Editor’s note: Salon owner Lesa Perry shared with us the story of her courageous battle with breast cancer in our October 1997 issue. (October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.) A year later, she is still in remission. We talked to Perry about how her life has hanged over the past year. You’ll surprised to hear how many good things the says have come our of her trying ordeal.

I work because I really enjoy my time at the salon,” says Lesa Perry (middle row, second from right; her sister Vickie is to the left), who finds that no job is too small — whether it’s answering phones or getting lunch for everyone. A good rapport with her nail technicians (pictured) and clients has developed into lasting friendships.

This October, Lesa Perry and her sister Vickie Johnson will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of their salon, For Your Nails Only, in Brentwood, Tenn. But Perry will also be celebrating the gift of life — her own. Back in May 1996, at the age of 31, Perry was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and was not given much of a chance to survive with standard chemotherapy. She had a lumpectomy and underwent high dose chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant (similar to a bone marrow transplant). Her radiation therapy ended on December 31, 1996, and she’s been free of cancer since.

With her new lease on life, Perry has made a significant shift in her career: “I’ve changed my work ethic —for the better — since having cancer” she says. “I’m not as driven now to make the almighty dollar. It’s much more important to spend time with my 6-year-old son.” Because she’s such a firm believer in spending quality time with loved ones, Perry allows the nail technicians at her salon to schedule their own hours. “I’ve found that if they pick their own hours, they work harder for themselves than you could ever make them,” says Perry.

Due to the toxic levels of chemotherapy she received, Perry now has permanent nerve damage in her hands and feet, preventing her from doing nails. Thankfully, she had taken out an individual disability insurance policy before she got sick. “One of my clients owns her own insurance company, and she said if you can’t work due to an eye injury, back injury, or hand injury, how can you pay your bills or keep the salon? After being diagnosed with cancer having disability insurance was one less stress on me,” she says.

Since she’s not doing nails, Perry is concentrating on running the business, and says the salon itself has been more successful because of it. “I’ve done more advertising and focused on keeping the salon running smoothly and efficiently. Now I’m working on the business instead of in the business.” Having her sister as a co-owner is also an added comfort. “It sure is a relief having complete faith and trust in your partner,” says Perry.

Sadly, in the past year; For Your Nails Only has lost two clients to cancer and currently has four clients who are diagnosed with cancer, to raise awareness about breast cancer, Perry recently held a fund-raiser at the salon. She had a box with posters saying, “Win a free pedicure or fill and help tight cancer” For every $5 donation, the client would put her name in the box for a raffle. The salon raised $850, and all of the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. Perry also counsels cancer patients on makeup tips to help them look better and feel better about themselves during treatment.

Perry is also involved in Camp Bluebird, which is an adult cancer camp she attends about every six months. “It’s a wonderful retreat because there is great camaraderie among cancer patients and survivors,” she says. “Your friends and family can be very supportive and sympathetic, but unless you’ve had cancer, it’s hard to understand what someone goes through.”

In the nail business, Perry has met some wonderful women, and says that the biggest misconception about women is their lack of strength. “I’m discovering the complexity of women and the many different roles we play,” she says. “We’re not just one person, but oftentimes our husbands and children see us only as a wife or mother. Women have a wonderful ability to form friendships and we have mutual respect for one another. Our salon clients and nail technicians were there for me as I struggled with cancer and I am truly blessed to have them all in my life.”

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