National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

being beautiful cancerThere are some very courageous women in and around the Fort whose lives, interrupted by breast cancer, have become survivors in every sense of the word, and many of them have done it with joy and humor.

And they have done it by continuing to appear beautiful through the transition, whether by cosmetics, massages, “bosom buddies” or other means of feeling better while often traversing a rocky path. We celebrate their stories during this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

A lot of credit goes to Francine’s Friends ( who 10 years ago established the mobile mammography coach which provides early detection to area women who might otherwise not have access to mammograms or be able to pay. The organization celebrates its 10th “Lunch with Friends” anniversary this October.

Donna Emley, creative director of Emley Design Group in Fort Wayne, has been on the Francine’s Friends board since its inception, has attended all the luncheons and has been a table captain for all.

“I like our luncheon because it is such a positive, uplifting day with friends – even though there’re usually 650+ in the house each year,” said Emley. “You have these wonderful, intimate conversations that really do seem like you’re sitting around and chatting with your BFF. It truly is a great reminder of how friendship with our ‘gal pals’ is something to be cherished and treasured – key relationships that help all of us as women weather the storms and triumphs of life.

“Pure and simple – we need our peeps – that shoulder to cry on, that spark that makes us laugh things off, that unconditional love that so many women share with each other. Most everyone leaves on a high from the event that that lasts for days afterwards.”

FF president, Sharon Simmons, recalled the time Cathy Brand-Beere of DeBrand’s Fine Chocolates first offered a chocolate to each woman who got screened at the coach at the store’s location in 2005 – an offer she continues today.

“One woman saw our schedule in the paper and that DeBrand’s was offering her a treat that she couldn’t pass up, so she came to us for a screening,” said Simmons, “and this woman had undergone a divorce and hadn’t been able to afford a mammogram for several years due to finances. After being successfully treated, she has gone on to lead a happy and healthy life. In fact, this year she is joining former survivor models as a model in our fashion show at our 10th anniversary luncheon celebration.”

The journey of a breast cancer survivor whose daughter was her caregiver was, “very much a surprise,” said Donna Packnett.

“There were many, many days that looking in the mirror was very devastating and draining. My daughters would remind me who I was in Christ and that I should go ahead and put one foot in front of the other and maybe a little lipstick, and sure enough, a transition to a glimmer of the old me would peek through. It always helped to get a little salon pampering, too!”

Marika Hamilton, a native of England, took an unusual and controversial approach to her stage three cancer.

“I was officially diagnosed January 2013, but it was estimated that I had cancer for six to eight years based on the size of the tumor,” said Hamilton, who blogs about her cancer journey at

“After having a lumpectomy, I declined all other conventional treatment, so no chemo, radiation or hormone therapy for me. This was a terribly stressful decision, but my intuition was really clear on the matter. I decided to trust my intuition and not my fear.”

“There are many paths to healing and no guarantees on any of them. Cancer was the wake- up call for me that I needed to really step in to living fully as me. Although I really want to stay alive, I’ve realized through my journey that it really isn’t about staying alive. it is about learning how to live while you are. I think that can be said for all of us, cancer diagnosis or not – and I have never felt better in my life!”

Another long-time FF table captain is Donna Kaiser who also donates time to Cancer Services, and she additionally models for Jophiel in-store and will be included in the fashion show this year at the event.

When asked how she kept her spirits up in the face of the unwelcome Big C, Kaiser’s confidence shone in her answer:

“Lipstick and a smile! The lipstick brightens the smile and the smile often turns to laughter!” said Kaiser. “You HAVE to have a positive attitude during your breast cancer journey and for me it started with accepting that while I didn’t have a choice when it came to having cancer, I did have a choice in my attitude.

“I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction because of the nature of my cancer. The day of surgery I was waiting for my surgeons to come in before we went to the operating room. Not only did my two surgeons come in, but also five very young, very handsome interns! My surgeon then began to draw on my body with purple marker to mark where various incisions would be.

“There I was, naked with purple marker everywhere, in a room with seven men – what else was there to do but laugh?

“It has been 14 years since my journey began. I don’t dwell on ‘C.’ I have so much to be happy about and I make the most each day with Revlon’s ‘Kiss Me Coral, #750!”

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