Life Lessons from Lori Samuels

One of the speakers at the upcoming ACS gala offers a glimpse into her own cancer journey—and how paying it forward continues to pave the healing road

Photography by Eduardo Schneider

  • I like living in the uncomfortable. Speaking before 600 people I don’t know? I like that. You grow every time you embrace a new opportunity, and I love that opportunity for personal growth. I also love being a role model for my daughters in that sense [Leah, now 29; Amanda, 27], because life is uncomfortable. You don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day.
  • That mindset helped me to deal with cancer. Nobody in my family had ever had cancer. Nobody had ever been sick. I’ve never been so blindsided in my life.
  • I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44 in April 2004. I had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy treatment. My youngest daughter’s bat mitzvah was in the fall. That’s what kept me going because I had so much to do and look forward to. I’d be done with chemo and starting radiation right before the bat mitzvah. Before radiation, they did a mammogram and ultrasound, and the radiologist found a needle in a haystack in my other breast. More cancer.
  • When I met with the oncologist, I didn’t want to know any percentages, any statistics regarding [survival rates for her type of cancer]. The only question I asked was, “Am I going to be OK?” The doctor looked at me and said, “Yes … as long as you do what we tell you to do.” That was all I needed to hear. I did no research. I didn’t go online. Just tell me what I have to do to be OK, so I can be done.
  • My daughter’s bat mitzvah was scheduled for Labor Day, but there was a hurricane bearing down on Florida that never hit. We ended up doing the big party six weeks later. At the party, I went with a secret. Not one person knew except my husband that I was having a double mastectomy three weeks later.
  • I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I’m not a victim. It doesn’t mean that, along the way, I didn’t hold hundreds of hands. I’ve been a cheerleader for so many women. It’s just that, for me, cancer was more private.
  • [Deborah Perlman] and I started Touch a Heart Foundation in 2004 [the nonprofit, now led by Perlman’s cousin, executive director Jennifer Kaufman, enhances the lives of disadvantaged children in South Florida]. Being of service to others helped me heal. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself if you’re doing good for others.
  • When they were little, I used to take my girls to a low-income daycare center to play with the kids. My oldest would read to the children. We’d have Christmas parties and Easter parties; we’d stuff schoolbags. I knew my daughters would do well in the world. But I wanted them to also do good. They do. And I’m so proud of them.
  • When I was going through treatment, my girlfriend used to bring me aromatherapy candles and essential oils. It was very calming and soothing. I also started doing some painting; I painted hearts. I didn’t connect all the dots until much later. But the business I started in 2014, Heart2Heart Art [which sells Samuel’s custom-painted hearts and candles made with essential oils and soy wax], has been part of my healing journey.
  • Anxiety can be the most crippling part of living out our dreams or passions. If you can jump over the hurdle without fear, it sets you up for success.
  • There’s a saying on our candles: “May the light from the candle illuminate your heart, that your heart may illuminate the world.”

The Samuels File

Lori, married to attorney Leonard Samuels, was former Sen. Bob Graham’s campaign finance director for nearly two decades.

Partial proceeds from the sales of Lori’s Heart2Heart Art candles and heart paintings go to Touch a Heart and other charities.

Lori became a certified yoga instructor in 2012, further solidifying her belief in the relationship between mind, body and spirit.

Lori will be the survivor speaker May 4 at the American Cancer Society’s annual Celebration Gala. Call 561.200.7520 for info.

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