I woke up on my birthday three years ago needing a big change. As a busy occupational therapist, my job required me to be polished from head to fingertip to toe. As a result, I went to the salon three times per week. The atmosphere in my nail technician’s salon was very pleasant and relaxing. So relaxing that I eventually decided to become a nail technician myself, opening my own salon, Vintage Nail Boutique in Orange, Mass., less than six months after receiving my license.

About 1½ years later, my business was booming. I worked seven days a week (In a rural town of 8,000 people, it is now the pi ace where women spend their time.) Soon I began to notice minor problems with my eyes, which I attributed to light strain, long hours, and even my eye makeup. After reading an article about occupational safety glasses, I became convinced that I needed an eye exam, but found it hard to take the time to go. However, I was finally convinced by clients and friends. Concerned by what he saw, the doctor sent me directly to a specialist.

I was later diagnosed with a 16mm by 14mm occular melanoma in my left eye (a tumor about the size of a thumbnail).

My finances and lack of insurance made expensive surgery and treatment impossible. However, my “girls gossip network” of caring clients provided me with a life-saving connection: District 33A of The Lion’s Club. An international charitable organization, the group helps the hearing- or vision-impaired by paying for operations or donating glasses or hearing aids. With The Lion’s Club financing the surgery, I was able to check into the hospital right after my next birthday. Rings were inserted in my eye that later helped guide a proton beam to the tumor during my three-week treatment.

Meanwhile, my caring clients created a sign-up sheet to take turns driving me to my treatment appointments. Other clients were helping me maintain the salon by vacuuming, scheduling appointments, cleaning the shop, and even doing some filing (of the non-nail variety).

Now I am back in my salon full-time, but still undergoing chemotherapy four times a week. I try to face my disease with good humor. Of course I would prefer not to have cancer at all, but I can’t help wondering why it couldn’t have happened in another part of my body. Having it in my eye is harder to deal with because I love my work and need good vision to do it.

As a salon owner, nail technician, and Star Nail Products educator, I stay busy, but I am never too busy to give back to the organization that helped me or the community that rallied around me. My assistant Carole Lackey and I recently helped raise money for The Lion’s Club by offering a $3 nail art design during a local sidewalk fair. We have also begun our own version of the “Look Good... Feel Better” program at a local cancer unit.

We go in to perform a natural nail manicure, but what we really end up doing is a lot of hand-holding because that is what the patients really need.

While I still battle the “Big C,” I hope that you, my fellow nail technicians, can learn from my experience. I want to strongly advise you to take one day out from your busy schedule to get your own eyes checked, make sure you wear safety glasses during a service, and if possible donate your time to charities like The Lion’s Club that help the vision- and hearing-impaired.

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