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Nancy Sell Dead: Cancer Warrior Was a Rogers Park Stalwart

By Benjamin Woodard | January 15, 2015 6:11am | Updated on January 15, 2015 8:33am
 Nancy Sell, 59, a devout fan of the Beatles, posed in her Rogers Park apartment in 2013.
Nancy Sell, 59, a devout fan of the Beatles, posed in her Rogers Park apartment in 2013.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

ROGERS PARK — Neighborhood stalwart Nancy Sell never stopped spreading awareness about cancer, the disease that killed her husband in 2007.

Sell and Ed "Jay" Markmann, who was stricken with lung cancer, founded Here Comes the Sun, named after the couple's love of both sunshine and the Beatles. Even after her husband's death, she continued the fight.

Now Sell's loved ones and friends said they plan to carry on her spirit and passion after she died Saturday from brain injuries suffered earlier this month when she was hit by a truck near the intersection of Clark and Howard streets. She was 59.

Ben Woodard discusses an interview he had with Sell years ago:

"Who could refuse her effervescent charm, her smile, her fire, her drive, her passion?" CJ Jelinek said Wednesday morning at a gathering of the Rogers Park Business and Artist Networking Group. "She's already missed."

Sell, affable and engaging, could be found on any given day at Rogers Park's coffee shops and events. She lived in the 7400 block of North Greenview Avenue.

Her nonprofit organization planned several health fairs in the neighborhood in the last few years — always headlining the event with a Beatles cover band.

"Nancy was persistent and a committed advocate for cancer awareness," said Michael Glasser, a leader of a networking group Sell frequented. "And every moment I knew her, she was advocating for her cause."

The small group Wednesday held a brief moment of silence in her memory and the memory of loved ones killed by cancer.

A public memorial service has been scheduled for Feb. 7, but an exact time and location have yet to be determined.

'Tragic Accident'

Sell was struck by a Ford F-250 about 1:40 p.m. on Jan. 2, said Officer Veejay Zala, a Chicago Police spokesman. The driver of the truck received several traffic tickets but investigators deemed the incident a "tragic accident," Zala said.

The driver "did everything as he was supposed to do," he said.

While being treated at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Sell was unconscious, but her condition appeared to stabilize, said Mary Gookin, 58, her cousin.

Gookin said the family discussed taking her to a long-term care facility. But on Friday night, Sell's brain began to swell and doctors were unable to detect any brain activity Saturday afternoon.

The swelling appeared to cut off blood circulation to her brain. Her organs were donated, Gookin said.

Family members said Sell grew up in Pittsburgh, where she aspired to become an attorney in her 20s.

But tragedy struck when she was hit by a bus and underwent six months of physical therapy.

"This is the second time this has happened to Nancy," Gookin said. "She had to learn how to talk again, how to walk again. I mean she had to learn everything."

Sell recovered and only a slight speech impediment and hunch remained. Soon after she moved to Chicago and met her husband.

She never lost the passion for life she showed until the end.

"As an adult Nancy had a bulldog determination," Gookin said. "I never ceased to be amazed how she was always able to pick herself up from her bootstraps and keep on going."

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