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Final 5 for Cancer Patient/Survivor Contest

We had a total of ELEVEN fabulous women nominated to win a free Flirt Celebrate You Session with hair and makeup by Jo’Ah May of Jo’Ah Artistry!  All of these women are deserving, of course!  Unfortunately – only FIVE can move on to the next part of the contest and there can only be ONE final winner.  The 5 finalists’ story and photo will be posted on Facebook for everyone to “like” the woman of their choice.  I also wanted to post their stories here on my blog for your viewing.  These stories are all about courage and their struggle.  They all moved me and choosing the five finalists was such a task!!!!  It is so very important for EVERYONE to feel beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.  My reason for doing this contest (as well as Celebrate You sessions) is so that every woman, regardless of their size, shape, or color, would have the opportunity to feel beautiful and learn to celebrate all of the wonderful things about themselves.

DRUMROLL PLEASE……………………………………………….. the five finalists are (in no particular order):

Vicki Miller, Helen Perkins, Susan Lee, Samantha Lovely, and Laura McLellan.  Here are each of their stories.

Vicki Miller – nominated by Annmarie Hooper

From the very first day that I met Mrs. Vicki Miller she has made me smile. Because of her sparkling personality I have never noticed her hair loss, her scars, or even sensed any fear. She is the type of person that you hold near and dear to your heart. She will do anything to make you smile, would give you the shirt off her back, and most likely get you in A LOT of trouble. When she walked into our office for her first appointment with Dr. Kumar we all knew she was going to be fun. Within the first week of her radiation treatments we all had new names, I am Lucy and my partner in crime is named Ethyl (AKA Ethynol). There is Hillbilly, Blondie, Cutey Booty and Captain Kirk just to name a few. There is not a day that she was in a bad mood or complained, if there was a day that she was not feeling well, we didn’t know it. Instead of making her feel better, she would come in and make all of us laugh so hard we cried. If someone was to walk into the office they would think she was an employee and not a patient. She always comes in with a smile, a dirty joke, and even doughnuts on Friday. She harasses everyone right down to the Doctor, and makes just about every man in the office blush. When she walks in the door there is an automatic shift in power, and you can feel her energy. From the time that I have worked at Coastal Cyberknife I have never met a patient as strong, kind, and fun as Mrs. Miller. She is beautiful inside and out. We could easily write page after page of letters saying how she has changed all of our lives. But if I had to sum it all up into one word and describe how I have witnessed her fight cancer, I would say DIVA!!!!!!

Mrs. Miller,  You are full of love, life, and laughter.  You will always be in my heart, you are an inspiration. Can’t wait to go camping (don’t forget the chaps for Cutey Booty) for Relay for Life.  Love, Lucy (Annmarie)

Thanks Mrs. Miller for all the Daily laughs, nicknames, & extra calories we packed on from your weekly doughnut treats. You are truly one of a kind.  Love, Ethyl aka Ethynol  (Crystal)

Roses are red, violets are blue, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Blondie sure had fun treating you.  Love ya

To boldly go where you have never gone before. Warp speed Vicki!!!! Your Pal, Captain James T. Kirk

Helen Perkins – nominated by Walter Perkins

This was taken out of my wife’s journal.

“I was 28 years old at the beginning of a demanding career with no family history of breast cancer and no reason to believe my life was about to change dramatically. I just gave birth to my 2nd daughter. She was premature and required a lot of special attention.  The first doctor I saw diagnosed it as a subcutaneous cyst and declared it was nothing to worry about. I was flooded with relief. He gave me a choice—leave it alone or have a biopsy, if I was uncomfortable with it. Fortunately for me, I didn’t want to have a lump on my chest that I did not know much about so I opted to have a biopsy.

The diagnosis: DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). Oh, I cried every day.  Oh yeah. Every Day.  I cried so much I could not cry even when I wanted to cry. It’s hard to imagine, until it happens to you, what if feels like to be told you have a tumor growing inside you. I imagined the worst. I felt my femininity was being threatened, as much as my life. Everything around me was shattering. Within the first few weeks I had a baby in the hospital and started going through a divorce and going for my first surgery.  The surgeon who removed it; told me he recommended a partial mastectomy of the unaffected breast, as a preventive measure because carcinoma has a higher risk of being bilateral and/or recurrent. I was shocked and numb. I left the doctor’s office with very little information about the disease and no idea what I was going to do about it. I felt like I had just been given a death sentence.

I had to get out of bed every day because of my girls. They don’t allow me to wallow in misery. My mom was with me all the time. I think we didn’t know how strong we both could be until we were tested. When I was weak, she was strong and vice versa. I don’t recall a time when we were both falling apart at the same time – thankfully!  But it was usually after  everyone’s asleep and I’m alone that I just sob. Later more surgeries started.

I remember at the time I was at home waiting for the call, and the anesthesia had made me nauseated. I had been throwing up for three days. I had my emotional armor on to get through the battle of breast cancer. My happy, positive face hid the pain since I had two girls to take care of and one that needed me more then I needed me. I tried to keep a lot of the stress of the situation away from my oldest daughter. I knew she had a lot going on in her young life without having to worry that her mother might be getting seriously ill. She did not need that with her father just walking out of her life. I think it helped me to feel more positive just trying to give her the impression I was not falling apart at the seams. Still she grew up fast overnight needing to help me do everyday tasks. She learned to change diapers, take her own shower, and make her own snacks.

In the summer of 2007 life seemed so much brighter when I met Walt.  He didn’t run away when I told him I had cancer. He stood by me and we later bonded a relationship knowing my future was a mystery. I could not ask for a better life partner – he has truly been there for me. Through this crisis we started our relationship and Walt rose to every challenge in order to support me. He took over many of the parenting responsibilities which my mom had previously undertaken, providing as much continuity as possible for my children and support for my mom. He is incredibility strong.

I can still remember the post-surgery anesthesia fog, with painkillers being pumped into me when I had my left breast removed. All the treatments and side effects were the worse with months of therapy. They said my urine would turn red, and it did. I also had the unpleasant experience of kidney stones and a swollen spleen along the way. Sleeping was the best way to get through the day but I did not want to sleep because I was afraid I would not wake up. All the physical changes made me feel less comfortable with my body.  The treatments at times seem to change my hormone levels. The emotional roller coaster of what treatment to take, where to get the treatment, and how sick it will make me feel and having to face my family takes a toll on me. Then add all the hot flashes, surgery scars, nausea and vomiting, skin burns, hand and foot syndrome – some of the side effects of treatment for cancer.

For my cancer, I first had the biopsy, and then I had most of my left breast removed then lymph node surgery. Later I had a mammogram that showed one really small lump on the right side, so I had another biopsy surgery and a fifth surgery to take the cancer out on the right and reconstruct both breast to match sizes. On 4/22/2008 my mammogram showed several small lumps present on the right side but no surgery was needed. Traditional medical treatment for 6 month resulted in a clear mammogram on 10/ 22/2008. Relief, I was in remission…!!!! I celebrated with my wonderful co-workers at a Breast Cancer Coalition Dinner.

Then came the decision to have a baby with my new husband… to no avail… Why? Uterus Cancer now… WHAT – 6 months of treatment to then retest and find the cancer was still there. We scheduled to have a partial hysterectomy in November 2010. During the per-operational testing in October 2010 the surgery was delayed due to a positive pregnancy test. Wanted a baby, could not have a baby and now pregnant with a baby; what a roller coaster. This pregnancy included lots of ER trips, time in the hospital and 5 months of bed rest and then we were blessed with a miracle baby girl on may 01,11.

People tell me I look great for all I have been through but let me tell you I hurt inside.  My emotions are lost on some days. The fatigue is not an ordinary type of tiredness but a “bone-weary” exhaustion that doesn’t get better with rest.  Having been through breast cancer brings blessings in addition to the trials. One blessing is a greater appreciation for the simplest things in life. But yet, how ironic it is that I conquered breast cancer; yet I feel utterly defeated on some days….
Maybe because I am counting down 6 months to get my uterus cancer checked again.”

Susan Lee – nominated by Alicia Landosca

Susan Lee…………

That is  a name that  goes hand in hand with surviving cancer.  I have known Susan for over 15 years.  She went through a tough time trying to conceive and finally became pregnant.  The next challenge was the fact she found out she was having twins.  Overjoyed and ready to welcome the two bundles… the twins decided not to show up on a February but instead a few days before Christmas. Family friends and countless others helped with the change in the situation. Little did they know more was in store for Susan.

I remember the day Susan called.  Susan’s mother tried to prepare me …like she did with the news of the twins but this was different.  This was my second best friend to be diagnosed with breast cancer after trying to focus on having a child.  How could this be fair?  She has little babies to take care of ..she needs her energy. The sickness, the fear, the worry.Those words, Chemo, Radiation, Surgery, Cancer. The unknown. How will she handle this.? I feel awful, what can I do?  Then I remembered.  She has us.   Parents..Husband, Girlfriends, Co-workers, Community. She had us.

I deal with a lot of clients who lose hair with chemo and styling wigs to make the day seem somewhat normal. Again this was different. This was MY friend Susan.  I felt awful. Sad. Scared. Guess what. It didn’t matter. Susan did not have time for any of that.  Kids to raise , job to work, husband to love, friends to lean on. That is what she did . She used each section in her life to do just that.. Live it. Just to live HER  life.   I admired her for it.  The tenacity to listen to her doctors, work on herself, get her health where it needed to be.  Research, read , ask questions, and just do what she had to do.

The funny part is….I see her all the time with her Pink on.  Her pink support bracelet…her workout gear…even her tumbler cup that she carries into the salon with the pink ribbon on it. I think I try to talk her into a pink streak for her hair everytime she comes in. ( I suspect she may have pink ribbon undergear but I won’t ask 🙂 )  She is proud of her fight.  She is proud every time she crosses that finish line at the Komen Race every year. She is proud to show her little girls how a person should give back to her community.  She is proud of every charity event she involves herself in. She is proud to be alive. She is proud that she won.  I am proud to have Susan Lee as my friend.  I admire both Susan and her husband,Jeff since he is a firefighter for St Lucie County.  I am just as proud that he was a full time cancer fight supporter to help his wife with all that happened to their family.. Thank you for considering Susan in this wonderful event……

Samantha Lovely – nominated by Lara Fiorelli

Samantha’s story in her words:

“In 2007 when I was 17 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer stage 2c. I did six months of chemo and when I was finished I had to get scans, they showed that my tumors were still growing. I was put on another round of chemo and it worked thanks to God. I was in remission for four and a half years and in 2011 I had a relapse. I as very fortunate because this time I had and an amazing man by my side and his mom actually passed away from ovarian cancer. I am doing a year of chemo and furring this time Paul, my boyfriend, proposed to me. Just recently I had some abnormal scans and I am scheduled for surgery in March. I faith that God has a plan for me and my family!”

Laura McLellan – nominated by Christina Clark

I was just told by a friend of this contest and I would love to enter my mom Laura McLellan. Last year my mother was 53  and noticed a lump in her neck.  This was a schwannoma tumor and her second one that they removed. The tumor was discovered in January at the size of a golf ball and rapidly grew into larger than a grapefruit.

In February my mother was rushed to the hospital because the tumor had cut off her air supply. My grandmother was in from out of town taking care of my mother and preparing her for her upcoming surgery that week. They rushed my mom from the hospital here in Port St Lucie to Jackson Memorial in Miami where the UM doctor would perform the surgery. The surgery took about 4 hours and Mom made it out safe, although there were damages that would be permanent. Part of her vocal chord was paralyzed from the surgery and part of her lymph node was removed.

March 29 my mother was diagnosed with Neurofibrosarcoma at stage 4. Moms worst fear came true, she had cancer. May 9 my mother started Chemotherapy in Miami. She had two doses of 14mg administered every 12 hours 5 days of the week. She lived in the hospital for the entire week, and we visited her every single day. Mom was supposed to have 8 trips to Jackson, on her 4th trip things went down hill.

In June I just got in from Boston, drove right from the airport to see my mom. As we entered the room, I could not believe my eyes. My mom looked the worst that she had looked the entire treatment! She was incoherent, hallucinating because of the chemotherapy dose that was administered. She could not walk on her own and looked like she was someone I had never seen. We took her home on a Friday and the following Thursday she collapsed. Her body was failing. Her organs were not functioning. Her kidneys were far below function levels, her potassium was severely low, the doctor said we almost lost her. We almost lost her from the treatment taking over her body.

She was sent by ambulance from Port St Lucie to Miami immediately. She spent 8 days in the hospital with 4 blood transfusions. She was not well. We took her home and it was time to make decisions. The doctor wanted to stop chemo because of the toll it was taking on my moms body. August 9th Mom started Radiation in Deerfield beach. Every day mom drove down to Deerfield. The majority of her time we had taken turns for our family to be with her. We drove her down there so she did not have to go alone. Her radiation made things in her throat worse which was expected. She already lost her voice because of the surgery, now her esophagus had shrunk due to the radiation and she was not able to get any food down. From both the chemo and radiation she went from a size 12/14 to a size 2. Her last radiation was September 22.

At the doctors office she had a ringing of the bell ceremony and rang the bell loud and proud. She was so excited for this all to be over with.  Early in 2012 Mom had a PET scan and they saw no spots. We remain so positive as the next year will pass and she will have scans every three months and we look forward to that day that we can call her cancer free!

My mother is an amazing person and the biggest fighter I have ever met!

 

I am glad that I don’t have to make the final decision of who the winner is from this contest because that is a tough decision.  These 5 finalists will have their photo & story posted on Facebook and then the one with the most “Likes” will win!  Good luck to everyone! xoxo   UPDATE:  The winner of the contest was Helen Perkins!  Congrats Helen!

Dawn V Gilmore is a Port St. Lucie boudoir photographer, glamour photographer, and women's portrait photographer with a studio located on the Treasure Coast of Florida. She specializes in making women feel comfortable in their skin & empowering women to love themselves as they are! Photos for women by a woman! Her passion, ability and skills will reveal your seductive side and capture your inner coquette while being tasteful and professional. Celebrate You and bring your sensuality to life! Serving the Treasure Coast, Palm Beaches, Indian River & Martin Counties. St. Lucie County Photographer. For more information go to: Dawn V Gilmore Fine Art Photography

COMMENTS

  • Dawn V Gilmore Fine Art Photography Blog |
    May 31st, 2012 - 1:57 pm - REPLY

    […] narrowed it down to 5 finalists (you can see the final 5 finalists story on my previous blog post here).  Once we opened it up for the facebook fans to vote for their winner – Helen’s story […]

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