I had the pleasure of meeting Betsy a few years back. Before she got sick. Before she endured almost five years battling ovarian cancer.
Betsy had a bubbly personality and a genuine smile. She was a 35 year Critical Care nurse and nurse educator at the DMC (Detroit Medical Center). She wanted to be a nurse from the time she was a little girl. She was married to her wonderful husband, David, for 22 years. They met at Harper Hospital. He was the head of the gift shop at the time and Betsy worked in the ICU. They began meeting everyday for lunch at Wendy’s. One thing led to another and two years later they married. I ran into Betsy and her husband on different occasions, but didn’t truly get to know her until after she got sick. I had recently launched my business, Wrapped in Love, designing clothing and accessories for women with cancer to provide them with comfort, style and dignity.
I heard that Betsy had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I kept thinking how ironic it must be for a nurse to now be a patient. Her mom passed away from ovarian cancer, and her grandmother from breast cancer. She had always gotten regular check ups. She had a genetic predisposition, but it was only 5%. Unfortunately she learned that the odds ended up being against her. I felt a bit uneasy but asked her brother-in-law who worked with my husband if it was okay to talk to her about her chemo treatments — what made her comfortable to wear during treatments, and what she preferred to wear when she lost her hair. Betsy was more than willing to help me out and provide advice. She advised me to develop styles that were easy to put on and wear during treatment, both clothing and headwear. And they had to be stylish! She was emphatic that the fabrics were soft and comfortable. There should be options to layer up when it gets cold, or down when it became hot. During our conversation I learned that Betsy had quite a passion for shopping, as do I, and I realized that’s why we had such a connection in our discussions about feeling fashionable, even more so during illness. David told me that one of Betsy’s favorite hobbies was shopping. She had a closet just for her shoes and handbags. She also loved watching sports, gardening, and doing charity work, especially at the Detroit Rescue Mission and COTS. She would tell David that the best gift you can give someone is your time.
Betsy invited me to join her during a chemo treatment, but sadly it never worked out. But I was fortunate enough to have Betsy agree to model a new line of Wrapped in Love clothing for me. Her health was up and down so we decided to do it at her house. It was early December. She said she insisted on hosting her family’s Christmas dinner that year as she wasn’t sure what the year ahead looked like. She already had her Christmas table set. She had a basket of wrapped gifts that she offered to me and my photographers and the make-up artist. She said she always ensures someone leaves with a gift during the holidays. I also learned that her husband always decorated the house to the hilt, and they won many holiday decorating contests in the community.
The make-up artist arrived an hour before the photo shoot. I sat in Betsy’s family room watching the make-up artist apply Betsy’s make up. Betsy said she was going to make sure her husband took her out that night since she was being all ‘dolled up’. She also told us how she had her plans in place for her funeral, whenever that might be, as she didn’t want David to have to deal with anything when it was time for her to go. She had planned the service, readings, music, and selected her plot. “I never had a more enjoyable time planning a funeral than I did with Betsy,” the church coordinator told David. Betsy would like to say she was Polish Catholic, but not too Catholic, definitely spiritual, according to David .
The photo shoot began and we shot in a variety of rooms in her home, all impeccably decorated with the Betsy touch. Inside, outside, with a book, and a variety of photographs with she and her dog Kaylee. Betsy insisted they get the dog. “I got her for you,” she told David, “because you are going to need her.” She looked amazing and happy despite her illness, and I felt so fortunate to have spent that time with her and to have had her modeling my items. We ended the day with hugs, kisses, a holiday gift from Betsy, and a day we would never forget.
Betsy passed away one year later at the age of 59 — after another Christmas. She had had a reaction to her treatments and had started being admitted overnight for treatment at the hospital. When the treatments were no longer helping, she decided to stop them, and she passed away seven months later. Prior to that, she met with all of her girlfriends and picked out a piece of her jewelry to give to each of them to remember her by.
It’s now over two years since she passed, but I can’t help but smile as I look back at the photos from that afternoon photo shoot. And David — he feels Betsy’s spirit through Kaylee everyday!