When salon owner Lesa Perry was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 31, she was in disbelief. She credits her family, friends, coworkers, and clients for being there every step of the way of her difficult journey.
Editor's note: In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), Lesa sent us the following letter hoping we could print it for our readers. We know you'll find her story moving and inspirational, as well as a great tribute to the nail profession.
In 1988 my sister, Vickie Johnson, and I opened For Your Nails Only, a successful nails-only salon in Brentwood, Tenn. We've grown from just the two of us to nine full-time nail technicians. Over the years we have shared everything from marriage and divorce to the birth of our children. 1 have always felt blessed to have such wonderful people around me, but nothing prepared me for what happened in May 1996. At the age of 31, I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and I was not given much of a chance to survive with normal chemotherapy. The news was devastating to us all, but I have always said, "Something good always comes out of something bad." The love and support I've received from my clients and staff is overwhelming.
I had a lumpectomy and chose to undergo high-dose chemotherapy and a stem- cell transplant (similar to a bone marrow transplant). Since my immune system would rapidly weaken with chemotherapy, I knew I had to give up doing nails. This was very hard for me because I have been in the business for 14 years and a lot of my clients have been with me since I started.
The other technicians worked very hard to fit my clients into their already busy schedules. My sister took over the complete daily operations of the salon, often working 14-hour days. One client even stepped in as receptionist when mine left. Several of the technicians also helped me pack and move into a new house days after my surgery. Two dear friends organized a food list for people willing to bring food to my home. Technicians and many generous clients look turns for six months providing meals several times a week. This was extremely helpful considering I have a 4-year-old son and a husband to take care of. I could not believe all the love and moral support I received.
I've been able to talk to several clients who have breast cancer (one out of every seven women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime). This provided a great support group for me. One of my oncology nurses is also a client of the salon. It was very comforting to know someone personally in the medical field who was looking alter me.
As my shoulder-length brown hair started to fall out, many clients brought me their hats and turbans. People complimented me, which made me feel attractive and lifted my spirits. During the time of my stem-cell transplant, I needed several units of blood and platelets. Several technicians and clients donated for me. My sister turned out to be a complete blood match.
I have been blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful supportive people during such a critical time in my life. I have laughed and told all the girls that they really have given blood, sweat, and tears to me and For Your Nails Only.
A follow-up to Lesa's story was published in October 1998.