Desiree Garcia was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016. The lifelong Mastic resident wasn’t scared when she found out -- she was simply ready to take on the task at hand.
“When I was diagnosed, my focus was getting my surgery and getting it out,” the 47-year-old said. “That was my focus at that point. And then came chemo, then came radiation.”
Garcia underwent 36 rounds of radiation treatment, lymphedema therapy and a few major surgeries, including a double mastectomy and the removal of her lymph nodes and ovaries. She drove herself back and forth during this time between therapy and treatments with her arm wrapped heavily in padding and bandages from her lymph node removal.
“At that point, I was just exhausted every single day of my life,” she said.
Garcia is still fighting today. She recently found out that the cancer has metastasized to her hip, and is currently waiting to get a second opinion. But for now, she’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with her family and loved ones because of a band of women who are taking the responsibilities of the holiday season into their own hands.
Pink S.H.O.E.S., Inc. is a nonprofit founded by LaKesha Jackson-Gordon and Ganesa Taylor, who are both from Amityville. The acronym stands for Strength, Hope, Optimism, Endurance and Survival. The best friends created the organization after Jackson-Gordon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She realized there were a lot of little things that can affect the life of a family going through a breast cancer battle, such as the planning that goes into Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas gifts.
So every Thanksgiving, Jackson-Gordon and Taylor sponsor breast cancer patients and survivors who may need some help. They get in touch with families on Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn -- “anywhere we can drive to,” said Jackson-Gordon -- and have them fill out a form with whatever they’d like to eat for Thanksgiving. Taylor goes grocery shopping, and then she, Jackson-Gordon and a handful of Pink S.H.O.E.S. volunteers deliver the food to the homes of each family.
The nonprofit also offers funds for Christmas gifts, high school prom dress shopping and wig purchases.
“I love going to the people’s homes and spending a little bit of time with them and giving them their stuff for Thanksgiving,” Jackson-Gordon said. “Not everybody we help is someone who can’t afford to buy their own Thanksgiving dinner, but it just takes away some of their burden of having to get up and go.”
Garcia mentioned that since her surgery, grocery shopping has been difficult. Prior to her cancer diagnosis, she had torn the meniscus in both of her knees, and the chemotherapy weakened her legs even more.
“The pain is to the hundredth power,” she said. “So I can’t stand too long. If I go food shopping or something, my boyfriend’s usually always with me, but I have to [push] the cart because that’ll hold me up. But then after like 15 minutes, I want to die because my legs are about to fall off. So sometimes I have to use a cane.”
Pink S.H.O.E.S. sponsored Garcia for her Thanksgiving dinner in 2016. When Jackson-Gordon learned of Garcia’s second diagnosis, she offered to sponsor her again. They first met through social media, and now Garcia calls Jackson-Gordon one of her “pink sisters.”
“They are personal with everybody they do stuff with,” Garcia said. “It’s not just an organization where you go and you get something and you don’t hear from them. You get moral support from them. They check on me, and I’m sure they check on everybody else.”
Last Saturday, the Pink S.H.O.E.S. crew hit the road around 10 a.m. and visited three homes: two in Mastic and one in Farmingdale. They dropped off loads of food, bringing all the goods into each family’s kitchen.
Garcia was their final stop for the day. Jackson-Gordon and Taylor, along with volunteers Laila Campbell and April Francis, walked up the driveway carrying reusable grocery bags filled with assorted pies, fresh produce and a big frozen turkey. They set everything down on Garcia’s dining room table with her son, Elijah, while Garcia’s boyfriend, Fred Watson, cooked breakfast for everyone in the kitchen.
The women of Pink S.H.O.E.S. all sported matching sweatshirts for the occasion. Garcia said she often adds splashes of pink to her outfits, including a pair of heart-shaped earrings wrapped in breast cancer ribbons, and her custom-made hot pink Nikes.
The women chatted about the ensuing holiday season and laughed together while looking at all the fixings for a delicious Thanksgiving feast set on the table in front of them.
While reflecting on her own journey with cancer, Garcia offered some advice.
“I’m not going to lie and say there weren’t times that I cried,” she said. “But when I’m out [with friends], I’m not gonna be sad… I’m happy that I’m with people I love; I’m having fun. So that’s why I tell people to have as much fun as you can, enjoy yourself, do things with your family and just stay positive. It’s not that you can’t be scared, because I am scared now. But you have to stay positive.”
Garcia hopes to continue spending time with the ladies of Pink S.H.O.E.S. throughout her treatment process.
“The support that everybody shows for each other is just fantastic,” she said. “I feel like it’s a sorority.”