Working Healthy

Helping Hands

Nail tech Karen Hodges recounts a difficult journey that began with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Her load was made lighter by the support and friendship offered by her “angels” — other nail techs who came to help.

The Whirlwind

October 7th: Happy birthday to me! I’m 48 years old. Whew! Hmm…it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And my good friend and nail technician, Pati Schembari, has just told me she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. Guess I should do something about getting a mammogram.

October 20th: Still trying to get an appointment for a mammogram. Seems I need to be sick enough to have a doctor who will write an order for this test!

October 30th: Called in a favor — one of my clients just happens to be married to a gynecologist. She had his office set up an exam and then call the hospital for the test.

November 5th: Had the mammogram today. The technician’s face got all squinchy and she sent me to another department for a sonogram. Something’s wrong. I just know it. But there’s no lump or anything.

November 6th: The doctor, Dr. Grizzle, called me to say that there’s a mass in my right breast, a “suspicious one,” and that I need to see a surgeon. He can recommend one, if I like. Holy crap!

I called a friend of mine who runs a hospital in a nearby town. I asked her who she would see and she said, “Without a doubt, Dr. Larrauri. He’s the best!” So I asked Dr. Grizzle’s office to call him for a consult. Doctors always take each other’s calls.

November 8th: Dr. Larrauri is very calm. Thank goodness! He explained that I will have to have a biopsy. He said, “Quite frankly, after looking at the films, I expected to observe something far worse in my examination.” I told him about having banged my chest on a box of tiles during a summer project and asked if that could be what we were looking at. “It’s possible,” he said, “But we need to be sure.”

November 12th: Bright and early Monday morning, I check into the hospital for an “outpatient” procedure. It turns out to be a bigger deal than I thought. There’s anesthesia and I’ll actually be going into surgery. They’re going to try to remove the whole mass, if they can.

November 13th: I go to Dr. Laurrari’s office for a follow-up visit. He has bad news. The margins of the area they removed tested positive for cancer cells. That means, in lay terms, they didn’t get it all. They can go back in and try again, he says, and I’ll have to have chemo and radiation therapy. It most likely will involve my nipple and aureola complex and it would make a difficult reconstruction. Or I can have a mastectomy, avoid radiation, and have a much better platform for reconstruction. I vote for B.

November 14th: I’m at the hospital again, but this time for an overnight stay. The surgery apparently goes well — my lymph nodes are tested at the same time and they come back clear. I’ll have tests later on, but they feel confident they’ve gotten the cancer. It’s been 10 days since this all started. If I hadn’t had the mammogram, I most likely would have found out about this sneaky cancer too late. Meanwhile, I am disabled — my right arm cannot be used much and I can’t lift anything heavy.

November 18th: Jenny Markakis, my dear friend from Melbourne, Australia, whom I first met at the ISSE show in L.A. in ’99 calls me at her usual time. Thank goodness for that refillable calling card of hers! She’s shocked at my news. In fact, she cries for me. “What can I do to help?” she asks. “Well, just send me some kick-butt woman power — I’m gonna need it. I can’t do pedicures at all, and I certainly can’t do nails back-to-back like I usually do.”

Help Wanted: Tech Needed in Key West!

November 25th: Jenny calls me and says, “Have you been reading the posts at BeautyTech.com? Well you better brace yourself, because Debbie Doerrlamm just made a post and we’re sending you help!” She told me she’d had a conference call with Debbie and Vicki Peters and they’d organized a whole group of nail techs who were going to come down here and work with me in my salon. They’d written a cute little classified ad, saying that help was needed, and there would be a place to stay and payment for the work done. They said travel expenses would be reimbursed. Vicki was in charge of organizing the schedule and said she was hit with several immediate replies.

I’m breathless! This is the first time I’ve really cried during this whole whirlwind. Jenny, who knows my heart, said she knew she couldn’t just send money, which was her first instinct. She said, “I knew you’d be offended so I thought that how I could help you best was to give you a way to earn your own money.” This is exactly what I need — a helping hand, not a hand out.

Angels Among Us

December 2nd: Last week I got an e-mail from a tech named Candace Welch, who lives in Miami, saying she’s available to come down right away. She just left here a few minutes ago. What an absolute ray of sunshine! She rolled into the salon yesterday morning, jumped right into a pedicure and we worked as a team all day long. She stayed in my guest room, and we got up early and did it again today.

Jenny has organized a fund of contributions to help cover the travel and food expenses for all the “angels” who are coming down. I have money to pay for tickets, rental cars, and to reimburse Candace for gas. There’s enough to buy some groceries and the occasional meal out, too.

I’ve promised to teach any of the angels that come any technique that I know anything about, if they want. Candace did her first set of gel toes! She did pink-and-whites, and did a great job. Candace also wanted to learn about waxing, and I showed her my technique for brow design. We did her brows and she looks great.

I’m very tired. But it’s the kind of tired you get when you had a good day.

Angel #2, Maxine Moore-Thomas, is coming from Kingston, Jamaica, for two weeks. She’ll be here in a couple of hours.

December 3rd: I’ve been informed that Vicki has organized the entire list of visiting techs — and I’m covered until mid-January! Tonya Hibdon of Ship to Shore, Vicki’s partner in the NTP cruises, donated air miles to get Vicki here later in the month.

December 4th: Today I was telling a client, Linda Shield, about the angels and how this all came together. I mentioned that someone had even donated air miles, and she said, “Oh, I want to do that, too!” I told her that we were just in the process of booking Mindy Borrego’s ticket from Connecticut. She said, “Well get her reservation on hold and then call me with the confirmation number. I’ll take care of it.”

This whole thing is breathtaking. Maxine and I are working hard every day. I’m doing nails and turning them over to her for some wonderful pampering on their feet.

December 9th: Maxine’s been here a week and it’s my first day off in over two weeks. I’m pooped. We spent a little time exploring Key West today. I took her to eat Cuban food and on a driving tour to see some of the sights. We’ve been talking nails and pedis and waxing every day. I’m sharing some of my ideas about building a successful nail practice — and Maxine’s baking me her award-winning bread pudding.

December 14th: Maxine is heading home. I’m so grateful she was able to get away during this busy time of the year. Simantha Bredal-Bell, from Brick, N.J., is on the way down. She’s driving from Tampa where she’d been visiting family.

December 20th: Debbie posted notes on the BeautyTech mailing list and the message boards suggesting that those who wanted to help out could send grocery gift cards since “Karen and the angels have to eat!” What an amazing network she’s established!

December 23rd: Simmy and I share one brain! We’re both lefties, so the setup works for both of us and we’ve been tag-teaming clients all week. Nails and pedis and waxing. We have such a good flow going that I’m double-booking most of the day. I’m hoping the busy season will be my salvation as the medical bills start rolling in.

Every time I turn around, some doctor wants another test: heart, liver, thyroid, PAP! The oncologist says we’ll wait until after the first of the year to do the chemotherapy he recommends. He wants my surgery to heal more, and no one wants to start something like this during the holidays. He’s right.

December 25th: Vicki Peters just arrived from L.A. I am so touched that these two fabulous women have given their holiday time to me. The three of us were invited to a dear friend’s house for an old fashioned Southern-style turkey and dressing dinner. Thankfully the weather was glorious so we were able to enjoy being outside on her dock.

December 27th: Simmy leaves today. I’m so sad to see her go. She’s promised that she’ll return in March or April when I need her after chemo.

December 29th: Candace returned today for another round. She and Vicki handled the clients while I did computer work — I was so behind on my bookkeeping! Vicki and I did a manual inventory in the salon on Sunday and I’m inputting the journal entries needed to balance everything.

December 31st: We’re in our pajamas and relaxing at home. We’ve had a busy week, and we’re pooped. Vicki did her first-ever gel polish fills. A true pro continues to learn new techniques.

January 1st: Vicki drove off in her rented PT Cruiser. She flies out of Ft. Lauderdale. I’m alone for a day for the first time in weeks, and it’s quiet. I make only one New Year’s resolution: Get healthy.

January 3rd: Mindy Borrego (aka Mindyfingers) has arrived. Due to my doctor’s appointments being bumped repeatedly and her plane’s delay, she cabbed it to the salon. Thank goodness I’d planned for a light day.

January 7th: Mindy and I have a day off. We relaxed this morning, but went grocery shopping and used some of the gift cards that my nail tech friends have sent. I’m so grateful!

She made her fresh salsa, curried chicken, and a hamburger and rice chili dish. We’ve set aside portions to eat, and with her guidance, frozen the rest in special freezer bags she introduced me to.

Special Gifts

Mindy is the last of the angels for a time. Each of them has given me something uniquely their own. Jenny was the impetus of this plan; Candace was my on-the-spot emergency cover; Maxine cleaned my house for me; Simmy stood in as a sister and pampered me, too; Vicki, my mentor my whole nail career, cheered me on and with her matter-of-fact bluntness, gave me the encouragement I needed; Mindy filled my freezer with food. And Debbie Doerrlamm, at BeautyTech.com is the angel who started this amazing network. Thank you, angels!

Thanks also to the many angels who sent notes, cards, e-mails and gifts of support and encouragement. Nail techs rock!

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