Usually, cancer patients need to take time off from work to heal. Not Claudia Lanham. For her, work itself — along with faith and community support — was the way to get better.
For the past 17 years, Claudia has run a small beauty shop next to her home, “Hair By Claudia.” Throughout her battle with breast cancer, she maintained her work schedule to the extent possible.
“I think it’s important for people, if they work, to continue to work if they can,” says the lifelong Fayetteville resident. “I think it’s important for them to be around people and not exclude themselves from everyone.
“It also helps them to not dwell on the illness.”
Just a month after her mother, Wanda McMillion, died of lung cancer in May of 2010, Claudia discovered a lump in her breast.
“It really was a shock,” she says.
When she received her diagnosis, she shared her news with the women who frequent her business, who she hesitates to call “clientele.”
“Once you get to know everyone and do their hair for years, they are more like friends and family,” she says.
“They all knew what I was going through.”
In a staggering show of support, they, along with Claudia’s immediate family, were able to raise $6,000 in a single day through a simple hot dog and bake sale in Oak Hill.
“They had no clue that they could even raise that much money in a day,” she says of her supporters.
“People just started bringing baked goods and cole slaw and hot dog buns. Everyone just started donating. It was just unreal.
“We have a wonderful community and there is just a lot of love.”
The money helped her cover travel expenses to seek medical treatments, as well as recoup some of the work days when she had no choice but to stay home.
As a self-employed person, Claudia does not have health insurance or sick pay, although she was able to find help through the Women’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, offered by New River Health. Women in the program who do not have insurance are automatically eligible for Medicaid.
“I was very, very thankful for New River Health Center,” says Claudia. “Thank God it’s out there.
“I feel it’s important that working women know that there is help out there if you don’t have insurance.
“You go through a lot of emotional stress ... But the treatments are not as bad as people think. You just get tired more than anything.”
That didn’t stop her from continuing to work, sometimes even the same day as a radiation treatment.
“It was somewhat (difficult),” she says. “Some days I would get really tired, but I think you are better off doing that than just setting down. I think mentally it’s bad.”
She credits the support of her community — along with that of her husband, Darrell, her daughter, Kim Riner, her grandson, Jackson, and all her friends — with her eventual recovery.
After 16 chemotherapy treatments, 33 radiation treatments, and a mastectomy, Claudia is back in good health. It wasn’t so much the cancer treatment where she ran into problems, but rather the reconstructive surgery afterwards.
She ended up getting an infection, and had to have three more surgeries, bringing her total to five.
“If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t do it,” she says of the reconstructive surgery.
Now that she is cancer-free, Claudia is finding ways to give back. For example, an area woman who just started chemotherapy recently came to Claudia’s shop to get her hair cut off with the sensitivity that only a fellow survivor can offer.
She highly advises all women to have breast exams.
“I think it is so important and I think we tend to neglect our health,” she says. “We just get so busy with everyday life and work and don’t think about these things.”
Claudia says that if anyone in the area needs to talk or has any questions, she’s here to help. The number at her shop (304-574-2052) is listed with the local cancer support group, which meets at 6 p.m. on the first Monday of each month at The Summit in Oak Hill.
“If there’s any way I can help someone, I’d be glad to talk to them about it,” she says.