THE WOODLANDS, Texas (FOX 26) — Celebrations for Valentine's Day began on Wednesday night for a group of more than 170 breast cancer survivors and volunteers who showed the holiday can go deeper than greeting cards and chocolate. Every year, these women bond together the night before to pamper themselves and celebrate love.
For hundreds of breast cancer survivors like Karen Raley, the MD Anderson Cancer Center 10th annual "Pamper Me Night" has changed the way she celebrates Valentine's Day every year.
"It's changed Valentine's Day for us and it made us feel very pampered and special," said Raley.
Oncologist Dr. Pamela Schlembach first founded the event in 2009.
"They tell me they didn’t feel beautiful and they didn’t like the holiday because cancer had caused a lot of loss in their life including love," said Dr. Schlembach. "Sometimes their spouses had left them, their husbands or significant others had left them, so it was really heartbreaking to hear these stories."
Dr. Schlembach said the event is based off the 'Five Love Languages' to cater to different women's needs like massages for physical touch and gifts. But most importantly, spending quality time with other survivors and connecting through their stories and words of affirmation.
Vicki Thompson was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2013 when she was 56 years old. However, Thompson said it took her more than two years to openly talk about her diagnosis to anyone besides close family.
"I just kinda cried to myself and I didn’t tell anyone for about three weeks until my doctor said you must tell someone," said Thompson. She also said it wasn’t until she started coming to "Pamper Me Night" in 2015 and connected with a group of other survivors that understood what she was going through too.
"It has changed my life," added Thompson. "It has given me the chance to meet other ladies that have gone through the journey and are going through the journey."
"It's nice to celebrate each other and to celebrate each other being alive," said Raley.