by Billy Reep
Caring Until The Cure…and Beyond,
Keeping Faith & Hope Alive.
I would like to take you on a journey with me to share with you exactly what “Caring Until The Cure” represents and why it is the driving force behind my Personal Mission to help those who have won their battle against breast cancer. To take away the power of breast cancer’s physical and emotional mark that remains for so many women and men even after it is long gone; to give the power back to You! Why this is truly about you and your loved ones. I’ve been there, I understand the pain and while I was not able to do this for my loved ones, I can and want to do it for you
While my Mission began after the passing of my Mom and Sister, my journey began in the Fall of 1994.
I received an informational brochure about Permanent Cosmetics by AIIC (American Institute of Intradermal Cosmetics). The Founder, Director and Instructor, Sandi Hammons designed the brochure in a way that pulled me in. It felt as though it was made just for me. I knew that I had to attend her class. I was and still am located in NC and her class was in Dallas, TX. I had no idea how I was going to take her class but I knew that I had to find a way.
I had just graduated High School in 1993 and had my entire future ahead of me. I knew that I wanted to attend AIIC; it was a specialized trade school with a focus to enhance the life of others. Not just from a beauty aspect but it reached into the depths of one’s self-esteem, confidence and inner beauty. Not to mention the amazing benefit of making their lives less hectic by adding hours to their day to focus on the things truly important to them and not having to spend often hours applying their makeup perfectly or hiding certain parts of their bodies because they felt ashamed and embarrassed. Their makeup would not only be perfectly applied for them but it would permanently remain. They could wake up ready to go within minutes. This concept was almost unimaginable, almost…I had to find out for myself and become a part of this revolutionary approach to beauty and so much more.
I must let you know that I was referred to as my Mother’s shadow; where she was there I was too. But it wasn’t just me, it was also my Jewels. Jewels and I were raised as Sisters but biologically I was her Aunt; she was a year and a half older than me. Together we decided that this was an opportunity that we could not let slip through our fingers. In November of 1994, all three of us set out to embark on this amazing journey to Dallas, TX. Although I was the only one attending Sandi’s class, they were right there with me for support and to see me accomplish the first step of my dream.
I had spoken with Sandi Hammons, the Director, Owner and Instructor numerous times before my arrival and I felt as though I had known her forever. She was kind, encouraging, and helpful but more importantly she wanted me to succeed and I could feel that through the gentleness of her voice.
I will never forget the first day I walked into class and met Sandi face to face. I couldn’t resist the urge to greet her with a hug and she was accepting. She knew that she was making a positive difference in the life of yet another person and it made her heart smile. She not only taught our class the skill of how to correctly perform the unique procedures and techniques of Intradermal Cosmetics (aka Permanent Cosmetics) but she taught us how to identify with our clients and their needs.
This class was more than Permanent Cosmetics; she also taught us how to correctly perform the art and techniques of camouflaging for those that had Vitiligo, Age Spots, Scars, and other skills to help correct the loss of pigmentation in their skin.
During the course of our class she taught me three things beyond the dimensions of our class that impacted and changed my life. She said to me, “Always follow your dreams and make them your reality. Don’t ever give up on yourself even if others do. And never let anyone else control your destiny.”
Graduation day came and it was one of the most rewarding days of my life; especially since I had my Mom and Sister there with me to share in this amazing accomplishment. And while I was proud to have made it through to the end, I was sad because I built such a strong bond with Sandi and I honestly did not want to leave. She had made such a positive and monumental impact in my life and leaving her left a void. She never stopped building each of us up; our own self-esteem and confidence in our unique abilities and gifts, our future success and happiness that we would find within ourselves by helping others. Sandi made sure to let us know that even though our class had concluded that she would still be available to help guide each of us as we returned home and set out on our personal journeys to begin building our new careers; and she kept her word.
Fast forward a few years and while I did start my own business, the old saying “Timing and location is everything” is so true. Where I lived, the area was not ready for the skill and art that I had learned. But I didn’t give up; I continued building my business and when it began to get some momentum my Dad became ill and I became his primary caregiver. I didn’t think it could get worse but then it did; my Dad passed away. Losing him was beyond devastating and I fell into a dark place and felt as though I no longer had a purpose. Eventually with the help of my Mom and Sister and other family members I began to see the light ahead. It took some time but I focused on something that someone very special once said to me, “Don’t ever give up on yourself.” I knew I had to find myself and my purpose again. My Dad would have wanted that for me; to continue living and making a positive difference in this world.
While I will not bore you with all of the details that took place over the next few years, I will tell you that my life took a completely different turn. I didn’t know why but I had this undeniable urge again. While this feeling was familiar I had no idea why it was so strong. I never wanted to do be a nurse. I watched my Mom go through nursing school and how hard it was. But despite everything, I knew that I had to become a nurse. It wasn’t even a choice for me; it was something I had to do. I didn’t know why but I knew that as long as I kept my Faith strong and trusted Him above all else, that it would be revealed to me in His time, not mine.
On the first day of class one of my Sisters passed away very unexpectedly. On this same day my husband had surgery, I had a state exam from another class I had completed as part of the pre-requisite requirements for Nursing School. I didn’t know how I could continue forward with all of this happening. Once again I was reminded of something someone very special said to me many years ago, “Don’t ever give up on yourself.” And although it was one of the hardest times of my life, I pushed forward and I did what had to be done. I was on this path for a reason and I knew that I had to stay the course and God would get me through each moment, I just had to keep my Faith strong and believe. My family needed me and I had to find a way, and I did. I passed my exam with the determination of still making my Sister proud even though she was no longer physically here. I was with my husband and stayed by his side throughout his surgery and recovery. I also had been asked to do my Sister’s hair and makeup for her funeral; and I did it with my heart full of both honor and sadness.
Nursing School continued and our family tried our best to move forward as we grieved and mourned the loss of my Sister. We didn’t think life could get much worse but once again we were wrong. Three months later my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. This felt like my entire world had been flipped upside down and I couldn’t even comprehend the thought of not having my Mom to share life with. I was in class when she called me and when I saw her number show up I knew immediately that something was wrong; she never called me during class. I immediately left class and rushed to her side with our Jewels quickly joining us and the rest of our family arriving shortly thereafter.
Mom had to have a radical mastectomy followed by 18 months of multiple combinations of chemotherapy treatments. I continued Nursing School; I never quit or gave up. Not to mention my Mom would not allow it. She said, “The way things are going I think we are going to need a personal nurse in our family.” While I mentioned watching how hard it was for my Mom to go through nursing school, what I did not tell you was that she did not get to complete it. She was 5 credit hours from graduation. But when my Dad fell ill, she had to take time off and then life continued to happen. During her journey through this battle I became angry. I hated cancer and I wanted to do something to “fix” her and make it go away. She was so sick, quickly becoming weaker with each passing day. This was not the woman I grew up with as my Mom; the strong vibrant woman that always made everything okay. This was the first time I saw her completely helpless when it came to herself. I saw what cancer was taking from her and our family. I saw what chemotherapy was doing to her physically and emotionally. I wanted so badly for cancer to be something I could physically confront and eliminate. But as we all know, it is a horrible disease that sneaks in usually under the radar and fights dirty.
Throughout her fight she continued to be my biggest cheerleader even though it took every ounce of her being to make it through each moment of every day. Finally the day came and I graduated Nursing School and my Mom had beaten breast cancer and she was there to see me graduate. She got to see me walk across the stage, get pinned and pledge and accept the Hippocratic Oath to honor and protect those in my care, to do no harm and be their advocate. She greeted me with her beautiful smile and a dozen roses and said to me, “I see you are still listening to Sandi after all these years, I am proud of you for never giving up.” Tears of joy ran down my cheeks as I smiled back at her and said, “Yes ma’am, and I will continue to listen to you both.”
Where darkness once lived, there was light again. I began building my nursing career and my Mom began rebuilding her life; her cancer free life. But I wanted more for my Mom, she deserved more. She felt as though she was no longer complete after her mastectomy. She didn’t feel whole as a woman. She felt embarrassed when she looked into the mirror. While she had the reconstruction surgery she did not have her complete breast anatomy. She wanted to have her nipple and areola again. I began thinking about what I had once gone to school for back in 1994; the journey that Mom, Jewels and I had taken together so many years ago and how could this help my Mom now. I had also returned to school for my next medical degree.
As I began researching and consulting I was preparing to give my Mom the final procedure that would make her feel complete again, physically and emotionally. Mind you, I was also preparing for finals. The time had come, it was my last day of class I was on my way to take my final exam and I received a phone call from my Mom’s doctor. Christmas was a couple of weeks away and I knew we were waiting for some test results. I answered the phone and I knew immediately something was wrong just from the tone in the voice on the other end of the phone. The next words I heard were, “I am so sorry but the tests came back positive, the cancer has returned.” I could barely breathe much less speak. I hung up the phone knowing that I would have to tell my Mom this horrible news. She was home waiting for me to return from taking my exam so we could celebrate. It was as if I became a robot going through the motions. I was numb and scared.
I continued on my way to school to take my exam. I knew that with the news I just received and had to deliver to my Mom that I had to at least make her proud and give her some positive news. There were no make-up test days and you had to score an 80 or better. Even through everything I had maintained a 4.0 GPA and was inducted into the Honors Society, Phi Theta Kappa. I was so glad that my Mom was able to be there to see me achieve and accept this award. But on this day I couldn’t do it. I scored a 79.7 and there was a no round policy and I was told I had to start over. That was not an option and I felt as though I had failed my Mom. Not only did I have to be the one to tell her the cancer had returned, but I also had to tell her I failed my finals. Without missing a beat she said, “This is God’s way of saying you’re smart enough, you are just needed elsewhere right now.” What an amazing gift she gave me in that moment. She gave me light in her darkness. And before I was able to give my Mom the gift of feeling complete and whole again she had to start radiation therapy immediately. The cancer returned in a completely different form and was very aggressive. The radiation was too much for her and ultimately she chose quality over quantity and stopped her treatments.
One of the last things my Mom asked me was, “When are you going back to school and when are you going to finish what we started?” I told her that eventually I would go back but right now I was staying with her. I was her primary caregiver and personal nurse and able to keep her home until she decided to go to Hospice. I spent every night with her, I slept right beside her. A few days later my Mom passed away. As I was doing her hair and makeup for her funeral, with Jewels by my side, I began thinking back to our conversations and what I was going to be able to give her to help her feel whole again as a woman. But this was the lowest I had ever hit. I had no idea what to do with my life. I couldn’t see beyond the loss of my Mom.
Through time, many prayers and the love of my husband, my Jewels and our family I regained the focus to finish what we had started. This is when my personal Mission was truly born and became my weapon of choice against cancer. If I could not cure it then I was at least going to take away some of the power that it left behind in its wake. I was determined to return to school as well as help every woman and man that I possibly could that had beaten breast cancer; to help them feel whole and complete again. But for me history would repeat itself before I could even begin and my Jewels was diagnosed with cancer. She had a very rare form of cancer and she also had breast cancer; not once but twice. I also became her personal nurse and primary caregiver alongside her husband, her teenage daughter and young son. After 2 ½ years of fighting and multiple surgeries, cancer once again invaded our lives and took someone we loved. Once again I made a vow of promise. I promised her, as I was doing her hair and makeup for her funeral that I would somehow keep my promise and find a way to take away the power of this horrible disease.
This all ended just a few months ago. I stood alongside the doctor just after midnight as he told Jewels the cancer had spread throughout her entire body and there was nothing else they could do for her. She looked to me for confirmation of what he was saying, and there was nothing I could do to change his words. Once they got her settled into her room she began crying. No one knowing exactly what to do or say to ease the reality of her pain. She softly said, “I can’t believe this is happening today of all days.” No one really putting two and two together, her husband said, “Because of the date?” She replied, “Yes, it’s Billy’s birthday. She will never celebrate it again.”
This amazing woman, Sister, Mother, Daughter and Wife had just been told that there was nothing else they could do for her but keep her comfortable. That she had lost her battle with cancer. That she had very little time left on this earth. And without hesitation her first response was how it would affect someone else. She was more concerned with it being my birthday than what was going on with her. What a selfless act of kindness, bravery and above all else, unconditional love.
She said to me, “My sweet Sister, I will not leave you on your birthday.” I smiled at her as tears rolled down my face and I told her, “I am not worried about my birthday, we will celebrate it later. Right now just rest so we can get you home and we will worry about birthday parties then.” She just smiled and nodded her head; she winked at me and whispered, “I love you.” I replied, “I love you too.” I knew in that moment the end was near. I could see something familiar in her eyes that she and I saw in the eyes of my Mom when God was preparing to call her home.
She kept her promise; she did not leave me on my birthday. She waited until just after midnight; while holding her husband’s hand and smiling at her daughter, she took her last earthly breath. I can’t put into words the pain that consumed every fiber of my being. I was the last one left of us three women that had been inseparable our entire lives.
Over the past few months I have devoted myself to making my Mission a reality. To honor the promise I made to both my Mom and my Jewels. I have devoted all of my attention to additional research education and development with a dedication to help every woman and man that has fought and won their battle against breast cancer.
Cancer does not discriminate; it does not care about your race, religion, wealth or you. It doesn’t care what it does to you or your loved ones. It does not care about the path of destruction that it leaves in the wake of its disaster. But…I do and so does your loved ones.
That is why after 22 years I returned to the place and more importantly the person that has had such a huge impact in my life; the one who changed my life for the better when I set out with my Mom and my Jewels to start my journey in 1994 for an entirely different reason. I never imagined that life would bring me back full circle to this amazing woman, Sandi Hammons. To once again look to her to help me fulfill my promise and honor not only the two women that were with me from the beginning but for all breast cancer survivors. I was blessed to once again gain knowledge and wisdom from the one woman that I knew could help empower me to carry out my Mission. And once again I was able to embrace her with a hug and once again she was accepting. I knew she and her team could help me help others. I will forever be grateful to her and her entire team of amazingly talented and dedicated instructors and the ones that are “behind the scenes” making sure that everything runs smoothly and that everyone succeeds.
I have completed the Advanced Training Course at AIIC / Premiere Pigments, Nationally ranked No. 1 in the industry of Permanent Cosmetics. I am devoted to continue Mastering the skill of 3D Nipple/Areola medical tattooing to enhance the lives of others. I am a Licensed Nurse & Paramedical Permanent Cosmetic Specialist.
My Personal Mission is to empower the lives of every man and woman that has beaten breast cancer but had to have a mastectomy. I want them to be able to look in the mirror and not be ashamed. I want them to be able to be intimate with their partner without being embarrassed. I want them to feel whole again not only from the aesthetics of their physical outer beauty, but also from their inner beauty that lends a positive emotional and mental peace for them.
I am trained in the field of permanent cosmetics and paramedical tattooing and I have 22 years of experience along with being a licensed nurse. My background is in emergency medicine, oncology, surgery and permanent cosmetics. What sets me aside from others is that I also have personal experience with breast cancer and the devastating disaster that it leaves behind. I want to make a difference in your life and the life of your loved ones. This is My Story but You are my promise and success.
Together with Hope, we will outwit cancer…
Caring Until The Cure…and Beyond,
Keeping Faith & Hope Alive.