Jewelry designer Alex Woo. Photo courtesy of Alex Woo.
Issue: Fall 2010
Department: My Story
The Giving Tree by Alex Woo
Designer Alex Woo joined forces with actress Christina Applegate to turn personal tragedy into a cure for the second most common cause of cancer death among women.
My mother is someone I always admired. She was the most intelligent person I knew and taught me so much about life. She was also like a sister and best friend to me. We loved shopping and spending time with each other, and she was my continual inspiration. As a working mom, she always taught me to pursue my own dreams and be independent. So when I was in high school, my life was shattered with the news of her diagnosis. A cancerous lump had been found in her breast, and she decided that she would have a mastectomy and have the whole breast removed. After the surgery and rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, we now had to shop for different things — wigs to cover her hair loss, and special bras and swimsuits to help accommodate for her lost breast. Somehow she still made it fun and similar to our past shopping trips. We remained strong because we thought we would get through it all.
Although she had gotten better for some time, her cancer came back and spread to her lymph nodes. She had to stay at the hospital, so my father and I took shifts. I would spend my days with her, and he would spend the nights breaking hospital rules to be at her bedside.
I naively thought she would be checking out of the hospital soon. On one of the days, I got a terrible cold, and my dad told me to stay home and rest. He instead went to the hospital to accompany her. It was that day, at the age of 39, that she passed away. When I was informed of the news, I could not believe it and thought it was a mistake. I burst into tears because I never had a chance to say a proper goodbye and tell her how much she truly meant to me. Deep in my heart I knew my mom knew how much I loved her, but I still wished that I could have told her how much she meant to me and more. I learned from that day on how short and fragile life is, and my mother taught me one final lesson: to enjoy life and live each day to its fullest without any regrets. And always tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. Since that day, my father has taken on double duty as both parent and best
friend, and I became an advocate for breast cancer awareness.
Fast forward to 2008. After receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, award-winning actress Christina Applegate created a foundation called Right Action for Women to educate women about what it means to be at “high risk” for breast cancer and encourage them to talk to their doctors about appropriate screening. Generously providing aid to individuals who were at increased risk for breast cancer and did not have insurance or the financial flexibility to cover the high costs associated with breast screenings, Christina and her foundation brought much more attention to the cause. At the
same time, I had designed my “Open Heart” necklace, which was dedicated to raising funds to benefit breast cancer research. During her treatments, Christina regularly wore my “Open Heart” pendant, so when her new foundation was started, we wanted to design a new piece together — what eventually became the “Tree of Life.” In this design, we wanted to not only signify balance, peace and harmony in the shape of the tree and branches, but also to incorporate the feminine curves of a woman. The seven leaves represent each day of the week, as a reminder to live each day to its fullest.
I also wanted to incorporate Christina’s experiences in dealing with breast cancer. “This piece reminds me so much of the roses I made out of ribbons for my friends and family while in the hospital,” she said. “I am so grateful to Alex for creating such a beautiful piece to benefit Right Action for Women.”
For me, partnering with Christina, who has given inspiration to millions of young women, was an honor. When my mom found a lump in her breast, she was still in her 30s and thought it would go away. But by the time she went to see a doctor, it was too late. Thankfully today, there is not only better technology but much more awareness about the importance of routine breast exams. Early detection is the key and I encourage all women to be vigilant. Life is so precious — always let your loved ones know how much they mean to you.
For more info on Right Action for Women, visit RightActionforWomen.org. Net proceeds from Alex Woo’s “Tree of Life” pendant will help women at high risk for breast cancer get the screenings they need to beat this disease.