When Lisa Gibson, her husband, and their four children (Dustin, Calli, Baylee, and David), relocated for his job from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Atlanta five years ago, she had no idea that much more than the move was going to test her ability to rebound. In very short order, she would learn firsthand about the resilience of the human spirit, the strength of love, and the necessity to move on even when you may not feel like you can.
Since she’d been working in the field of dentistry for 28 years, settling into a job with a cosmetic dentistry practice in Atlanta made her feel right at home. For a while, things seemed nearly back to normal. And then, in November of 2008 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer.
“I knew nothing about breast cancer prior to my diagnosis," shares Gibson. “I’m embarrassed to say, I hadn’t been getting mammograms regularly. Actually, I didn’t get my first mammogram until I found the lump while I was showering – it felt pea-sized under the tissue on my left breast.
“I was young (just 44) and I had children, so I knew I had to try to go back to work. That much was something I felt I could control,” she continues. “Losing my hair was a huge issue for me. And because I had a mastectomy with expanders, I looked like a little girl in a woman’s body. No one talked to me about inserts. I didn’t even know there was anything like Amoena back then. My way to cope was to get dressed as cute as I could so I could try to resemble the normal me. I’d fix my wig and put on makeup and do whatever I could to go about my day. The chemo was harsh. The steroids would make me look sort of rosy initially, but I always knew that about three days after my treatment I was going to look like death warmed over.”
Dealing with cancer can cause more than our hair to fall out, which is a reality Lisa came to understand all too intimately, when her marriage did not survive the diagnosis. “This was a gut-wrenching development,” Lisa says. “I remember thinking, what else can happen? I now wish I hadn’t asked that question!”
Two of Lisa’s children were grown, and two were still quite young (one was four, the other ten) when she was diagnosed. “My younger kids always wanted me to wear a wig when I was out in public so I would look like a normal mom. My older children kept my spirits up and would call me a baby bird. The youngest one really didn’t understand what was going on. I recently discovered that the son who was ten at the time has deleted all of the pictures showing what I looked like when I was going through treatment, so obviously, he was deeply affected.”
And then, the unthinkable happened, Lisa’s 21-year-old son Dustin passed away due to complications during a hospital stay. “My son was a very caring, loving young man who always wanted to help people. Of course, I had moments where I felt like the grief would swallow me, but I had to be here for my other kids. I couldn’t just dig a hole and jump in – I had to deal with the reality of my life. I still have hard days sometimes, but I can’t fall apart because that isn’t going to do anyone any good. Dustin had a tattoo on his chest that said One Life. He was a great kid. I had a friend who had known him since he was a baby – and after he died, she said all of us have our time and nothing will change that. If we make it through cancer, it’s because we are supposed to do something with it.”
What Lisa, her daughter Calli Gallaher, and her business partner Lisa Bauer have done is create a boutique setting called Lotus, One Life Journey (OLJ), located in Alpharetta, GA. In this setting they offer a personal, private, sensitive environment where patients, their families and caregivers can gather knowledge from others who shared similar experiences.
Lotus OLJ currently carries both human and synthetic hair wigs; Amoena mastectomy products; cosmetic referrals for issues like eyebrows and nipples; inspirational gifts for the patient and caregiver; assistance with insurance; hats, sleep caps and pre-tied scarves; appointments with master hair stylist Bill Murphy of the William David Salon in Alpharetta; mastectomy bra and prosthetic fittings; massage therapy referrals; educational events; and information resources.
When asked about the name of the shop, Lisa says, “The lotus comes from the mud and muck of a pond, and turns into a beautiful flower, so I thought this was a highly appropriate name! And of course, 'One Life' is a way to honor my son’s memory. I know what it’s like for the caregivers when they lose a loved one. I’ve experienced all of those feelings. I made sure to take those feelings with me into the business. The result is that I have people come in just to talk because they trust I know what they are feeling. I have a couple of women who are not doing well, who are not going to make it. Their loved ones come in to talk. I just have to use what happened to make something better.”
On the breast cancer front, Lisa is still on Tamoxifen, and says she really notices if she skips a couple of days because her irritation level seems to rise. Last January, her doctors thought the cancer was back in her lung, but the biopsy came back benign. They now think it was a false alarm brought on by a case of the flu, but are keeping an eye on her just to be on the safe side.
On the home front Lisa tells us, “My kids are in sports and I focus a lot on spending more quality time with them. I guess because you never know what can happen, your outlook is different. People are always planning for next year, saying stuff like, 'I’m going to do this' or 'I’m going to do that.' Well, what if there is no next year? You need to live your life.
“I’m a different person now – I hear it all the time. I think I’ve changed for the positive, or at least I hope so! I’ve been through the worst three things that can happen to a person all in a very short time period. I got diagnosed with breast cancer, my husband left, and my son passed away. It may sound strange, but I took all of that and I knew that looking as good as I could and feeling like myself was what would help me get through the whole ordeal. I felt like from the time I got to Atlanta everything bad happened to me. And then I thought no, I need to be here.”
In addition to having settled in Atlanta and giving back to that community, she also goes back to Texas to help the two women who run the Careity Foundation® in Fort Worth. These two women lost their moms to breast cancer, so they have made it their work to raise money to save someone else’s life. They pay for everything from mammograms to biopsies, depending upon the individual’s needs. Because the women are both elderly, they have turned to Lisa to help alleviate their load. This provides her with a way to visit Texas on a regular basis, and to do the work she loves in two settings.
Certainly, no one would ever choose to have such difficult things happen in her life, but it’s just as certain Lisa Gibson has found a way to make some sense of it all by reaching out and helping others.