By Catherine Anaya/May 5, 2016
Photos: P. Burke
Lauren Daniels is one of the wonderful women I have had the pleasure of meeting. At age 35 she was told she had breast cancer. That diagnosis changed the direction of her life.
I was very fortunate. Other people had $100,000 worth of medical bills. So we decided that we wanted to provide hope to some of these moms as they were going through this. –Lauren Daniels
She saw the tremendous need to help moms and their families who were dealing with the challenges and the expenses of cancer just as she was. Lauren is truly healing through her organization HEAL–Happily Ever After League–in the home she calls Healing House.
Lauren and HEAL give one of the most creative and fun fundraising teas you could ever imagine–The Fairytale Tea–once a year to raise money for the non-profit. Some of the unique tables at their recent April gathering are pictured here.
It was such an honor to have her guest with me on The Women’s Eye Radio Show…
EYE: You founded HEAL after you were diagnosed with cancer. How did you come up with that name?
LAUREN: It actually came to me in a dream. I knew I wanted to start a foundation with an uplifting name. Everything I kept thinking of sounded like it was a retirement home. It just wasn’t working for me.
One morning I woke up and the words “happily ever after” kept ringing in my head. I thought what does that mean? Maybe it’s “Happily Ever After Foundation?” I lived happily ever after my cancer diagnosis and others can as well. We came up with Happily Ever After League and it spelled the word “heal” and it’s worked for us beautifully.
EYE: And perfectly! You had a family history of cancer. I remember you told me that getting cancer wasn’t a surprise for you because of your family history but getting it at 35 was.
LAUREN: My mother has had breast cancer twice. So it wasn’t the furthest from my mind thinking that at some point in my lifetime I would have to cross that path. I was never expecting it right after my third child was born.
The results of tests came out positive and I was having to deal with this and with three kids ranging in age from 1-11. It was not something I was looking forward to.
But I had seen family members who had triumphed through it so I knew I could handle it. With the support of my family, I was really able to get through.
EYE: You mentioned three children, one as young as one. How difficult is it to battle cancer and try to be a mom at the same time?
LAUREN: For me, I was fortunate. I did not have to go through chemotherapy because I caught my cancer so early. But, I did have to have three surgeries in a four month span of time. I always say that for a mom to have a common cold is a luxury.
You cannot take the time to take off and rest and recuperate from just a cold, let alone the time that’s needed to recover from chemotherapy or radiation or surgeries. It’s necessary to wake up every day and be there for the family.
My priority was to be able to still be there for the kids and be positive. Everyone seems to take mom’s lead. There would be days I’d cry in the shower, but when they were all looking up at me, I was trying to forge on.
Lauren Daniels with Tips on How to Use Your Mind to Help You Through
Breast Cancer Awareness
EYE: That is not easy. You help women who are dealing with any type of cancer, not just breast cancer. What led you to say to yourself, “I need to do something for women who are going through this who have a family who need that support?”
LAUREN: I had been hearing that women were taking the city bus to the breast cancer surgery. I found out that women couldn’t afford the medications they needed to get the treatment they needed. Even though we had very good insurance, we still had to pay $4,000 out of pocket that year and pay it off over time.
And yet, I was very fortunate. Other people had $100,000 worth of medical bills. So we decided that we wanted to provide hope to some of these moms as they were going through this.
EYE: In your first fundraiser, you raised $50,000! That’s pretty impressive.
LAUREN: We did. About six months after my diagnosis, I decided this was what I was going to do. Those who know me best said, “This is a great idea! Do you think you should wait a bit longer?”
But my parents, my husband and all of my good friends knew that once I make her mind up, I’m going to do this. So we can either get on board or just get out of her way.
On the one year anniversary of my diagnosis was when we had the fundraiser. In the room was six degrees of Lauren, I’m sure. Everyone knew me in one way, shape or form.
And, we did; we raised $50,000! We were in business. We were able to start giving out grants to the moms who needed it. At the time we were helping out with rent, utility bills, etc. and that has evolved over time.
What we do now is give an American Express gift card and they can use it for whatever they want or need–groceries, getting to the doctor, fill up the car for gas, prescriptions, whatever their greatest need is. It empowers them a little more and gives them the freedom to spend the money the way they’d like to.
EYE: How do you determine whom you help? Is there a process?
LAUREN: There is a process and we do have an online application. They have to be in active cancer treatment. They need to have a least one dependent child living at home. Aside from that, as long as they qualify and we ask for a list of their doctors and that type of thing, we are able to get a one-time grant and they can start using our Healing House.
EYE: Do you work with health care providers in identifying some of those women?
LAUREN: Mainly we do. We work with social workers and a lot of oncologists’ offices. We’ve found that through the moms we’ve helped, they are sharing our resource with other mothers. There’s a lot of word of mouth.
EYE: What kinds of support are you able to give them? Obviously you are not able to pay their entire medical bill. But, every little bit helps, doesn’t it?
LAUREN: Yes, it does. For me, as founder, it is important that we give the most that we can. For a long time I struggled with how great the need really was. Knowing what we were able to give, it was not going to be able to solve all their problems.
But what I found was that the gift we gave them and just not hearing “no” and knowing that someone cared just gave them hope to get through another day. It empowered them to know that there was a community behind them that really cared.
The ongoing support that comes from the Healing House is something which helps them along the way.
EYE: Healing House is an actual house. What I love about it is that it is not just about the woman going through cancer, but it is about her entire family.
LAUREN: That is definitely the case. Our focus is that we help the mom but the entire family unit is affected. We do help dads and caretakers and children because the house is there as a reprieve for families.
They need time away socially and to have a fun day with people who know what they are going through.They don’t necessarily need to talk about cancer.
Clearly we all know that’s why we’re there. We call it a “cancer free zone” because we focus on living, not necessarily on cancer.
EYE: I imagine you get very attached to families and the women who are going through cancer, in particular. Not everyone survives. How difficult is that for you?
LAUREN: It’s one of the things I found to be most challenging. It is my belief that these moms are living happily ever after in a different place. But we do get attached.
When we don’t hear back from them, especially when we know that they were struggling, we chat about it and hope they are doing okay. It is definitely very difficult for me, having walked through a cancer diagnosis. It just never gets easier.
I have to make it okay in my head. I hate to say it but I have to treat it “business-like” and try to get to a place where I can continue to do this work and not hang up after every call and cry and be upset.
I need to continue to be strong so that we can continue to provide this very needed resource for these moms.
EYE: You’ve expanded beyond Phoenix to Atlanta. How did that all come about?
LAUREN: One of the HEAL moms’ mom would come in from Atlanta to help her through radiation and chemotherapy. She would come to the Healing House with her. Unbeknownst to her daughter, she would go into the food pantry, and her mom and I would chat about her daughter and her recovery.
She would always say,” I cannot believe what you all do. This is so wonderful.” She would cry. She’d pull it all together before her daughter returned from the pantry. She said,” I think I want to do this in Atlanta.” And, I kept saying, “I think you should!”
She did. It’s been running for a couple of years. It’s on a much smaller scale, but they are still providing help for the women of Georgia.
EYE: Do you see that as part of your vision, having HEAL pop up in various states across the country?
LAUREN: We were certainly very open to it. We used Atlanta as a template to see how we could make that work. We see that it can.
Arizona is not the only state that would need a resource like this, so I definitely think there can be one in every state in the country. We would certainly be a resource for any place in the country.
EYE: I want to touch on the Fairytale Tea Fundraiser. Unless you actually have been there, you cannot even imagine what transpires from a couple of people putting their heads together, and, of course, a table. For anyone who does not live in Phoenix, this is a good reason to visit.
LAUREN: A hostess comes in and she picks a fairytale or a whimsical theme to put together a table and invite ten of her friends. It’s almost like a little private party; you invite your friends and it is just such an amazingly uplifting experience.
Last year someone rented a U-Haul to bring in their tablescapes into the hotel. From Tarzan to Tinkerbell to The Three Little Pigs to Charlotte’s Web, the room is just amazing.
EYE: You have to go to the HEAL website and look at all the pictures. It is one of those things you have to see to believe. Much continued success in all you do, Lauren, especially Healing House. It is such a special place.