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Front Page - Friday, July 28, 2017

A box of joy for difficult journey

Luce’s gift collections feature products specifically for those undergoing chemo

As a cancer survivor, Missy Luce is all too familiar with the emotional and physical toil that accompanies the disease. For that reason, she has mixed emotions when someone orders one of her curated gift boxes for women undergoing treatment and recovery.

“I’m always excited when I receive an order, but then I’m immediately sad,” Luce says. “I’m doing business but that means someone has cancer. That’s never going to feel good.”

But Luce wants to help. It’s why she launched Lucent Gift this year with a line of products designed to provide a moment of radiance in what can be a dark time.

At first glance, Lucent’s flagship offering – the LuxBox – appears to be a gift box filled with luxury items by local artisans. From the treats by The Hot Chocolatier to the healing salves by Wooden Spoon Herbs, it’s easy to see why Luce selected each product.

But upon closer inspection, one can also see the empathy Luce poured into conceiving the LuxBox and how each item bears her understanding, through firsthand experience, of what it’s like to struggle with cancer.

The half-dozen hand-made truffles from The Hot Chocolatier, for example, can serve as a reminder that the patient can still enjoy some of the good things in life.

“There are times during chemo when everything tastes muted. I missed experiencing flavor saturation,” Luce says. “The chocolates I picked can be enjoyed when a patient is experiencing less of a problem with chemo taste.”

The Luxbox also includes two bags of tea from Wildflower Tea Shop & Apothecary. Both “The Meeting of the Mints” and “Happy Tummy” were formulated to combat nausea – a common foe of patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Likewise, Luce chose to include an Uplift candle from The Rustic House for its light citrus aroma, which shouldn’t unsettle the stomach further.

The jars of Breast Butter and Heal All Salve from Wooden Spoon combat another ingratiating side effect of cancer treatment: dryness. Luce remembers the discomfort with unfortunate clarity.

“Everything is dry when you’re going through chemo. It’s miserable,” she explains. “Wooden Spoon sources the ingredients for their healing salves from the wild. They work wonders.”

The LuxBox also comes with a hand-thrown tea mug from Annie Hanks Ceramics. Luce picked the cup for its diminutive size and flower bulb shape, which together allow fingers that are pulsing with pain to curl around a hot beverage or a few sips of wine.

“You have a lot of joint and bone pain with chemo. Even grasping the handle of a cup can be painful,” she adds. “You can hold this mug without a lot of effort, and it’s something beautiful that, years from now, can serve as a reminder of your journey.”

Luce even put thought into the box in which these items are transported. The large, white package is usually greeted with widened eyes and a gaping mouth, making the presentation an important part of the gift.

But more than that, the magnetic closure allows the box to serve as storage for the cards and letters the afflicted receives during treatment and recovery.

“I wanted to put together something beautiful and elegant,” Luce adds. “I didn’t want to sell a package of products I’d ordered online; I wanted the gift box to make people feel special.”

Marietta Jacket

Luce also hopes to allow women who have undergone a mastectomy to maintain their dignity in the weeks following the operation, when a surgical drain draws blood and lymphatic fluid from the body.

Luce underwent a double bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction following a cancer diagnosis in 2015 and had to endure the unsightly apparatus for two weeks after the operation.

A social butterfly who enjoys going out with friends, Luce was embarrassed and chose to seclude herself at home instead. “I didn’t want to go anywhere with two bulbs hanging out of me, and I didn’t have any clothes large enough to cover them,” she recalls.

Luce’s dilemma provided a spark of inspiration. Since there were no garments designed to conceal the surgical drain and allow a woman to be in public without drawing attention to her baggage, she decided to make one herself.

Or rather, Luce reached out to local fashion designer Ongeleigh Underwood, owner of Temperate Clothing. Underwood put together a tunic that contains and conceals the drainage system and serves as an attractive wearable.

Made of a soft blend of organic hemp and cotton and available in charcoal or blue chambray, the Temperate Marietta Jacket can be purchased alone or included with the LuxBox.

A pretty penny

The items Luce included with the LuxBox are on the costly end of the price spectrum, so the package doesn’t come cheap. The going rate without the jacket is $110. However, the card Luce includes lists the name of each contributor, allowing people to pool their money and still receive individual credit.

“People usually want to do something nice for someone who’s going through a difficult time but don’t always know where to start,” Luce says. “Sending a woman who’s facing treatment and recovery a LuxBox can be helpful.”

While Luce will ship the LuxBox anywhere, she hand-delivers the boxes within seven miles of downtown Chattanooga. She cherishes the moments she spends with the recipient, talking about their respective journeys.

“It’s good to talk with someone who’s been through it,” she points out. “I can tell them what it’s going to be like and offer practical advice.”

Although Luce has gone through the very things her recipients are experiencing, there’s no trace of tragedy in her voice as she tells her story. On the contrary, she shapes her tale as one of triumph.

Luce grew up in the Atlanta area, lived in Seattle while her husband went to medical school and then moved to Chattanooga in 2003 for his residency. After settling in, she gave birth to twin girls.

The wife and mother was diagnosed with stage one colorectal cancer in 2005. Surgery and a round of what Luce calls “chemo-light” followed, as did her full recovery.

Luce lived cancer-free until 2015, when a routine mammogram revealed the presence of abnormal cells inside the milk ducts in her breast. Although the disease was pre-invasive, Luce’s doctors recommended a mastectomy based on her history with cancer.

It was a good call. The disease was aggressive, and by the time of her operation, Luce was host to a 1.8-centimeter tumor.

An active person who enjoys being on the move, Luce had no patience for sitting still during her recovery. Bored and in search of a project, her isolation and discomfort stirred her first thoughts about starting a business that would serve women undergoing the same, or a similar, ordeal.

Luce launched Lucent on World Cancer Day 2017, which fell on Feb. 4, turning her battle to live and return to full health into a means of assisting others. “I would never have come up with this business if I hadn’t been close to the disease,” she says.

Luce’s efforts are bearing fruit in the form of testimonials from her recipients.

Pam Fields, a social studies teacher with Hilger High Learning and Signal Mountain Christian Co-op, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of this year. She began bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments a month later.

Daily radiation treatments and surgery still lie ahead for Fields, who credits God and her family and friends with sustaining her.

Fields received a LuxBox from Hilger’s faculty and staff when she was in the midst of chemotherapy. It, too, made a difference.

“Each item was a wonderful treat and a reminder of the faithful thoughts and prayers for me from everyone at Hilger,” Fields acknowledges.

“Missy carefully crafted my gift box and selected each item to bless me on my unique cancer journey. But the greatest blessing came from knowing my work family had chosen to bless me with one of her gift boxes.”

Luce finished chemotherapy a year ago and is now cancer-free. But even though the disease is gone from her body, the memory of what she endured is still with her.

These recollections give Luce focus when she feels the strange brew of emotions that accompany each new order.

Someone has cancer, and that’s never going to feel good, but she’s found a way to provide a moment of radiance in that dark time.