Zoe Lanham is not taking cancer lying down. Period.
Zoe Lanham just thought she was tired. It was the early days of COVID and Lanham, vice president of The Addison for the past 15 years, had quickly made her staff “portable”—or able to work from home—in anticipation of impending lockdowns. There were the 600 brides with weddings scheduled that she and her team had to reach, and about $40,000 of perishable food to contend with. (The Addison ultimately launched a meal delivery program through Helping Hands that lasted 18 weeks, augmented by staff delivery of meals to people marooned at home.)
It was enough to wear anyone out, but Lanham, now 50, had always had lots of energy. A tireless UK transplant and cheerleader, she had dedicated herself to developing a committed team and a thriving wedding and special events venue.
The Addison was magic—and Lanham waved the wand. So when she started falling out every day by 8 p.m. exhausted, she knew something was up. The first trip to the doctor showed she was seriously anemic. But then she saw signs on one breast that grew more troubling, and by the time she got in for a diagnostic mammogram, she says, “my breast literally lit up. It wasn’t just one tumor. Eighty percent of the breast tissue was infected. And I had a little on the left-hand side, too.”
A biopsy showed three tumors and a diagnosis of lobular carcinoma, an invasive kind of breast cancer fueled by hormones and difficult to detect in a common mammogram until it is already well advanced. Lanham says the entire lymphatic system under one arm was removed, and then she underwent a bilateral mastectomy.
“And I was back at work two weeks later, drains and all,” she says. In fact, Lanham hasn’t missed much work, despite the 18 weeks of brutal chemo and her ongoing radiation (she’s doing it daily for at least seven weeks). Even when she knew her hair was about to go, she decided to be proactive. “I did a little fundraiser here [at The Addison],” she says. “I sat with my mother side by side in the courtyard [her mother had dyed her hair bright pink for the occasion], and we shaved our heads together. We raised $4,000 by doing that.”
That was the first step in Lanham’s decision to take charge of the fight.
“I decided right at the beginning I’m going to do something good with this cancer. It’s become fundraising and awareness. I don’t want cancer to define me.” Enter the Pink Fight Club, a blog Lanham launched to keep people up to speed in her cancer battle, but also to allay the fears of other patients.
“When I realized how sick I was, it was very traumatic for some of my employees, [my family]. I wanted to create as much of a positive environment for them as I could so they could see me deal with cancer in a positive way. I decided I wanted to share that blog with them so they were part of the journey. And I write it with humor, with my emotions, but I always try to bring it to them in a way that there is hope.”
Lanham says the Pink Fight Club has grown from a “communication bulletin” to a “movement” as it has begun fundraising for the American Cancer Society ResearcHERS.
“I became an ambassador for ResearcHERS. … we fund female brilliance … female doctors and their clinical trials to find cures for cancer.”
Lanham says the problem is that “by the time you have cancer, the treatments are taking away parts of your body, poisoning you with chemotherapy and then burning you with radiation. We need to find a cure at the beginning of cancer.”
She has already spearheaded four events at The Addison for the group, and more are planned. As for her own future, she says she doesn’t know.
“But what I do know … is that I am going to fight with every ounce of my being. And I feel in my heart I’m going to get better. I just feel the universe is taking care of me and putting the right people here. … Whether I have a year or five years or 10 years, it doesn’t matter. I am going to fight every day—because I’m fighting for cures for my nieces, my daughter, my future grandchildren and that’s important.
“No matter what time I have left, I want it to be good. It’s about giving back, about raising awareness and empowering women.”