When doctors diagnosed Mary Carey, an attractive saleswoman by trade and an all-round take-charge kind of woman, with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare and particularly aggressive form of cancer, her reaction was understandable.
“It was like someone had sucked all the air out my universe,” Carey admitted in a soft voice.
Doctors went on to tell her — pulling no punches — what her treatment would entail. They were going to have to cut away part of her tongue; she’d have to learn how to talk again. They would have to subject her face to a vigorous schedule of painful radiation, which would, regretfully, ravage her skin but hopefully, save her life.
Carey listened and then squared her shoulders, ready to walk that difficult and thorny path to recovery.
But as she endured her treatment, she was unprepared for one thing: how afraid she’d become of her own bathroom mirror.
“I couldn’t even look at myself,” Carey said. “I wouldn’t go outside of my house. I became a prisoner in my own house. How you perceive how the outside world sees you…it affects how you see yourself.”
Carey, who’d vowed to beat the same cancer that had taken her father’s life, was slowly losing her will. Cancer was winning.
When Carey’s niece, Vena Hudgins, learned of her aunt’s self-imposed reclusion, it broke her heart. This was the aunt she’d always been compared to throughout her childhood — the take charge, strong, successful, even stubborn woman had been Hudgins’ role model — and the idea that Carey was slowly withering beneath cancer’s shadow was unacceptable.
Hudgins, whose own father, Carey’s brother, is battling colon cancer, had been flying to her father’s side on a regular basis to help in his care, applying her own version of medicine that had been working miracles in tandem with an experimental drug therapy with her father’s case.
Hudgins, an accomplished aesthetician who frequently travels around the world to teach cutting-edge skincare as well as owns her own skincare business, Vena’s Secrets, knew she had to help her aunt, but she faced one formidable obstacle: Carey, herself.
“She refused to leave her house,” Hudgins said. “So I packed up all my supplies, and went to her.”
Hudgins, armed with the tools of her specialized trade, worked to heal the one thing that the doctors had overlooked in their single-minded focus to eradicate the deadly cancer in Carey’s body: her self-esteem.
“When you look in the mirror and you look like a cancer patient, it takes its toll,” Hudgins said. “How you perceive yourself on the outside, works on the emotional side, too. There is a mind-body connection that people have a tendency to overlook. The healing of the body is as much mental as it is medicine.”
Because of her personal stake with her father, Hudgins started quietly researching the mind-body connection and realized that there was a niche completely overlooked when it came to cancer patient care.
“What I saw with cancer survivors is that their every need is being met — dietician, emotional support, you name it — everything but how they look and that’s a powerful healing tool,” Hudgins said.
Through three years of meticulous research and driven by a personal need to help her father in any way she could, she found which products worked well with the skin of cancer patients and she set about creating a regimen specifically for cancer patients. She dubbed her project, Make Up With A Mission, and started seeing cancer patients once a month — for free.
That’s right. No charge. This was a labor of love, borne of empathy and the desire to help.
And when her own aunt needed her services, Hudgins didn’t hesitate.
“When I saw how it affected her as a woman, how emotionally their appearance made them feel more victimized, I knew I had to do something. The body is a healing tool. The body will heal itself with the right tools. There is no excuse for cancer to take its effect on the skin,” Hudgins said. “There is a gap in cancer care — helping people feel better when they’re going through the process. The patients I worked with, they could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. It inspired them to fight harder. People come in with a look of defeat and embarrassment and they leave feeling empowered.”
Carey’s transformation was so dramatic, her own doctor wanted to know what Carey was doing.
“The doctor said I was six months ahead in my healing,” Carey said, beaming. “He was amazed at my transformation.”
Carey, wiping tears as she shared her gratitude, said, “Vena provides the ability to take your life back. Cancer patients have a saying, ‘I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.’ She puts that saying into play. Vena came to my home, gave me a mini treatment and taught me how to care for my skin. I felt so bad about the way I looked. The depression was so bad. When it was time for my treatments, I would beg my husband, ‘Please don’t make me go.’ And he would answer in tears, ‘You have to.’ And afterward, he would cry because I was in so much pain. I had lost three layers of skin. Afterward,” Carey paused for a long moment, tears filling her eyes. She collected herself with a soft smile, saying, “Empowered, is the best word I can think of to describe how I felt. It changed my whole attitude. All of a sudden I could face the world again. I had a face I wasn’t ashamed of anymore.”
To look at Carey today, one would never suspect she is the survivor of such a horrific ordeal. Her skin glows, her eyes sparkle, and she is filled with light and energy.
“In the beginning my husband said, ‘She gave me back my wife.’ Now he says, ‘She gave me hottie to live with!’”
Hudgins plans to offer a free class once a month to teach cancer patients how to take care of their skin; how to play up their other features when they lose their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. She wants to help kick cancer’s butt, one healthy face at a time.
“To empower someone is the most accomplished feeling you can get. Watching someone succeed beyond what they thought they could…there aren’t words,” Hudgins said. “This is not a big movement yet, but I hope more people get on board. Some people think because it’s not a life or death thing it’s not important. But doctors are finding that’s not the case. The mind-body connection is so powerful.”
Each patient receives individualized care. There are no cookie-cutter formulas as every person’s skin needs are unique.
Adult cancer patients interested in learning more about Hudgins skincare techniques, can call for a free consultation at 209-847-8700.