By Marlene Harris-Taylor The Blade, Toledo, Ohio.
Renee Schick is a survivor in more ways than one. She is doing well and is still in remission 14 years after being diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer. She also survived losing her dream business last year, a defeat she turned into a victory for herself and others struggling with cancer.
After operating for 10 years, Ms. Schick made the decision to close Renee's Survivor Shop, 5401 Secor Rd., last May. It was a difficult decision, but Ms. Schick said she felt overwhelmed by all the demands that came along with being the sole proprietor of the store that sold very specific merchandise, such as wigs scarves, hats, and wristbands, for its unique clientele.
"Sometimes when you have a business, it takes away why you really got into what you are doing because you're worrying about other things or busy doing other things. What was really hard is I was always out trying to market and get the word out," she said.
She also had to wrestle with billing insurance companies for her customers, which she described as a full-time job itself. "It was a nightmare because I had to hire a certified fitter and later throughout the years you had to have the shop accredited. That's the only way that you could bill insurance. I wore every single hat you could possibly wear in a business," Ms. Schick said.
After her store closed, Ms. Schick said she had a light-bulb moment. She sent a letter to the University of Toledo administration and proposed opening a store like hers inside the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center.
A few months later her idea became a reality and now she is the manager of Renee's Survivor Shop in its new location on the first floor of the cancer center on the University of Toledo Medical Center campus, the former Medical College of Ohio.
The store opened in early December but the official grand opening ceremony will be at 3 p.m. today.
"Being in the cancer center just makes sense. If someone is coming in for chemo or radiation or they are seeing the doctor, it's all in the same campus area," Ms. Schick said.
The small shop is tucked in a corner on the first floor in an area once used for massage therapy. The natural light provided by several windows, however, makes the space bright and airy, and Ms. Schick said she has about the same amount of space to store and display merchandise.
The store carries items including post-surgical camisoles to accommodate post-surgery breast forms, nonmetallic deodorant for sensitive skin after radiation, lymphedema related items, and many other products.
The products can be purchased by anyone, she said.
"I've had the experience of knowing what works and what doesn't so I pretty much stuck with what I know works and that's all that I ordered in here," she said
Much has changed since the days she decided to open her original store in 2003. She was 36 when she was diagnosed with cancer and found that most of the products available were created for older women. Ms. Schick said now there is a wide variety of products on the market for all ages and for both men and women.
"There's pretty things out there," she said.
Helping cancer patients feel pretty is important to her. She has adopted the American Cancer Society's Look Good Feel Better program and holds free seminars at the store with professional makeup artists who teach cancer patients how to apply makeup and conceal.
Additionally, the shop offers mastectomy fittings by appointment. Ms. Schick said now that UTMC is handling all billing and paperwork, she can finally get back to what she loves, fitting women and building relationships with her customers.
Some of her former customers are starting to find her in the new location and business is building slowly, she said.
One thing those customers won't find is her Chihuahua, Oscar, who was a regular fixture at the other store. Oscar is 11 years old and he still wants to come into the store but "he is retired now," she said.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Private evening appointments are available upon request.