Shiomara Odette is a woman with a plan, one requiring her to ask God for more time.
“I don’t want to be too feisty, to be defiant against God. I know He wants me, but He is just going to have to wait,” Odette said.
The 42-year-old Texan (by way of Puerto Rico) has been fighting breast cancer for just over a year. She assumed early symptoms were instead a mix of fatique from a bout with pneumonia, a move, traveling
for work, and serving as a temporarily “single” mom to her young daughter. (Husband Chris, 36, was a working civilian Reservist in Afghanistan at the time.)
“My daughter Chrishia (11) saw that my right breast was red and when I touched it, it was very hot,” Shiomara said. “She made me promise I’d go to the doctor.”
A series of unplanned events kept her from keeping her appointment that week, but a week later, she woke up barely able to get out of bed and unable to wear clothes that had fit the day before because her breasts had swollen overnight. Her doctor sent her to have a full panel of tests done – mammogram, sonogram and biopsy. The results were not good.
““[The sonogram technician] was teary-eyed, said this was the part of his job he didn’t like…and he told me I needed to go home and get my affairs in order,” she said.
Her husband immediately returned home to Coppell from the Middle East, to be by her side for the long journey ahead.
Her diagnosis of Stage 3b inflammatory breast cancer led to 18-20 rounds of pre-surgery chemotherapy, a double mastectomy last November and post-surgery chemo. Then doctors found another tumor…and then another. After 30 sessions of radiation, daily chemo pills, and multiple meetings with doctors, Shiomara was accepted to M.D. Anderson this spring, where she found a surgeon who could handle the new, more complicated surgery.
The first week of July this year, the surgeon removed the tumors and affected lymph nodes.
“Three days later, I was doing great,” she said, “so I went home.”
Barely a month passed (August 2012) and Shiomara started feeling bad again, sending her back to the doctor. The news was grim. The cancer was back and it was inoperable. The doctor estimated her time at less than two years.
“I believe in God and I believe in miracles,” Shiomara said, adding that a small group of her closest friends regularly pray with her. “And I keep very busy. You have to keep your mind busy so you won’t think about your harsh reality. That’s when everything can crumble.”
Enter McKinney salon owner Rene Teague-Osuna.
A somewhat serendipitous connection involving a mutual friend, an email and an insistent daughter resulted in Shiomara participating in a photo shoot Rene wanted to display in her salon, Rene's Lagniappe Hair Design, in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
“My daughter saw Rene’s email and said, ‘You need to do this. It’s going to make you feel so much better,'” Shiomara said. The email came during one of her “crumbling” times and Shiomara couldn’t bring herself to make the call, so her daughter took the bull by the horns and made the phone call for her.
Rene regularly works with cancer patients through her involvement with the international Look Good, Feel Better program. And in the New Image Cancer Recovery Room ™ she created in her salon, her clients can have privacy while feeling more beautiful.
“When diagnosed, first women ask, ‘Am I going to die?’ and then they want to know, ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’” Rene said. “If I can help make a difference, help them feel better, I owe that to them. It’s where my heart is.”
The mid-September photo shoot, which involved a small group of women Rene invited personally, took place in a Dallas loft a friend loaned for the day. Another friend, high fashion photographer Tiffany Carter of GracefullyWicked.com, donated her time and talents, while Rene’s team of stylists did the women’s hair and make-up. DFW Fox-4 TV reporter Natalie Solis covered the event.
“When I found out the details of Shiomara’s story, I knew we had to do something to make this day even more special for her and her family,” Rene said.
She invited Shiomara to bring her daughter and husband to the shoot. Following the group sessions, the Odettes had their own private photo shoot.
“I’m so very appreciative of Rene doing this and I’m so glad my daughter encouraged me to call her,” Shiomara said. “On that day, I didn’t feel like a cancer patient. It reminded me of when I used to model back in Puerto Rico. Instead of feeling depressed, I felt courage. It was such a special day and the photos are so beautiful.”
The day went so well and the women were so responsive, Rene is excited about arranging future shoots.
“My vision is to do many different ones to help women dealing with all types of cancer that strip the women of who they are,” Rene said. “I eventually want to hit them all.”
The future holds big things for Shiomara as well.
“I want to establish a foundation to help cancer patients of all kinds, regardless of age, gender, type of cancer,” Shiomara said.
She’ll be working this week to register a name for her foundation - it’s a chemo-free week, so she looks forward to some good, productive days - while her daughter is creating the logo. And in June of next year, Shiromara plans to renew her marriage vows to Chris for their 10th anniversary.
“God just has to wait for me, just a few more years,” she said. “I have too much to do to go now.”
IMAGES: Photos courtsey Tiffany Carter with GracefullyWicked.com. At top, Shiomara Odette poses with her husband Chris and daughter Chrishia. Above, right, Shiomara poses with Rene Teague-Osuna. Below, the group shot at Rene's Lagniappe Hair Design, in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.