Twenty years ago my sister Annette was diagnosed with lung cancer that metastasized to her brain.
It started out as a typical day. She went through her usual morning routine and made her way to work, but as the day continued she became disoriented and her speech began to slur. Her co-workers thought she was having a stroke, and they called 911. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital. They immediately started a series of tests. After hours of anxiously waiting, the doctor came in with the dreaded news. She was told: "you have cancer". Those words set my sister’s world into a tailspin. She was frozen with anxiety and fear, and so was I. From that moment, she lost control of her life and I would make it my purpose to help her get it back.
Annette had an outstanding medical team at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. We put our trust in their hands and prayed she would come out of this on the upside. They moved quickly and efficiently. First, a craniotomy to surgically remove the brain tumor. Then, a lobectomy to remove one of the lobes of her lungs. The surgeries were successful. Happy news, but in all honesty, we were still trying to process the thought of her having cancer.
After a short recovery time she started chemo, followed by radiation. In the blink of an eye, crazy things started happening. Side effects gone wild! These are the things that weren't explained to us. No disregard to her medical team - I wanted them to focus on getting her well, but OMG...we were blindsided by so many issues! If only we knew. Skin rashes, nausea, irritated surgical sites, fatigue, hair loss, hot flashes and so much more. As the visual and physical side effects started to take hold, I watched as her self-esteem began to diminish. She was losing her spirit and descending into depression. This is when I started to be proactive in finding solutions to the problems facing her. I needed to find a way to get Annette through her issues more comfortably and to tackle them head-on. Together we began down the long and confusing road of piecing together all the different information coming at us, and searching for services and resources that could help in the months to come.
Annette didn't lose her hair due to chemo; she had to have it shaved for brain surgery. At first, she was certain she wouldn't be a "wig person". She opted mostly for hats and bandanas. But on a whim, she decided to take the plunge. She didn’t want to bother me at work and went shopping for a wig on her own. What happened to her was impersonal and humiliating, and she ended up with a wig that looked nothing like her normal hair. It broke my heart.
What my sister went through, I didn’t want another woman to go through. I knew then I wanted to devote the rest of my life to helping women with cancer. I needed to provide information to them quickly, before side effects began, so they would be easier to control. It took me a while, but I was eventually able to open a cancer care boutique and I’ve had the privilege of helping thousands of women get control back of their lives.
Sadly, Annette passed away in January of 2018. The cancer came back, but because of other complications, she lost her life. I choose to believe that the cancer didn't win. I feel Annette's spirit is with me and she continues to give me the determination every day to fulfill my mission. She is my inspiration and the reason behind everything I do. This gives me a great sense of peace.
My hope is that this blog will be a handy and useful resource to help you through your journey with comfort, confidence and dignity. My mission is to help you ease your anxiety, and take control of your side effects. I invite you to share what you’ve learned - products or services that you’ve discovered that have helped you. And I will share what I have learned over the years from women who have been there, and from research that I’ve done. And, please keep these posts non-medical in nature – for example talking about chemo drugs, stem cell therapy treatments, etc. – we keep those with the medical experts.
And, if you’d like to write a guest blog, that would be wonderful. Please get in touch with me.