Working Healthy

Working Through a Chronic Illness

What do you do when you have a health issue that doesn’t go away? We spoke to four nail techs who haven’t let their illness deter them from their dreams.

Amanda Mitchell
Onyxology by AJ Mitchell, Hendersonville, Tenn.

Amanda Mitchell
<p>Amanda Mitchell</p>

When Amanda entered the nail industry a year ago, she tried to keep up with the demands of the salon. Long hours. Few breaks. She ate sporadically — if at all. But one day it all caught up with her. “I began shaking so badly I couldn’t work,” she says. “A friend had to finish my client.”

As a diabetic, Amanda knew she needed to pay attention to her insulin levels. She takes a weekly injection, watches her diet, and has glucose tablets on hand for emergencies. Despite knowing how to regulate her levels, she had ignored the warning signs of irritability and a headache to stay on schedule.

My disease pushed me to learn more.

But that’s changed. Today Amanda owns her own salon, and says what she’s learned about nail care and diabetes helps her serve her clients better. “The disease drove me to learn why we treat diabetic clients so differently,” she explains.

Her drive for education led her to become a certified Advanced Nail Technician. Next is a certification as a Footcare Nail Technician, then an internship with a podiatrist on the road to becoming a Medical Nail Technician.

“Before I became a nail tech, I had no idea clients with diabetes needed to be treated any differently in a salon,” she says, “but now I know, and I’m in a position where I can help people. So many people suffer with diabetes and don’t know it because they haven’t been diagnosed. I try to educate them whenever I can. I know it can be a life or death situation.”

 

Mary Ryan
Antonio Cremona Salon, Portola Valley, Calif.

Mary Ryan
<p>Mary Ryan</p>

Mary got into the nail industry in 1988. She’s worked in luxury spas and premier salons. She is certified as a CND Grand Master. Though Mary is a rock star nail tech, doing nails isn’t always easy.

In 2003, when she was 47, Mary went for a mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer. After chemo and a double mastectomy, Mary received great news: She was in remission.

Ten years later, she felt a lump under her arm. Tests confirmed it was cancer. Doctors removed additional lymph nodes, and Mary was back in remission for the next several years. 

Doctors monitored Mary’s health and kept subsequent issues at bay using oral medication, but in November 2018, Mary had to begin chemo once again. 

This round had side effects: “I developed neuropathy on the underside of my toes and arch,” says Mary. “The nails on my hands and feet are compromised.” She laughs when she describes them as looking like the waves of an old-fashioned washboard. “I have to be very careful. I’ve lost a toenail, and I suspect I’ll eventually lose more.”

Life doesn’t have to stop just because you’re sick.

Mary says it hasn’t stopped her from working. “I have a treatment, and I feel good for a few days so I can keep going,” she says. The fatigue she experiences caused her to adjust her schedule. “I found I would rest my left arm on my leg and my arm would bear all my weight from holding my client’s leg. It became very swollen, so now I limit my pedicures. I’m doing almost exclusively gel-polish and natural manicures.”

Despite her trials, Mary is positive and upbeat. “I keep in mind a saying my doctor told me: If you look good, you feel good. So I get up, get dressed, and put my face on every single day.” 

And she has some advice for other techs: “Go get a mammogram. Don’t wait until you’re over 40. Go get one now.”

 

Darlene Bitton
Hotlines Beauty, Roy, Utah

Darlene Bitton
<p>Darlene Bitton</p>

“I was the second nail tech in Ogden, Utah. The first one trained me,” laughs Darlene. After 38 years, she still loves the nail industry, the salon, and the clients.

At the beginning of this year, Darlene started a new job at Hotlines Beauty. Within just a few months, she noticed she was more tired than usual — a lot more tired. “I would actually leave the desk and go lay down!” says Darlene. Then she noticed a lump on her neck.

In April, 2018, she went to see a doctor who scheduled her for her first mammogram. She was 60 years old.

“The timeline was immediate,” says Darlene. “I found a suspicious lump. They said it was benign. One week later I had my tonsils out. A week after that they tested my bone marrow. Another week later I had a port installed. A week after that I was on chemo. I had Stage III Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” Without treatment, doctors said she had about six months to live.

I feel so fortunate to be where I am. I feel like I was led here.

“I was mad at myself. I was mad at the cancer. I knew I had to fight,” says Darlene. Focusing on her treatment meant work couldn’t be her priority, and she wondered how her co-workers would respond.

“These people had known me for only three months,” Darlene says. “They didn’t need to do anything other than wish me luck, tell me to get my stuff, and call when I’m ready to come back.”

She wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

“They held two fundraisers to cover the cost of my bills because I couldn’t work as much. They took care of my clients for me. They were were unbelievably kind and loving. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for them,” says Darlene. “I’ve never experienced so much love and compassion. I call them my angels.”

Surrounded by support, and knowing her job was secure, Darlene began treatment. Doctors said she would need four to eight rounds of chemo. “After my fourth treatment, the doctor said it was difficult to even feel the tumor,” says Darlene. “I was able to stop after the sixth treatment!”

Though she isn’t in the clear, doctors are hopeful. “Soon, they are going to give me a PET scan. Then, they’ll harvest my stem cells and inject them with cancer to see how they respond. At this point, doctors have said they think they may even be able to cure me.”

Darlene considers what she’d like to say to other techs: “Don’t ignore your health. Take care of yourself. Go get checked. As techs, we need to take care of ourselves as well as we take care of our clients.” 

 

Lori Halloway
Voilà Salon and Spa, Saline, Mich.

Lori Halloway
<p>Lori Halloway</p>

Lori became a nail tech when she was 25, eight years after she was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a condition that causes painful inflammation in the joints. Lori’s PsA also causes neck and back pain and makes it difficult for her to bend her spine.

Lori’s business grew despite her condition. During her 24 years as a nail tech, she has had regular injections to reduce the swelling surrounding the joints in her fingers and hands. She’s also had surgery and fusion in her neck, along with spinal injections to “burn” the nerves that send pain signals to her brain. It doesn’t heal her condition, but it does help manage the pain.

In addition to managing her salon with 11 employees, she runs a YouTube channel called “The Meticulous Manicurist,” which has over 150,000 subscribers and 180 videos, many of which have millions of views. 

Lori is conscientious about her self-care. Though she works over 50 hours a week, she regularly takes 15-minute breaks throughout the day to apply ice, use her foam roller, and stretch.

I don’t want my disease to define me.

Her chronic pain motivated her to design a creative solution for working on clients. She developed a tool that allows her to sit straighter with proper body posture. Her device prevents her from bearing the weight of a client’s hand, so it relieves stress on her wrist, neck, and shoulders. 

She has had such positive results from her tool, she’s patented the design and will soon offer it to other techs. “I want to help other people who have chronic pain — and also help people avoid chronic pain,” says Lori. “I know this tool can reduce neck problems that plague so many techs.”

Despite her life-long battle with psoriatic arthritis, Lori isn’t discouraged. “I don’t see my condition as a disability,” says Lori. “I want to lead a normal life and stay positive.” 

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