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Local Donna McNutt, cancer survivor, is the epitome of resilience, hope, and creativity

By DIANNE RUSSELL

After a serious cancer diagnosis and treatment, some people turn to yoga and meditation to soothe their souls; others take solace in new hobbies, from quilting to calligraphy to cross-country skiing. 

But Laguna resident Donna McNutt, 59, who is doing well five years after a diagnosis of Stage 4 multiple myeloma (a blood cancer), decided to stick with what has brought her joy her entire life: dressing up. It just made sense – no matter that her prognosis seemed dire at the time – to take pleasure in her longtime passion.

(Imagine hearing these words from your doctor, as she did: “We got your bone marrow back and there were so many cancer cells, they quit counting.”)

Local donna hat

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Stylish, attractive Donna hasn’t let cancer define her

Following a stem cell transplant and related treatment at the City of Hope, Donna was clear about her path forward. She felt there was no need to embark on exotic new activities to continue her emotional and physical recovery.

“I knew from the beginning of my cancer journey that the only way I could survive was to not give up the one thing that I’ve loved to do from a very young age. Getting dressed is like meditation to me. 

“It is so important to me to share with other cancer patients that they should find their thing and hold onto it – never let cancer take it. I fought back, one outfit at a time.

“I now share that message on my Instagram account, @thecancerfashionista.”

Donna brings honor to Laguna Beach

Last year, Donna brought honor to Laguna Beach: as a former patient of the City of Hope, she was chosen to ride their float in the Rose Bowl Parade. 

And this year, along with four other cancer survivors who have ridden on City of Hope’s Rose Parade float in years past, she shared what the experience meant to her in a short video aired on January 1 during a two-hour Rose Parade TV entertainment special. 

Local Donna doctor

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Donna and Dr. Amrita Krishnan at the 2020 Rose Parade

“As I waved to my family along the parade route, I felt like I was transmitting the message, ‘Never give up! Hope has seen us through.’ One of the best parts of the 2020 Rose Parade for me was seeing the faces and waves of so many people who have been touched by the compassionate, innovative cancer treatments that they, too, received from City of Hope,” she says. 

“We cancer patients support each other, and without words, we understand each other. I was honored to be able to get a brief glimpse into their cancer journey and to share mine.”

Pandemic tests her resilience

Donna’s resilience, and that of her family, was tested once again when the pandemic struck this year. So, with typical creativity, she decided that if she couldn’t go out in public in Laguna, given her vulnerable status, she’d have Laguna come to her. 

“My favorite activity these days is the outdoor dinners we host for our children and extended family. We’ve brought two of our favorite restaurants, Oak Laguna Beach and Wine Gallery, to a new location – our front yard!”

Local Donna dog

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Donna loves life – and revels in her passion for fashion

The mother of three says that she and her husband are thrilled, after moving from Newport Beach to Laguna, to achieve their lifelong dream of living in a cottage by the sea.

“My husband Jack made a group of supportive friends at Laguna Coffee Company. After my [stem call] transplant, I joined a walking community that greatly helped me recover. Although isolated with a weak immune system, I found it healing to take these walks with my husband.

“Now, with the pandemic, we used all of the skills we had gained through my cancer journey and applied them to the situation. I have learned how to live and not just survive, and we knew that we are going to get through this pandemic, too.”

Doom and gloom in the media didn’t help

Donna admits that reading the repeated news coverage that the weak are doomed was challenging. Not that she thinks of herself as weak, but word was that cancer survivors were more vulnerable than most.

“I had to reassure the family that Mom is OK and is making the right decisions. My family made me so proud with how they all pulled together and encouraged each other.”

Donna is a wonderful symbol of grace under pressure.

“I feel so blessed we moved to this beautiful town,” she adds.