UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus in Hillsborough, N.C. “Treatment haven’t really been that good,” said Nunny. “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 10th birthday at the beach to create memories and spend quality time with her loved ones. “ 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.,” said Nunny. “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,” said Nunny. “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 on Feb. 8, 2020, 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.
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.,” said Nunny. “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 Reece, 42, falls asleep while in at-home hospice care in her home in Hope Mills, N.C. 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 laid to rest with her purple wig, a tiara and T-shirt with the words “Princess Warrior,” airbrushed on it.
Scott and Nunny shared two decades, three kids and a life together. Before her death, Nunny prewrote letters to her husband and children, which included advice for major life events such as graduation and raising their future children. For Scott, she wished him to “move forward with life and to be able to enjoy life…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.”