Fighting Fancy: Heather Owens Bags Up Cancer
On May 9, 2012, Heather Owens got a call she never expected. Two days prior, she’d had a biopsy performed on a small lump in her breast. “My doctor said everything looked normal but she would know more in a few days. I wasn’t even worried about it. Then she called and said, ‘I never thought I would be telling you this, but you have cancer.’”
According to Heather’s husband Derek, the next five days were a blur. On May 14, Heather had a lumpectomy and surgery to remove four lymph nodes. She and her medical team decided on an aggressive course of treatment due to her age and the type of cancer. Since June 14, she’s had a chemotherapy treatment every two weeks, starting with adriamycin (nicknamed the “the red devil” for its color and aggressive side effects) and cytoxan and progressing to taxol. In early November, she’ll have a double mastectomy (as opposed to radiation). Then, for the next five years, she’ll take a daily dose of oral chemotherapy.
On day one of diagnosis, Heather and Derek started a blog called Fighting Fancy — a play on Heather’s nickname given to her by her nieces and nephews: Aunt Fancy. Today, though, the name refers to Heather’s nonprofit organization, which provides bags of beauty and health products to young women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I first got cancer, I received a chemo bag from another organization,” Heather explained. “It contained Chapstick, a lantern and a card to hang in the shower to show me how to do a self breast exam. Not particularly useful. Cancer can strip women of what makes us feel beautiful. Hair loss, weight gain and hot flashes are just a few of the side effects. I decided to put together a bag of goodies that make me feel beautiful and give me hope as a chemo patient.”
Each bag contains a heart tank top and necklace that Heather wears for every chemotherapy appointment. Other products include OPI nail polish, makeup from Laura Mercier and L’Oréal, lotion from Burt’s Bees, Biofreeze, Biotene, Nioxin shampoo, lemon drops, coupons for hats and information on how to get a free wig.
“Right now, we have enough items to fill 100 bags,” says Heather. “We’re raising funds to cover the cost of the bags and shirts, lemon drops, shipping and marketing.”
The journey has been tough — what battle with cancer isn’t? But, Heather notes, it’s been made a lot easier with the support of her husband, family and friends. “I have never been to a doctor’s appointment alone,” she says. “[They] are by my side every step of the way. I couldn’t do it without them. A friend started a meal train for me and quickly spread the word that I love mac and cheese. So basically, friends and mac and cheese get me through chemo!
“My husband, Derek, has walked every step of this with me,” she continues. “If I have good days, he has good days. If I have a bad day, he shares that pain. In some ways I think he has the harder job. He is my nurse, biggest supporter, and the greatest man I have ever known.”
Heather’s advice for the newly diagnosed? “Take a deep breath, pray and know that God has you in his hands. You won’t believe me now but you will thank Him for this opportunity. Oh and don’t Google ANYTHING.”
Heather is adamant that she wouldn’t change a thing about the last six months. “This experience has completely changed the person I am, how I see people and what I want to do with my life,” she says. “My friends, family, doctors, nurses and strangers have shown me more support and compassion than I ever knew possible. They make me want to be a better person ... and I will be.”