It’s incredibly rare in life, but delightful when it does happen, to meet someone like Linda Begley Hawley. You immediately want to bottle a tiny sliver of her sunshine-chic style, charming personality and uber-fit petite figure and channel it for yourself.
There are many reasons why the Akron native has been a role model to others, including Tracy Malott and the beauty team at Blush Boudoir in Dayton who have photographed Linda twice during the past two years.
First of all, her fashion sense is just the right blend of sexy, chic and artsy that fits and flatters a 63-year-old woman. Linda’s look conjures all kinds of fashion icons: from the gamine flair of Audrey Hepburn and the edgier yet dreamy attitude of rocker Stevie Nicks to the whimsical and colorful ways of fashion designer Betsey Johnson.
And Linda’s bubbly personality is instantly contagious.
All said and done, Linda is insouciance done to perfection. But what is not obvious from an initial meeting with this tiny woman is her true tour de force is surviving cancer twice. The jagged scars of her recent battle with stage IIB lung cancer are well-hidden under her fancy togs, but she speaks candidly about the grim reality of the disease. “The scars are who I am,” she points out matter-of-factly.
Fitness instructor Emily Chandler experienced the effervescent Linda Effect when she first met Linda while teaching a dance class at Tabs Fitness in Centerville.
“About a month-ish ago, this lady came into the studio where I teach my fitness classes,” says Emily. “She was checking out the calendar and discovered she had actually showed up for the wrong class time.
“She was the only one who had showed up – and long story short – she ended up staying for my class,” says Emily. Throughout class, Emily and Linda chatted between songs.
“Linda shared with me that she endured lung cancer and ended up having the top lobe of her right lung removed eight months prior,” says Emily. “I just wanted to hug her because her strength through the whole thing just hit home with me.”
After her surgery Dec. 8, 2014, Linda could only walk about 50 feet but was determined to make slow and steady laps throughout her Centerville home to regain her strength and endurance. She took frequent breaks during her walks because she tired so quickly. But the perseverance paid off.
“If you were in class with us, you would never believe it,” says Emily. “It just gives me chills because Linda has no excuses. She doesn’t hold back in class; she continues to show that she can still fight the good fight … and she dances it up. Inspiration for me has a whole new meaning with this lady.”
Linda says after her husband Jim Hawley died Aug. 5, 2010, of esophageal cancer, “I sort of became obsessed” with dancing. “I had a hard time being at home, so dancing became my outlet. It gave me something to do almost every day. I started ballroom dancing about five years ago, something I always wanted to do. … I felt it was a safe environment to meet other people with similar Interests. Dancing is so freeing, and it’s a great way to take your mind off unpleasant things – like cancer.”
When she was just 18, Linda was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, at 19, underwent nine weeks of radiation treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s a whole different mindset when you’re dealing with cancer at 18. I just wanted to get back to living. I just wanted to go back to college. There was never a ‘I’m-not-going-to-make-it-through-this’ moment.”
On Oct. 16, 2014, Linda found herself facing lung cancer. “This time it was much worse, being older. As I’ve said, cancer really affects how you feel about yourself. It’s hard to take in all of the changes that go along with this nasty disease.”
But Linda, who is bookkeeper-office manager at Zig Zag Gallery at Cross Pointe Shopping Center in Centerville, put on a brave front and scheduled a second photo shoot at Blush Boudoir “to document the new me.”
As with the first time, “I was pampered from the moment I walked through those pink doors. Trista and Elyse began to work their magic on my makeup and hair — and knocked it out of the park. My hair loss was huge for me, and I loved what Elyse did with it. Then it was Tracy’s turn to work her camera magic and I was not disappointed. The images showed me it’s not just about hair, scars and weight … it’s about feeling feminine and good about yourself no matter what. I left the studio that day on a high, feeling beautiful.”
Also making the journey for Linda more bearable and constantly filled with love and laughter are her family and friends. Linda credits her daughter Shonagh and son Ryan and their families for pitching in, as well as her beau Gary Marcum and her sister Janet Harp and her husband.
A teddy bear named Hope also became a trusted pal.
“Hope was my chemo bear that my grandson Nathan, who was 8 at the time, made for me at Build-A-Bear Workshop,” says Linda. “Hope accompanied me to all my chemo and doctor visits. The chemo nurses always looked for Hope if they didn’t see her right away. Hope is like my security blanket, and Nathan was the one who named her.”
Gary, too, has steadfastly been at Linda’s side through the thick and thin.
“Gary has been an amazing rock,” Linda says of Gary, whom she met — not surprisingly — while she was out dancing one evening and he was playing drums for the band White Rabbit.
STAYING COURAGEOUS THROUGH CANCER
Linda Begley Hawley’s words ring true for any woman struggling with cancer. Here are five ways to capture some of her sunshine-chic style and energy for the tough days and beyond:
- Keep a positive attitude as you navigate through the cancer journey. “From day one, I concentrated on successfully kicking cancer’s butt again. Early in my diagnosis, I sought out a therapist who was key in helping me maintain that healthy, positive attitude,” she says.
- Prepare for your losses. “Losing my hair again was traumatic! Everyone said – ‘it’s just hair.’ But it was my hair. I bought a good wig before my hair fell out and that helped me cope with the loss as the wig was ready when I needed it.”
- Nurture your femininity. “Cancer has a way of robbing you of your femininity. I found it very difficult to even look at myself in a mirror,” says Linda. “Facials, massages, manicures, pedicures, a new pair of shoes — do whatever it takes to make you feel better about yourself.”
- Even when you don’t feel like it, play up your appearance, Linda advises. “I love dressing up — I guess I’m pretty girly. I dressed up for chemo as I would for work. After all, my job was to kick cancer’s butt again!”
- Focus on a healthy diet and regular exercise. “Eating healthy (often impossible) and getting exercise is key in fighting this monster,” says Linda. “I started exercising very slowly after my lung surgery, walking in circles in my house (it was winter). In the beginning I could barely make one lap, but now I’m back to dancing, Zumba and Cize. So don’t ever give up!”
This is part two of a two-part series written by Suzette DeSart. Part one features another inspirational Blush Boudoir client who has fought her own battle with cancer – be sure to read it!