Its Fashion Friday and I’m feelin’ Frantastic!
I was ready for Friday on Tuesday! And I’m pretty pumped to share some great things with you today!
One of my dreams for this blog is to include stories of people who have fascinating, challenging, inspiring and encouraging stories in their own lives. I find I learn so much from other people’s stories, and I am so excited to get to share with you a story of a truly remarkable woman.
In the picture above, you see me with my friend, Vivi Sexauer. I met Vivi through her daughter CarolAnn who has dated my nephew Andrew McConnell for several years (just married this past December, hooray!). Vivi is a fascinating woman, with incredible style. She grew up in Atlanta, and has one brother. Her mother had a tremendous artistic influence on her, she was a concert pianist, and her mother also took up oil painting in her 50’s (don’t you love that?) Art and music were a part of their lives, and it was a natural fit for Vivi who is a creative soul. Her mother taught her to sew when she was about 10 years old, and that would be something she would use as one of her many forms of artistic creative expression. She told me her mother had impeccable taste! She taught Vivi a lot about furniture and decorating, and style.
Vivi met her husband Gary at a trade show, they married and have been the best of friends now some 27 years. They had their beautiful daughter CarolAnn, and discovered CarolAnn had a passion and gift for sports, as well as a heart for people. Vivi has always been her daughter’s greatest fan and cheerleader, supporting her as she played both basketball and softball through high school, and then on to support her as she played softball all through college at Central Michigan University. Go Chips!
In 2014, Vivi says she went in for a routine mammogram, a bit overdue… she hadn’t gone in 7 years, and was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 0. She had a lumpectomy, but did not require chemo though she did have radiation. But the diagnosis shocked her. She rallied, her life was full of so many good things she did not want to slow down a bit. Her daughter got engaged, and the planning of a dream wedding for her little girl began.
In May of 2016, she had symptoms of labored breathing, and her daughter CarolAnn told her, “Mom, you’ve got to go to the doctor.” She called the doctor’s office and explained her symptoms over the phone to a nurse who said, “I highly recommend you go to the ER immediately.” She did, and test results showed she had a 2 1/2″ tumor in one lung, and she was diagnosed with Stage 3 small cell lung cancer. CarolAnn had graduated from college just 2 days before, and both CarolAnn and Vivi say it was Divine Intervention, the timing… CarolAnn moved back home and gave her full attention to supporting and helping her mom get to appointments. Her husband Gary was super supportive, and simply a rock. And a very dear friend, Nancy Hayes, was ready to do whatever she needed. Vivi says Nancy would drop everything to accommodate her, and was simply amazing. As Vivi describes this small band of warriors who fought alongside her and on her behalf, the tears well in her eyes, and you can sense that they were the lifeline she clung to.
All of this with the backdrop of a wedding being planned for her daughter.
Vivi made it her goal to walk down the aisle, and she wanted to do it with no walker. So the plan for treatment involved 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of radiation, and then radiation therapy on the brain as a preventive measure. She had her treatments at St. Mary’s Hospital Infusion Center, and she says that is one of the reasons she is alive today, because of the excellent care she received, and the kindness and encouragement of the staff, they went out of their way to help her be comfortable.
I asked Vivi what got her through, where did her strength come from, and she said without blinking an eye, “Prayer, my own prayers and the prayers of others.”
CarolAnn shared, “God’s just so good, and my mom’s fight and resilience shone so bright throughout her battle. Despite the odds NOT being in her favor (25% chance of the cancer responding well to treatment) she had faith that God was going to work on her behalf.” “Even on her worst days, my mom found a way to encourage other patients who were receiving treatments. One woman brought her flowers to thank her for encouraging her. It was beautiful to see. She would even be laying on a bed feeling horrible and counseling some of the nurses through dealing with family issues.” She finished her last treatment in November of 2016, and had more appointments up through December of this past year, when CarolAnn and Andrew got married. CarolAnn counts it a blessing that she was able to be there with her mom through the hardest time of her life, and their relationship was strengthened. Vivi says CarolAnn was/is her guardian Angel, by her side every step of the way!
Vivi embellished her beautiful scarf for her daughter’s wedding with Swarovski crystals.
The happy couple, Andrew and CarolAnn McConnell! CarolAnn is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Counseling at Cornerstone University, and the world is literally her oyster as she discovers where she will use her incredible gift of wisdom and love for all people. Andrew is pursuing his career working with patients at the University of Michigan Cardiac Rehabilitation Center. A whole lot of love in this beautiful couple!
Today, Vivi’s cancer is in full remission, and she is feeling stronger every day!
Every year, Central Michigan University Women’s Softball Team has a game dedicated to cancer awareness, the “Strike Out Cancer” game. This year, they played Ball State, and won, but the real win was that they asked Vivi to come and throw the first pitch! The team and field were adorned in pink,
and Vivi said all she had to do was get it to the plate!
What an honor and a thrill for this beautiful woman and her family!
I asked her what advice she might give to someone just getting a diagnosis. She said, “Stay positive. Don’t think the worst. A positive outlook will carry you through.” I can tell you, you can feel the joy and love that exudes from this incredible lady. And then I asked her what is next for her, and she said, “I’m taking it slowly, and I’m getting back into the things that make me happy.”
One of those things is designing jewelry. She showed me some of the beautiful pieces she has designed.
These pieces literally take my breath away. Every piece is exquisite and creative and one of a kind. The above pieces have a boho feel. Don’t they look amazing on her daughter?
She created the bracelet above and put this outfit together with a gorgeous matching scarf.
She created a few pieces for me to go with a sweater I wanted to share on the blog (see below), and I am literally swooning over them, they are beautiful and they come from a lady with such an inspiring and courageous story!
She is excited about what the future holds, and counts every minute a blessing!
If you would like to explore Vivi’s jewelry, you can check it out at her Facebook page, Jewels By Vivi.
And I am excited to show you the lovely pieces she created (hot off the press!) to go with my new sweater from Chicos!
The pieces Vivi designed for me are simply beautiful! I love them! She created both bracelets and the necklace. I love the color blue… I think if Hope were assigned a color, it would be blue… like the vast sky or the steady roll of the sea.
She told me the clear beads are Swarovski Crystals (I can spell it but I can’t say it!). The blue beads are a combination of Murano crystal and blueberry quartz.
The silver bracelet is a coil bracelet, which will go with I think everything I own! Can I tell you, I treasure these pieces. They mean so much to me. I know the miracle of the hands of the artist that formed them.
What a delight it was to spend this time with Vivi! She is a like a bubbling fountain with an endless supply of beauty, style, inspiration and creativity! We will be hearing more from Vivi in the future, she has so many great tips and ideas! I smiled so much in the last few weeks as she and I worked on this post, what a treasure it has been to make such a dear friend! Hers is truly a beautifully styled life!
One thing I’ve learned from Vivi, and that is no matter where the road takes you in this life, there are a few things you can count on. Hope… as sure as the air that we breathe, there is always hope. Whatever your situation, you do not go through this alone, there is always hope. And the other is that life is a miracle… just go outside and listen to the birds singing at the top of their lungs, declaring how precious and wonderful life is. The smell of lilacs or jasmine in the air, reminding us that life is beautiful. Breathe it in. Let the sun warm your face. Savor it. Smile at the littlest things like the miracle of a delicate flower or a caterpillar that transforms to a butterfly. The taste of strawberries… Ok, or a gooey chocolate chip cookie… the feeling in your heart when you see a puppy or a kitty (that gets me every time!) The wonder and delight in a child’s eyes when they blow the fuzzies off a dandelion. Simply watching a bubbling brook and knowing there are universes of life teaming below. These are simple things, and there are a million more, but there is evidence in every beat of our heart that life is a miracle and a gift and there is always hope as sure and as beautiful as the horizon. And wherever you are at, no matter the circumstances, your life has amazing and limitless potential, and this chapter can be your favorite chapter.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31