Charmed Life, Meet Cancer (Pt I)

I feel like I’ve led a charmed life.  I’ve kind of stumbled my way through all the normal trials we all go through in our early years, but somehow I ended up at age 30 surrounded by great friends,  family, and a loving husband. I also founded an Orlando makeup artist and stylist agency in 2010 that I’m passionate about. M3 Makeup is changing the world with a group of amazingly talented team members. Even though I sometimes work 80+ hours a week and the pressure can be significant, it really has been a great and rewarding journey.

M3 Team appreciation Party 2014

January 19th, 2014 – The Night Before My Life Changed Forever

But, it’s also at age 30, only a few short weeks ago that everything changed.  On Monday, January 20th (one day after we held our annual party for the M3 team and I gave a silly speech about the important things in life), my husband took me into the ER for odd symptoms: random bruising, tiny little red spots on my legs, and a terrible pain deep in my thigh.  On Wednesday, January 22nd, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Cancer. At 30. It’s crazy to me that I’m even writing this.

Why am I writing this?  Because I feel it’s important for everyone to know what’s happened and is happening to me, but more importantly, to remind everyone how absolutely important it is to never take one moment of life for granted.  Whether it’s a car accident or cancer, this could be anyone.

Until the day I was diagnosed, I considered myself a little bit of a health nut and I’d never checked into a hospital in my adult life.  No one knows what causes this type of cancer.  It’s not genetic and the only risk factors anyone knows about aren’t things I’ve been around.  It’s almost like I got struck by lightning in broad daylight.

It’s a very uncommon form of cancer for adults, only about 2000 cases a year in the US.  Even more uncommon (about 500 cases a year), I was diagnosed with a rare chromosome anomaly called Philadelphia translocation that makes it more aggressive and harder to treat.

When I was diagnosed, the doctors told us it was likely I had no cancer in my body a few weeks previous and that if I’d waited a few weeks longer it would have certainly been fatal.  It’s that fast, it’s that aggressive and it’s terrifying to even think about.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that treatment has advanced incredibly over just the last few years and a full recovery and cure is a good possibility, especially with a little help in the right circles.

Less than a week after my diagnosis I was undergoing some of the most advanced chemotherapy treatment in the world, getting dozens of sonograms, MRIs, X-Rays, CAT Scans, blood tests, transfusions and the list goes on. 2 weeks after chemo started I tearfully said goodbye to my hair.  My life is in the beauty industry and revolves around hair and makeup…the shock was traumatic to say the least, but a few of my friends joined me for moral support.

Shaved Heads for Michele's Cancer Support

Steve and Idenise rocking the new do

I didn’t leave the hospital for over 3 weeks and I was never alone. Honestly, without the incredible support I’ve had from my husband, my parents, his family, our friends, and our coworkers (who may as well be family) and the great doctors and nurses at Florida Hospital Orlando, I don’t know how I would have made it through those first dark weeks.

Michele Mann Leaving the Cancer Ward

Leaving the Cancer Ward

The other good news is that I’m in between treatments right now and am feeling better.  I have a great chance of recovery with a bone marrow transplant and some very advanced drugs, but it’s a long hard road ahead.  I will be in and out of hospitals for the next two years assuming everything goes well.  Oh yeah, my immune system is going to be wrecked so mainly the only place, aside from inside of a hospital, that I will be seeing is my house.  On rare occasion I might escape and you’ll see me wearing a mask, bald or with a wig sneaking around town. My carefree lifestyle of going out socially, restaurants, and public places in general is a thing of the past for now.  It is certainly going to be something to get used to.

On the M3 business side of things, with a lot of help from my business partner and husband, from our new manager (more on this later), and an incredible family of artists and stylists, I am confident M3 is not only going to be stronger than ever, but we’re all going to grow and succeed at all new levels together, making the world more awesome one face at a time.  You can also rest assured I’ll be keeping a close eye on things from the shadows with my Dr. Evil hairdo and hospital ninja mask.

Part II coming soon, wherein I’ll possibly talk about fancy and awesome things like:

  • How weird cancer is at this age (I guess any age) and how talking about how weird it is helps make it less weird
  • How this is going to make M3 stronger and this gives us even more purpose in what we’re doing
  • How epic small dramas seem at home and how small big dramas elsewhere seem. In other words, I’m really beginning to understand how important it is not to sweat the small stuff….everything seems a lot smaller after cancer.
  • How I did pro-bono makeup artist work a few years ago for women who’d survived breast cancer (along with my mother) and how much more proud I am now that I was involved on the project
  • What this means to starting a family (we had just started trying for kids weeks before this happened)
  • How it’s harder to justify my chemically-treated blond moments without hair
  • What losing my hair meant to me and how a few friends made a big difference
  • Finding out the mystery of if my brother is going to be a bone marrow transplant match (20% chance)
  • How my husband and business partner is my editor and because he’s some kind of overblown creative writing professional that he goes crazy on my posts too much sometimes (editors note: who me?)
  • The coolness of bone marrow transplants and how donors save lives
Michele's Hair: RIP 2014

In Memory of Michele’s Hair

Michele Mann During Chemo

Aerodynamic Michele

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