Everyone has a story, a recounting of their journey …….my very first exposure to cancer was as a spectator, in 7th grade…..my English teacher was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer…yes, he was the father of my beautiful friend Jennifer and it rocked me to my core.
Years later as I was cruising though adulthood, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over a very short period of time my father had a quintuple bypass, my father-in-law was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma and my sister-in-law a brain tumor. I was learning quickly that cancer and major illness do not discriminate.
Being a veteran married to a soldier I was living and loving the military life at bases far and wide. Unbeknownst to me I was a actually a very talented seamstress, I bought a sewing machine and my small business consisting of making travel products was born of a desire to make up income lost from my teaching career.
I was happy making travel pillows and travel products because being military I knew how painful long car rides can be, especially in a seat belt. I did not understand then that there could be so much more to this small business. I was approached by a customer who LOVED my travel pillows, he had a friend going through breast reconstruction and asked me if I could create a pillow that would help alleviate some of her discomfort from the seatbelt. A passion for sewing and my love of helping others was married and I began my very first dabble in the “comfort” products industry which lead to the creation of “MY SeatBelt Bestie™”.
Cancer turned even more personal for me when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I quickly pivoted and came up with a product for her to use after her total hysterectomy and colostomy, My Bellymate™ was born completely out of love for my sweet Mom. When it came time for my Mom’s Port Placement, my design mind and sewing machine went to work and I created the “Port Pal™.
Love of my sewing machine and my customers have kept my small business 7 Stitches® Boutique going. I absolutely love what I do and for whom I do it. My patients have become my friends, and hearing them tell me that my products comforted them is a blessing.
After losing my Mom, I wanted to do more. I wanted to find a way to get comfort products in the hands of patients (cancer, surgical patients, chronic illness) at minimal to no cost to the patient. I wanted to find a way to reach out and give them a “HUG”, to ease the pain and to let them know that they are not alone.
Hugs for Healing™ is a labor of love, a collaboration with my beautiful lifelong friends Debbie & Jennifer.
So many people ask “Why”, I don’t think you ever know “WHY” you get involved with something like cancer awareness it is more often than not “WHO”. Like the two lovely ladies that I am part of this journey with my first personal encounter with Cancer was in the seventh grade. Every school has that “teacher” the one that all the kids wait patiently to get and that most of those gone before mention fondly as their favorite ever. Seventh Grade arrived and we all got to be in Don Jares’ English class, but our year would be cut short by cancer. We watched him get sick, we watched how hard he tried to be there for us, but he lost his battle. There are so many things that I can still vividly remember about losing Mr. Jares, the gut punch when we were given the news, the school bus ride to the funeral service, but for me the most prevalent memory was of his family, I remember wishing that there was something I could do. We were from a small town we knew that this disease had ravaged them not only physically and emotionally but financially as well.
After that I paid very close attention to conversations that included the dreaded “C” word. And now as an adult I do fully understand the complete and utter fear that I witnessed when those adults in my past discussed this horrible diagnosis. Things have changed, so many more people live, this brings on new uncharted areas that need to be discussed: PTSD after a diagnosis, financial devastation from fighting the disease, loss of friends that occurs because of diagnosis and during the fight. Living with cancer and after cancer is almost as hard as fighting the disease.
When it became personal for me was when my grandfather was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer, although he would beat it the first time the toll of watching the strongest man you know wither away, watching the financial toll, watching my Mom and her brothers struggle lit a fire deep within me. When my Mother in law was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I threw myself into work with Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure because I saw up close the beauty in watching these women who had only one thing in common (CANCER) laugh, cry, learn and love each other so completely (even if only for one day). The Survivor’s Breakfast on Race Day was completely magical, these women did not feel alone and they could truly be celebrated for the heroes that all cancer survivors are.
While serving on the board for Susan G. Komen and preparing for the 2013 Race, I heard the words that no one – especially a parent want to hear. My 22 year old son Ross was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Testicular Cancer the day before Race Day. My Komen family was there, my Race Team family raced with Orchid Ribbons for my sweet boy. I am so happy to say that our God is so good and my son is now Cancer Free (no evidence of disease) since 2015. As hard as our journey was it was nothing compared to others around us, I still had my son at the end of the journey.
During the journey with both my Mother in Law and Son, I started to become hyperaware of the lack of support, love, and care given to the Cancer Community. Most families have very little support of major organizations but rely on fundraisers and round the clock vigils by loving family and friends, but the issued faced with this are: lack of knowledge of what the family needs, burnout on the part of those walking the journey, and education in general that a cancer diagnosis even though it does not always mean a death sentence means everyday living with the after effects of the disease.
This brings me to why I am here. We want to start small by:
- Offering Care and Comfort to those fighting every day. Comfort products for after surgery, care packages of everything you need while you are in the “chair” for chemo and most importantly “HUGS” – love and support from people who have seen the suffering and want you and your family to know that they are not alone.
- FUTURE GOALS:
- Care Giver Support – behind every Survivor and Fighter is an army of people who are walking every step of the journey. While they are not physically effected the emotional effects last a lifetime. Our vision for this is Care Giver classes to help the individuals find resources for help, deal with the mountains of paperwork, Care Giver Support Groups to give people in the same situation a chance to be together and a Care Giver Support Network so that those in this role know that they have somewhere to go and someone to talk to.
- Fighter/Survivor Support Groups – We want to offer those in the middle of their fight as well as those dealing with the aftermath of the fight a safe space to discuss their journey.
- Education and Cancer Awareness – We want to have an extensive education program that helps people get ahead of a diagnosis. “Most” cancers are curable if you know your body and are not afraid of speaking up about changes you notice.
- Partnership with Cancer Centers. We want Cancer Care Navigators to know our name and let patients know that we are here for them.
There are numerous cancer organizations that have the byline “No One Fights Alone”. From our experience we know that to be true as we have either fought hard ourselves or walked aside a fighting loved one. Our goal is to support “everyone” in the fight.
My journey started when I was 12. Only a child and spectator, I watched my father battle with metastatic lung cancer for 6 months before the Lord took him home. Six and a half short years later, my little brother was diagnosed with osteosarcoma one month before his 14th birthday. Again a spectator but also a part caregiver, I watched him fight for a little more than 2 years before it became too much and he too, was called home. Fast forward twenty some odd years, I am married with 5 kids ranging from 7 to 18. Life was busy working, running kids here and there, I didn’t have time to slow down. Needless to say, getting sick was not in the plans, a death sentence certainly wasn’t yet, there I was hearing those dreaded words, “you have cancer “. Stage IV rectal cancer metastasis to liver and lung. Doctor gives 6 months to 2 years and suggested I get my affairs in order. Shock, fear, disbelief, and determination overflow my senses all at once. First of all, nobody is going to tell me what to do and when to do it. Secondly, I have a family that needs me and I did not want my kids to grow up without me. I get a 2nd opinion and begin my own fight. The goal was to get me to a chronic state and chemo for life. I thought it was a fair trade. Six months into my personal fight, I again became a spectator when my big brother was diagnosed stage IV colon cancer. We fought together for 3 years until he was called to join the others in Heaven. It has now been 6 1/2 years into my journey. A lot of life has happened in between my numerous chemo infusions, surgeries, radiation therapy, liver ablation and oral chemotherapy but I am still here and going strong. I have been fortunate enough to get a reprieve from the chemo pills for over a year now, labs and scans are still good at least for now. Some days the side effects are awful, other days they are just my normal. Everyday, though, they are a reminder of the path I have walked. I am grateful for every moment of every day, the good, the bad, the pain and the fun, all of it! I know that if it weren’t for God’s grace along with the prayers and generosity of friends, family, and even strangers, I would not be here to share my story….