LIVINGSTON, NJ - Jennifer Pellechio Lukowiak, the self-published author of “Does This Outfit Make Me Look Bald?” was among several fellow breast-cancer survivors Wednesday as Good Morning America (GMA) kicked off the first ever “Baton Pass” benefitting cancer patients. The relay race, ending September 5, will send messages of hope by passing a baton from the heart of New York City to Los Angeles, while simultaneously raising money for the nonprofit organization Standing Up To Cancer.
According to Lukowiak, Siemens Healthcare will donate $1 for every pass of the baton, up to their goal of $1 million. Lukowiak, a 1986 Livingston High School graduate, said the event was important to her not only because she was able to personally hand her book to GMA’s Robin Roberts and Amy Robach, but also because she and the other participants were able to further promote the message that cancer can be beaten.
“You’re braver that you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think,” Lukowiak said, quoting A.A. Milne. “If I can do this twice, you can do it too.”
By the time “Does This Outfit Make Me Look Bald?” was published in 2012, Lukowiak had already been diagnosed with breast cancer twice—once in 2007 and again in 2012. Only five percent of all breast cancer patients are under the age of forty, so when Lukowiak was diagnosed in her 20s with no family history of illness to turn to for guidance, she had to learn to navigate the waters on her own.
Since the majority of breast cancer patients are older women, Lukowiak said most are far enough along in their lives where they are ready to put their careers aside and settle. But Lukowiak knew there would be other women out there, like her, who weren’t looking to slow down just yet.
“Breast cancer is a diagnosis, not a definition,” Lukowiak said. “My book gives women hope that they can keep going forward.”
Being outside the common statistic herself, Lukowiak knew there were other women out there who were having similar problems finding the information they needed about their disease.
According to Lukowiak, these older women who are ready to slow down are the ones who write most breast cancer books that are out there. Ultimately, Lukowiak said, she wrote the book she needed to read herself.
“My family has been an amazing support group and I couldn’t have asked for more, but cancer is a lonely disease,” Lukowiak said. “If I’m able to make even one woman feel less alone, then there’s a reason for why I had to go through this.”
When Lukowiak was first diagnosed in 2007, her now-teenage boys were only nine and 11 years old. Lukowiak said it was extremely difficult to explain to them how ill she was, but when she became sick again in 2012 it was twice as devastating.
The last thing Lukowiak wanted to do was put her life on hold and allow the disease to define her. Though she had to momentarily leave her fashion career on the back burner, Lukowiak was determined to do whatever it took to maintain normalcy.
“Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you’re not capable,” she said. “When you’re not feeling 100 percent it’s easy to dwell, so you have to find something else to focus on.”
For Lukowiak, that meant taking her creativity to the clay table. Lukowiak took a ceramics class to redirect her mind, fell in love and began to re-channel her energy into the art.
“There is something very soothing and methodical about forming wet clay into something useful,” Lukowiak said.
Lukowiak turned her passion into a side career by turning these clay sculptures into things that others can use, like pots and other microwaveable, dishwasher-approved objects. Since it is an extension of herself, Lukowiak said, her passion for ceramics is something that not only distracts her but also brings her joy.
Currently, Lukowiak’s book is still doing well on the shelves of Barnes & Noble as well as online and at Amazon. Though she kept her appetite for fashion close at heart by sporting mascara, hats and trendy shoes throughout her illness, Lukowiak has been able to resume her fashion career at Macy’s Merchandising Group and said she is thrilled to be able to do so.
“It means a lot to me to get my book out there and into the hands of as many people as I can,” Lukowiak said. “If I can do this, you can do this. Trust your gut, take it one day at a time and you will get there.”