Heather was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2005 at the age of 36, just after the birth of her first child, Lily. She now is a cancer research advocate, blogger, and serves as a mesothelioma research funding advocate and conference speaker.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer.
I have a slight obsession with French Bulldogs. It all started when we got our Frenchie 5 years ago. I follow probably 35 different ones on Instagram. I see something with a Frenchie on it and I have to have it. My idea of bliss is being buried in a pile of French bulldog puppies. There is just something about the breed that captured my heart, from their clowning around to their ability to sleep through anything and snore like lumberjacks. The ears, the squished face and big eyes… I’m in love with them.
What brought you hope as you faced cancer?
My Surgeon, Dr. David Sugarbaker. He had the confidence that he would be able to save my life. His knowledge and his constant reassurance gave me the hope I desperately needed to face my diagnosis and surgery.
How do you live life over cancer?
I refuse to be the victim. I try to wake up thankful every day and try to focus on all I have, and not what cancer took away. I have done my best to turn around a tragic diagnosis into activism and awareness. I wanted to speak out about my experience, not hide from it. Cancer is something that happened to me, but cancer is not WHO I am. I want to help people in the same situation I was in, and let them know they are not alone. Giving back to the community is giving me life back.
How did you become connected with Hope Scarves? Whether you received, sent or donated a Hope Scarf, what did this experience mean to you?
I am always looking for inspiring stories of women who overcome odds. I ran across Hope Scarves’ web page and I instantly felt for Lara, 7 months pregnant, and getting a diagnosis. My baby was 3 ½ months old when I got mine. I felt sort of a connection. The whole ‘mom with cancer’ thing. The more I read, the more I admired this organization and all it stands for and how empowering it is to women. I love the mission. The type of treatment I had did not cause my hair to fall out, so I didn’t need to wear scarves or wigs or sport a bald head. I was a hairdresser, and joked that bald was the only haircolor I had never had. But, as a hairdresser, I had many clients with breast and ovarian cancer, who trusted me to shave their heads when the time came. I helped them through the awkward growing out stage when the hair grows in all downy and curly. I was with them through their journey. They confided in me how it felt to lose their hair. To give women these scarves, sent with love and support is just the most wonderful thing. I can’t wait to share Hope Scarves mission with my other cancer friends.
What do you wish other people knew about Hope Scarves?
That this wonderful organization started out of an act of kindness to the Founder, Lara, and how it made her feel. This organization is run by people like you and me. Real, down to earth people who happen to get cancer, and instead of it ruining their life, they are giving back to the very community they came from.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about sending a Hope Scarf to a friend facing cancer?
Just do it. Don’t wonder about if they will or won’t like it, or if it will be useful. Trust me, any act of kindness is greatly appreciated. I had a friend send me several pairs of fuzzy, warm socks while I was recovering from my surgery, far from my home. I was staying in a group home for cancer patients while I recovered until I got the all clear to go home. It was February, in Boston, it was COLD. Every day, I took out a pair of those fuzzy warm socks and as I put them on, felt the love and support from hundreds of miles away. Each pair was different, colorful and fun. I still have a few pair that I pull out in the winter, and STILL smile to this day. So yes, just send one! The act of love and kindness is far more reaching than you know.
What is one of your dreams or goals for the future?
My dream is to be here for my daughter as she grows up. I want to be here when she graduates from high school, college, and travel the world with her. Be there when she gets married and meet my grand kid(s).
As far as goals? Write a book, inspire people, and travel the world. 🙂 I have friends literally all over the world that I have met through social media as result of my blogging and outreach. I would so love to meet these other cancer warriors!!
What is your favorite inspirational quote?
“Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death”
From the movie Auntie Mame, circa 1958, starring Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame. FANTASTIC movie, I love every minute of it.
If your friends or family had to describe you in a couple of words, what would those be?
My husband said “Beautiful, inside and out.” (no I didn’t pay him to say that)
Inspiring, Kind, Funny.
Please share something you learned facing cancer.
I learned who my real friends were. Sadly, many of the people I thought were friends deserted me when I needed them most. They simply stopped being a friend. That hurt almost worse than the cancer diagnosis. Many of the friends I have now, I met after my cancer battle. The few that did stick around are still around and I cherish their friendships. Having cancer opened my eyes to how people are when things get tough, the good and the bad.
I learned I was stronger than I ever thought I could be and that having faith is so important. Not just spiritual faith, but faith in my doctors and my entire medical team, but most importantly faith in myself, that I could overcome and be better as a result.
To learn more about mesothelioma click here. To learn about mesothelioma resources for veterans click here. To learn more about Heather click here.
Here are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)