Silver Linings: How Three Women Triumphed over Cancer
Courageous women who fought back with style and grace in the face of illness.
Each of these three incredible women forged their own paths through their individual diagnoses. They braved ravaging treatments and monumental changes in the one thing they thought they could trust – their own bodies. Through hair loss and mastectomies, they had to redefine a sense of self-knowledge. They are still defining it.
Their journeys all led them to discover what they wanted to do and who they wanted to be. For Kelsey Bucci, Grace Dubose and Karen Miracky, that process of discovery took them to new places in their professional lives — all three started or grew successful businesses while fighting cancer — and we are so grateful they chose us to share their stories.
Kelsey Bucci did everything science tells you to do to kill cancer – chemotherapy, radiation, a year of at-home chemo, a bilateral mastectomy. “I nuked my body with everything I possibly could,” she said. Through that process, she learned a lot about what she was putting in, and on, her body.
Bucci was diagnosed with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma at age 30 one month after moving to Savannah with her husband, who is in the military, and their four kids. She had no family history and no genetic links. “It was definitely a freak mutation for me,” she said.
In a new city with few friends, she had trouble finding people in similar situations, so she decided to share her diagnosis and entire journey on her blog, theblogpardonmyfrench.com, and through social media. “It connected me with an entire community of young survivors and fighters with this disease,” Bucci said. “I built a great community of women through social media. They are a huge source of inspiration for life beyond cancer as well.”
As she shared the nitty-gritty of treatment on her blog, questions about skincare products kept coming up. During treatment, it’s completely normal to break out in rashes from the chemotherapy and hormone injections. “None of the skincare products I used before seemed to work,” Bucci said. She started to take a very close look at the products and ingredients she was using. “You can buy things that say ‘all-natural,’ but they’re filled with all kinds of chemicals that are skin irritants, hormone disruptors, and carcinogenic ingredients. I thought, 'If I shouldn’t be using these things when my system is vulnerable, should I be using them at all?'”
Bucci went on a mission to rid her regiment of all harmful ingredients. “I went through my entire house and got rid of anything that had chemicals in it. I talked about that on my blog. More and more women were asking what I used and where they could buy it,” Bucci said. That’s how her online store, The Paris Laundry (parislaundry.com), was born. “I felt I needed to create one central place where I could send women to find products I vetted myself,” she said. Bucci works with Breast Cancer Prevention Partners using the lab research they have on ingredients and eliminates any brands that use those ingredients from her inventory.
Rather than being a deterrent, dealing with a cancer diagnosis turned Bucci’s drive and ambition up a few notches. “My husband would say, 'She went a little crazy.' I had this huge push during cancer,” Bucci said. “This all kind of gave my experience a purpose.”
“I’m like a new woman as each day passes,” Karen Miracky said on an early Monday morning, just a week after a bilateral mastectomy. Miracky was diagnosed with breast cancer six months after starting her own business – Cultivate. Search Professionals – a headhunting firm.
“I had the flexibility to be treated and work, but still rest. That was huge,” she said. She’d been driven to go into business for herself after many years of teaching special education then trying out a few different fields before settling into human resources and talent search. “I’ve always been looking for that thing that feels good where I can wake up in the morning and be excited to get up and accomplish things,” Miracky said. “After ten years of teaching, I was like, 'I’m not doing this anymore.' That was liberating to realize that you don’t have to be unhappy with your job. You can enjoy what you do, and that’s ok.”
Working through her diagnosis continued to reinforce Miracky’s purpose – it was a journey of self-discovery. “That’s the beauty of these giant life changes. People say, 'It’s amazing how you handled this.' There’s no other way I could have handled it. You’re gonna get beat down in life. Are you gonna lay down or make it better?”
Miracky is still putting words to what she went through and what it taught her, but her reflections sound a lot like a lesson on resilience and openness. “When I felt the lump, I knew in the pit of my stomach that it was not going to be good, but I knew that it was not going to be something that was going to end me. I was shocked by it, but I just thought about new boobs. That helped,” she said. Whatever cancer threw at her, she took in stride and not only accepted but embraced the changes.
When she lost her hair, she shaved her head and bought some wigs, but wearing them felt like hiding. So she stopped. Going out bald was an eye-opener. “My hair was everything. My breasts were everything. That was my femininity. To realize I was going to lose both and to just openly accept it…I was shocked at how I still felt like a woman without those things. I wouldn’t have discovered that had I not allowed myself to accept that those changes were coming.”
At age 23, Grace Dubose was trying to figure out her life. She graduated from college at the University of South Carolina, traveled a bit, and started focusing on her next steps. Those plans were interrupted with frequent visits to the doctor that year. “I went to the doctor I don’t even know how many times that year for things that kept reoccurring,” she said – acid reflux, a horrible cough, fatigue. “I knew something was wrong. I shouldn’t be going to the doctor that many times in a year.”
One day, she felt a small lump on her collarbone. The doctor could see it from behind his desk. A few weeks later, a biopsy showed what she never imagined could be true. “I one-hundred percent did not think it was going to be cancer. The doctor had said it might be mono, and I thought, 'Oh, that has to be what it is.'”
He called her in for the results of the biopsy and said, “It looks like we have our work cut out for us.” Dubose started treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the next week.
“I really appreciated the good days. During treatment, I didn’t want to do much of anything. I didn’t want to watch TV. My phone made me nauseous. That’s when I got the idea to make jewelry. It gave me something to do so that I wasn’t in bed all the time. I didn’t think it would grow like it has.”
Dubose started Glam & Grace Collection with her mom and twin sister. It’s how Dubose makes her living these days. “Since I didn’t have hair, the jewelry would give me confidence. Cancer is a very mental challenge. I struggled with depression. It gave me something to look forward to,” Dubose said.
Her next venture helped Dubose find even more profound meaning in her struggle. “I came up with the idea to dress up as a princess without hair and visit kids in the hospital. It gave the loss of my hair a purpose. Unfortunately, because I was sick, I couldn’t go around children. So, I put the idea into a book,” Dubose said. "The Missing Piece" was published early this year. It is available on Amazon.
Now out of treatment, Dubose is back to trying to figure out what’s next, but she knows that passion for helping children is going to play a large part in her path.
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