Thinking about how I might support Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I asked Staging Diva Dispatch subscribers if any of them were also breast cancer survivors who might want to share their personal stories about fighting this disease and going on to reinvent their futures.
My intention was to gather stories that would:
- empower others to strive to reach their dreams no matter what adversity is standing in their way
- increase awareness of breast cancer
- attract funding for breast cancer research
- celebrate the stories and successes of the women who shared their stories for others to benefit from
As the responses started coming in, I was afraid to read many of them.
They were filled with the awful medical realities of fighting this disease, fears of leaving children behind. In a week leading up to spending the day with my family to honor a cousin who recently died of cancer, I wondered why I’d set myself up to have to read even more about cancer by actually requesting these stories from my readers.
Well the truth is, you can’t catch cancer by reading about it and knowledge is power.
To say I’m humbled by the stories I’ve received would be an understatement. I feel sad and inspired at the same time. One response came from Danielle who said she would love to share her story, but she has just undergone two surgeries and is going through chemo and didn’t feel she could give a good enough response.
Gloria Salvetti writes that she’s proud to be a survivor and pleased with the direction her new life has taken as she grows her Virginia-based company East Coast Stager.
Staging Diva Graduate Patty Osterhout of First Impressions Staging Services LLC started her home staging business with partner Tiffany Winkler about a year after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46, “I tell people to stay as positive as you can. Don’t forget to live and laugh. Surround yourself with good things. I had so many beautiful and inspiring cards from family and friends. I strung them all up on a wall in our house so I could see them every day, what a lift that gave me.”
Perhaps most tellingly, Patty adds, “I do not look at having breast cancer as the worse thing that ever happened to me. In a way it has made me a better person. It was just our ‘bump’ in the road.”
Beverly Forte lost a mother and best friend to breast cancer, but she is 10 years past her own diagnosis. She writes, “I kept my life as normal as one could as I went through chemo and radiation. Here I am today after that crazy winding road and I found my path. I have a love for design and staging.”
Jamie Anne McClellen writes that her story “pales in comparison to so many others”, but she’s a breast cancer survivor and I don’t consider that any small feat.
Two years ago, at the age of 55, she was diagnosed after a routine mammogram. After surgery she continued working as a freelance photo stylist during her radiation treatments.
Jamie Anne believes a special part of her experience was the fact that she never wavered from her conviction that everything would be okay. She remained positive the entire time and saw the entire ordeal as one “blip on the radar screen” of her life. She believes if she had a negative mental outlook it would have lead to a different physical outcome.
This brave woman recently decided to pursue a career in home staging which was a natural transition from her 20+ year career as a photo stylist and set designer. Her home staging business, Practical Magic Home Staging, is based in Chicago. She’s currently working on building a website.
The advice she offers women is to get regular mammograms which is what caught her cancer at its most treatable stage. She also advises women facing this disease to focus their energy on positive healing instead of negative worrying.
Another story came from Bay Chamberlain of Your Space/Their Space (New Orleans) who was also diagnosed at the age of 55. Like Jamie Anne, Bay believes keeping a positive attitude and drawing on the support of her family and friends helped her cope and resulted in a “very rich experience”. Bay wrote of her husband’s passing one year ago and described as a blessing the fact that they were able to experience “the same wonderful love and support during his illness.”
Bay has returned to work to fill the time and fight the “tanking” economy. With a fine arts degree, post graduate degree in interior design and several successful informal staging projects done for a real estate agent friend, she is working on building her home staging business.
When I read Linda Stoltz-Foster’s story I was truly touched by the sense of humor she maintained through her experience or at least the telling of it.
Linda and her husband purchased a vacation resort in need of repair. They invested a lot of time and money into restoring the property and it paid off with lots of business and a great reputation. In less than a year (and despite a previously “normal” mammogram result), Linda discovered a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. Without insurance because of diabetes, she took only a week off during her surgery and treatments.
Linda said one reason they kept their business open during her treatments was that she isn’t one to enjoy “a pity party” and with all of the major decisions about treatment being made for her, she felt the only thing she could control was her business.
Four years past her diagnosis, Linda’s advice is to “trust your instincts – you know your body better than any machine or highly trained individual. Take action – don’t wait.”
Linda and her husband have since sold their resort and moved to Idaho where Linda started a staging and redesign business to compliment her real estate practice.
Like the others who wrote to share their cancer survival stories, Linda advises women remain as positive as possible.
Besides personal stories, there were a couple of resources sent to me. Ellen Dixie wanted everyone to know about Dr. Susan Love’s armyofwomen.org. Dr. Love has taken a unique approach to eradicating breast cancer by encouraging healthy women to participate in studies to determine what causes cancer.
Another resource that was brought to my attention by Deborah Wickel is myleftbreast.ca. Started by a breast cancer survivor, the company provides post-mastectomy and carcinogen-free products.
Women to Women, founded by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, Christiane Northrup, M.D. and others pioneered the combination of alternative and conventional medicine in women’s health, bringing science and discipline to natural and preventative methods. They have an excellent discussion about breast cancer sent to me by Kim Johns.
Many thoughts and emotions ran through me standing in the cemetery this past Sunday seeing “1963 – 2008” on my cousin’s tombstone. It really made me think how short that dash between the year we’re born and the year we die is, and how none of us knows how long it will be.
If you’re not living your life to the fullest and doing what you love for as many days as you can, what are you waiting for?
It’s my sincere hope that some of the tips from these heroes of home staging will help others seek prompt attention for any lumps they find, regardless of previous mammogram results. I also hope these inspirational stories help to empower women.
These survivors have demonstrated such courage. If they were able to come through cancer and start their own home staging businesses, imagine what someone not facing such an unthinkable challenge is capable of doing.
Debra Gould, The Staging Diva®
President, Six Elements Home Staging
Home Staging expert Debra Gould also known as The Staging Diva is president of Six Elements, an internationally recognized home staging company that is frequently profiled in the media. Debra Gould has trained thousands of women and men grow their own profitable home staging, real estate enhancement businesses.