Westmont woman stronger after beating breast cancer

Westmont, IL

Life in 2010 was very busy for one Westmont woman.

Deb Emerson is a single mother with two teenage sons, her own online business and a side job as a teacher’s aid.

That life got flipped upside down in 2010, when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at the end of the year.

Now, almost two years later, Emerson is celebrating her life cancer-free, and with October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she is giving back to those who helped her during her treatment while working to raise awareness of breast cancer.

“I am so fortunate that almost two years later, I am cancer-free,” said Emerson, who works as a teacher’s instructional aid at Westview Hills Middle School in Willowbrook. “For me, the support that I had from my children, my friends and co-workers is what got me through it all. For them, I am most grateful.”

Emerson and her friend and business partner, Jackie Michelon of Westmont, hosted a wine tasting event in Woodridge Oct. 7 with proceeds benefiting Hinsdale Hospital Foundation’s Open Arms breast cancer awareness fund.

For Emerson, it’s her way of giving back to the hospital where she went through her surgery and chemotherapy while fighting the disease.

Life turned upside down                                                                                                                        Deb Emerson had just started her own business, “A Bit of Eclectic”, an online store, in October 2010. She sells handmade, art, jewelry, and other items she and her business partner Jackie Michelon make.

Then, on New Years Eve 2010, she got the breast cancer diagnosis.

“My main concern at that point was what was going to happen to the kids,” Emerson said. “That was all I could think about.”

She said she didn’t have a history of the disease in her family, and didn’t go for annual screenings that may have identified breast cancer early on.

In February 2011, she went through her first of two surgeries, and after some complications began chemotherapy in May and concluded it in August 2011.

During that time, she credits her family and her new business venture for keeping her strong through it.
“The support I had, from my kids to the teachers and students at Westview Hills, and keeping busy with A Bit Of Eclectic is what is what got me through it,” Emerson said. “And my kids were wonderful during that time.”

Emerson’s son, Harley Emerson, now 17 and a student at Westmont High School, said the first thing he thought about when he heard about his mother’s illness is what he could do to make her life easier.

“Me and my brother Cody started doing a lot of the work around the house, doing anything we could to keep mom strong,” he said.

While Emerson credits her family, her close friend Michelon pointed to Emerson’s will and her creative side for helping to get her through the treatment.“Even though we had just started the business a few months before her diagnosis, it did not slow her down at all,” said Michelon, a retired third grade teacher at South and Manning schools in Westmont. “Deb has always been a very strong, creative person, and she continued that during her treatment.”

Michelon said it was Emerson’s dream to start the business selling small homemade artistic gift items.

The two had been friends for years, as Michelon had taught Emerson’s children at Westmont schools, and Emerson helped out in some of the school art classes.

Now, as Emerson prepares to celebrate the second anniversary of her survival, she is cancer free.
While it is always in the back of her mind that the cancer could return some day, she said she feels so much stronger after beating the disease.

“I really think I can do anything now after going through this,” Emerson said. “It has made me a stronger person.

Now, Emerson is focused on both her work in the classroom at Westview Hills, and in growing her business.

She has also been very active in raising money and awareness for the Hinsdale Hospital Foundation’s Open Arms Fund, established in 2011 to support breast cancer patients and their families by funding programs to help patients and families navigate the difficult journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

“They did so much for me with what I went through, this is a way that I can give back, while raising awareness about the foundation,” Emerson said.

For information on Hinsdale Hospital Foundation’s Open Arms Fund, visit www.hinsdaleopenarms.org