Options for women fighting to survive

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Wendy Jones/Chelsea Lanier

Wendy Jones, left, and Chelsea Lanier both won makeovers from Options.

 

Judy Watts loves making people feel better. She is a proud cancer survivor who wants others who have had the devastating news to know that there is hope, and that she is living proof.

She started her business after she, her sister and her mother discovered that finding clothes that fit properly after surgery is difficult. Her idea for a local shop for women who need help with wigs, bras and scarves, among other products, has been a real godsend for women who have previously had to drive long distances to find the things they need.

She calls her shop Options because it offers women options for dealing with things like the changes in body type that radical surgery causes, wigs for ladies who have lost hair due to chemotherapy and other things that give women hope and courage- the options that they can’t find in a regular department store.

Judy herself is the bonus.

Having had cancer, she is not just a lady who can help you pick out a nice wig, she is also a lady who sat in that chair to choose a wig, walked in those shoes and had those same fears and concerns as her clients.

One day she decided to give even more of her talents to those she felt could benefit from her experience. She called a friend, Virginia Pritchard, a local Mary Kay representative. Together, the two put together a package for women Judy felt might need a boost.

She started with the staff at the two oncology centers here in Cullman, explaining her plan to them. She was offering a free make-up session, and a wig fitting, for one patient from each facility. The offices of both worked with Judy to have drawings for the makeovers, choosing one patient from each.

 

Wendy

Wendy Jones won the first drawing. When she came into the shop with her husband, she was bubbling with excitement.

Wendy’s story starts out like many women’s; her boyfriend discovered the lump. She went to the doctor, who diagnosed her with fibrocystic disease and advised her to watch it for a while. That while turned into almost two years because Wendy, believing it to be nothing more than a cyst, skipped her next annual mammogram. By then she was 41 years old.

Wendy and her boyfriend of three years were married three months after she was diagnosed with breast cancer which had spread to her lymph nodes. By the time of the definitive diagnosis, Wendy’s was a stage 3A cancer, and it had started to become painful.

One doctor advised her that if she chose a lumpectomy, it would leave very little breast, and that it was her decision as to which option she chose. She and her husband, Lee, discussed it and prayed about it. Ultimately, it was Lee’s understanding and something he said that motivated Wendy to have a double mastectomy.

“He told me that he didn’t need those, that he was in love with my heart,” said Wendy. “He has been such a blessing to me throughout this whole thing, he’s never left my side, gone to every doctor’s appointment and slept many nights in an uncomfortable hospital chair because he didn’t want to leave me.”

Ironically, it was Lee’s ex-wife, Jennifer Chambers, who became Wendy’s other critical support system. “She was just finishing up her battle with breast cancer when mine was diagnosed,” recalled Wendy. “She was there for me, encouraging me, telling me what to expect and supplying me with hats that she no longer needed. She helped calm my fears and has become my very best friend,” said Wendy.

The couple has a blended family of children and grandchildren ranging in age from 24 years to nine months. “All of the children have been so supportive,” said Wendy, gratefully. “My 12-year old daughter has even decided that she is going to find a cure for cancer when she grows up.”

Even with such marvelous love and support, Wendy did experience some of the inevitable depression that often goes along with cancer, chemo and recovery. She took antidepressants for a while, but now is her former optimistic self, full of excitement with each new day.

“My advice to those going through this now is to never lay down for it! Get up and do something every day, and then pray, pray, pray! God will bring you through it!”

She also cites her church family, Emeus Baptist, in Logan, and her pastor, G.T. Robertson, as being very crucial to her while she was in such turmoil.

She let Lee shave her head and says that she sported her new look for a long while, but when she went in for radiation one day, Dr. Karolewics’ nurse, Sherry, came back and asked her if she would like to have a free makeover; she readily accepted the offer.

“The lady at Options, and Mrs. Pritchard, were wonderful,” said Wendy. “Mrs. Watts gave me a beautiful wig, and they both made me feel so pretty!”

The first place she went after the makeover was back to Dr. Karolewics’ office, where the staff was very complimentary of her new look. “They kept telling me how pretty I looked,” Wendy laughed.

She was quick to praise them, too, as well as Dr. Karolewics and Dr. Marecle, and the staff. “They could not have been more supportive,” she said.

 

Chelsea

For Chelsea Lanier, the scenario was a little different. The winner of the drawing at her cancer center was an 82-year-old lady who thoughtfully requested that the makeover be donated to one of the younger patients, who might need it more than she did.

Fortunately, Chelsea’s name was chosen by the staff. She was notified of the free makeover, and although at first she thought of it as just another handout, a way of drawing attention to her illness, she came to understand that this might help her morale, so she put on her game face and bravely took Judy up on her offer.

She arrived on Oct. 25, full of anxiety, but she was only there for a few minutes, talking with Judy, before becoming fully aware that this was a service that Judy wanted to use for helping women who have cancer cope with their new reality. Chelsea’s apprehension began to fade as she tried on several colors of wigs. Some giggles and some eye rolls later, she chose the one which most closely resembled her natural hair color and style.

“Chelsea is a very determined, motivated person with a great attitude,” Judy commented later.

Chelsea comes to Cullman from Decatur for treatments, after being told by four professionals that she didn’t have cancer and that she had nothing to worry about. “Starting with my gynecologist, and going then to an oncologist in Huntsville, and later a family doctor, and finally a surgeon, who was in agreement with the others. They all assured me that what I felt, which by that time was about the size of a half-dollar, was only a fibrous cyst, and that it should be watched for several months to see if it changed,” Chelsea explained. The fact that she was only 29 years old may have factored into the misdiagnosis by all of the doctors.

A surgeon even informed her that doing a biopsy might possibly deform her breast, and that, again, it was nothing to worry about.

But her mother, Tammy Clark, thought differently.

“She kept encouraging me to seek another opinion,” said Chelsea, who kept telling herself that all of these professionals couldn’t be wrong. However, at the insistence of her mom, she did go to another doctor in Cullman, this time, one who listened to her and agreed to do an ultrasound because Chelsea was having some pain in her arm pit by this point.

“He still didn’t think it was going to be cancer,” she said.

But after another mammogram at Cullman Regional Medical Center (CRMC) there was cause for concern.

“Although even the ultra sound technician didn’t seem to think it serious, the doctor ordered another ultra sound. He had seen something suspicious,” said Chelsea.

Her dad took her to CRMC the day of the biopsy. It fell to him to break the news to her that the doctor had found cancer during the biopsy. A pathology report confirmed the devastating news.

“I’d had to give them a urine sample when I went in, so the first thing that came out of my mouth when Dad told me that it was cancer, was, ‘I’m not pregnant too, am I?’” she laughed.

But it was more serious than they all thought. A PET scan and an MRI were done, confirming that there was cancer in Chelsea’s liver, bones, breast and lymphatic system. It was in stage four.

Dr. Evans made some phone calls on Chelsea’s behalf, getting her in to see Dr. Nacilla, who Chelsea says is great. “He and his whole office staff are wonderful,” she said gratefully.

Her grandmother, an Alzheimer’s patient, died just as all of this was happening.

“I feel like she knew that my mother would need me,” said a stoic Chelsea, who had to miss the funeral because it fell on the day of her first chemo treatment. “She would have wanted me to take care of this,” she said.

The chemo treatments went smoothly for Chelsea, who had tried to prepare herself for the worst. “I was surprised, but had very little nausea, just some flu-like symptoms that went away quickly, but although the physical part was not so bad, the mental part was like a rollercoaster,” she admitted.

“I take something for depression, for anxiety, and I’m seeing a therapist, which has really helped,” she said. “It is somehow validating for someone other than your family to hear you cry.”

When she decided to go for the free makeover, she didn’t expect too much, but was pleasantly surprised at the lift in her spirits.

“It helped me to feel normal again,” she said. “With cancer, you are stripped down to a body fighting to survive, so to be able to look normal gives you courage to be normal – not to have people staring at you, wondering what’s wrong with you helps you to carry on a more normal life.”

Later, because she had such positive feelings about her new look, she went out and did a seemingly simple thing – she purchased an eyebrow pencil.

“For some reason, losing my eyebrows was even more traumatic than losing my hair,” she confessed. “It really helped my self-esteem to be able to look more like myself before I got sick.”

In fact, she decided to re-enroll in graphic art classes at Calhoun, and says it has helped tremendously in occupying her time and thoughts through this tumultuous period in her young life.

The 2005 West Morgan High graduate, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Mississippi State University, is also eager to find work in her field so that she can complete the requirements for her license. She has many plans that she fully intends to fulfill. This disease might be a monster, but Chelsea Lanier is a fighter and as fierce as a lion about beating it. Armed with determination and a slender, unassuming little eyebrow pencil tucked into her purse as a talisman, she goes forth each day, not willing to let anything deter her in reaching her goals.

 

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