Gerriann Kennedy: Cancer Survivor Learned to Flourish
Flourish of Thomasville is one of the few stores in Georgia where you can find appropriate gifts for a friend or loved on going through cancer treatment. Or where the cancer survivor can find products he or she needs, like compression sleeves; special bras for breast cancer survivors; wigs; and products free of toxins such as soaps, lotions, deodorants and wipes. Gerriann Kennedy and her friend Missy started the store, not long after Gerriann was diagnosed with breast cancer. This is her story.
When my 2-year-old elbowed me in my left breast, she may have saved my life. I put my hand there to ease the pain and felt a lump. I was 31 and had no family history of breast cancer. The next two weeks were full of uncertainty, fear and bad news. First, my husband lost his job; then, I was diagnosed with stage 3A HER2+ breast cancer. The cancer was already the size of a tennis ball and was also found in seven lymph nodes. My husband, David, and I weren’t sure how we were going to make it. Let’s just say, it changed our lives forever.
We were very fortunate to have some amazing people in our lives. Our family and friends were not only there for us in tangible ways, but were a great source of encouragement. My medical team had genuine concern for, not just my life, but my family’s life as well. And our church, where I worked, allowed me to continue working as much as I could. My faith played a huge part of my survivorship and peace over the coming months.
Due to the size of my tumor, I had two rounds of chemotherapy first, so the doctor would be able to get clear margins. Surgery included immediate reconstruction. Still, there was more: seven weeks of radiation. I finished out the drug Herceptin in July 2013 and had my final reconstructive surgery.
Several months after my final surgery, my oncologist diagnosed lymphedema in my left arm, a collection of fluid that causes swelling. It wasn’t really bothering me, so I waited almost a year before I filled that prescription when my arm started swelling for no apparent reason. But when I checked around to see where I could get a compression sleeve – a stretchy elasticized garment that is custom-fitted to your arm to help with pain and swelling – I couldn’t find one in any color other than “nude.”
I called our oncology center and spoke with my cancer navigator to see if she had any resources. She said, “Gerriann, you should open up a store and carry these types of products – you’d be great at it.” What she didn’t know is that the idea had already crossed my mind. I had been thinking about what it would be like to have a place for cancer patients and their friends to go that had products that would actually make things easier for them…comfort items…and not just for breast cancer, but for all different types of cancers.
I was still working at the church in early 2014, when our Lead Pastor, in our weekly staff meeting, talked about being passionate about our jobs. As much as I enjoyed my job and helping others, I couldn’t honestly say that I felt passionate. The more I thought about it, I couldn’t say what I was passionate about, other than my family.
So, I began to think and pray about it, and through, what seemed to be God opening the door through different conversations and experiences, my passion began to grow. So many people contacted me asking for my advice about what they could give someone going through treatment or what could they do for them.
I finally said, “Okay, God, I’m ready, just let me know when; and oh, by the way, You’ll have to provide the funds for it too.”
Miraculously, two weeks later, my good friend Missy Taylor came to me and asked if I wanted a business partner. She said she and her husband talked and prayed about it and they wanted to help. Together we came up with the concept of a store that helped not just those going through treatment, but anyone going through hard times.
Today, there is still no evidence of disease and I’m passionate about my work at Flourish of Thomasville. We call it “The Encouragement Store.” As one of our customers said, “Flourish is a breath of fresh air. There are many wonderful, affordable, uplifting gifts and the design of the store has been carefully thought out for women who are fighting or recovering from cancer. If you are one of these women or know someone who is, you need to visit Flourish. You'll be glad you did.”
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