The wife and mother of five said when she and her husband, David, decided to leave Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005, “One of the consultants in my Mary Kay unit lived in Soddy-Daisy and she suggested we check out Tennessee. But she sent us information about Cleveland, not Soddy-Daisy.”
Thomas, who has been a Mary Kay Cosmetics consultant for 22 years, said she and her husband decided to take a look at Cleveland — the city with spirit. They liked what they saw. The couple did not know anyone in the area, but things changed quickly with a visit from Welcome Friends, a local organization dedicated to greeting new people to Cleveland and promoting local businesses.
“Welcome Friends did a visit with us soon after we moved here and it opened doors to so many wonderful aspects of our lives,” Thomas said.
“We found our church — Farmland Community Church — through the packet they provided. I also became involved with the Cleveland Newcomers and began advertising my Mary Kay business with Welcome Friends.”
According to Thomas, this blessing led to her working with Linda and Ernie Lundy, owners of Welcome Friends.
“It is absolutely the most fun job I have ever had,” Thomas admits. “I have made some incredible connections with people who have lived in some of the places I lived. I do most of the in-home visits with newcomers, new home owners, new babies, newlyweds and new businesses.”
Thomas said she has always enjoyed volunteer work. Her church as well as Newcomers has provided opportunities to work with the Helping Hands project through the Bradley Baptist Association.
“My husband and I both love living in Cleveland and the life we have built here,” she said.
But life took an unexpected and unwelcomed turn in June 2010, when Thomas went in for a routine colonoscopy and discovered she had stage 3 cancer. Surprisingly, the news did not devastate her.
“Right before they put me to sleep, I thought, ‘Lord, just hold me in your hand,” Thomas recalled. “When I woke up and Dr. Bsuhchan told me the results, I didn’t feel panic, I was calm.”
Thomas took her four-month journey with faith and courage. She was referred to a surgeon, Dr. Daniel Stanley, who referred her to Memorial Hospital’s cancer center where they have great results with her form of cancer.
“I was surrounded with love, prayer, hope and friendship,” said Thomas, whose son, B.K., daughter, Traci, with her husband, Josh, and their daughter Olivia, were all living close by, along with other family members.
“The doctors told me it was going to be a rough program of chemotherapy and radiation, and they were right! But there were blessings in the process. I was so blessed to receive so many cards and phone calls.”
Thomas admits it is a humbling experience to be the recipient of so much love and attention. More than a hundred get-well cards covered her room, assuring her that people were praying for her.
“Going through cancer treatment — the ladies in Newcomers and the people in church brought food, phoned and sent cards — it was such a wonderful support system,” Thomas said. “I saw the opposite in a lot of cases. When I would go for my radiation treatment I would see someone pull up in a van from a nursing home and they would bring them in, and they would be there all alone.”
Thomas said she never felt alone and acknowledged at times it seemed harder for her husband to get through the ordeal than herself.
“But we have such a wonderful God,” she said. “Even when nobody was there and it was just me and God — I didn’t feel alone. I knew I would be OK.”
Thomas singled out her granddaughter, Olivia, as a special inspiration and supporter whenever she needed it most. She said her granddaughter, who was 4 1/2 years old at the time, “would come in, use hand sanitizer and put those precious little hands on each side of my face and say, ‘How are you today, Sweetheart?’ or ‘I love you, LuLu!’ I will never forget it.
“Olivia is my big motivator! When she’s around there is no way you can say, ‘I feel awful.’”
After 25 radiation treatments and 120 hours of continuous chemotherapy, Thomas is now 16 months cancer-free. Through it all, the Cleveland transplant said she is grateful to God and to her family of friends who stuck with her through the tested quality of her faith.
“It’s amazing the connections I’ve made with certain people,” Thomas said. “I like to think of it as God weaving the tapestry of our lives and sometimes it crosses other people. Then later in life we run into them again.”
When all is said and done, Thomas said, “I would hope to be remembered as a giving person. My mother had a servant’s heart and that’s what I’ve always wanted — to have a servant’s heart. I also hope people will know me for my sense of humor. I try not to take myself too seriously.”
Since April 2005, Thomas said she has visited nearly 600 people after joining Welcome Friends in Cleveland and has no plans to stop.