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Posted on 15. November 2012

When Life Hands You Lemons

By Deb Stanzak

CORRECTION: this blog was mistakenly published under the name Denna McGrew. Please accept our apologies for any confusion.

The old adage "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" is true. But you have to:

  1. Squeeze them into the pitcher
  2. Add sweetness
  3. Share the goodness!

With that said, I share my "lemonade" story.

Since I was 10, the fashion industry dominated my thoughts - starting with learning to sew, landing my first job as a sewing instructor for Sears at age 16, going to college for fashion merchandising and beginning a lifelong career in textiles and apparel. Upon graduation, I landed a position as an assistant buyer in fabrics for the May Co., Cleveland. My fashion career went on for the next 35 years. Life happened, and I got married in 1992 and had my only child, Jaime, in 1996. Life continued on - working, raising a son, being a wife and caring for a home.

Here come the lemons… In 2001, my husband, Gary, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the blood in the bone marrow. In 2004, my brother, Ron, ended up in the ER with complications from diabetes, and my mother, whom Ron lived with, ended up in the ER the next day with congestive heart failure. My mother-in-law fell and broke her hip shortly thereafter, and she was in the hospital also.

Add the sweetness… This went on for the next several years: my husband on chemotherapy, my mother getting blood transfusions and Ron on dialysis. They all complained of the same things during their treatments: It was cold in the treatment centers, and it was very immodest - especially in a hospital gown. Ron was the first to complain. I wanted to fix the problem, so as a seamstress, I made him a makeshift warm fleece shirt with a zipper in the arm. I brought it to the hospital and said, "Here, try this. Just put on the warm shirt, unzip, connect to your port, get your treatment and stay warm." The next day, he told me everyone wanted one and I would be a millionaire. I had no time to produce anymore, as I was caregiving for the other family members also, as well as tending to a young son.

Share the goodness… My brother passed on in 2005, my mom in 2006 and my husband in January of 2008 - and his dad died 10 days later. Now what? How do I go back to a busy retail job — nights, weekends, holidays - and leave alone my then 11-year-old son who lost all those who helped raise him? I couldn't. So, per my doctor who asked what I was going to do for the rest of my life, I sat down with a couple of nurses and redesigned what I now manufacture for all chemo, dialysis and infusion patients: RonWear Port-able Clothing®. Named after Ron, I have built a treatment clothing company that helps all patients with ports be warm and comfortable. RonWear was also recently recognized by Chase and LivingSocial as a winner of the Mission: Small Business Contest. As a winner, RonWear was awarded a $250,000 grant to continue our mission. RonWear put the "band aid on the bubble" that my brother, mother and husband lived in with their diseases.

So, from lemons to lemonade, my adversity isn't so adverse anymore. We lost four, but now we can help thousands stay warm, comfortable and dignified in RonWear.


Comments (5) -

Rebecca Zook
6:46 PM on Thursday, November 15, 2012

Your story really touched me. I lost my husband in April last year and like you, have made the best of it and carried on with my life. I can't imagine the grief of losing so many in that short a time span. You are amazing and have set a great example of how to deal with life's hardships for your son.

6:52 AM on Friday, November 16, 2012

Denna, What a wonderful story of making the most of what life hands you. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Thornrose
8:51 AM on Friday, November 16, 2012

Wow, Denna McGrew, I am so impressed!  I will try never to complain when life hands me more than I feel I can handle!  What an inspirational story.  God bless you, dear lady, for your tenacity, compassion and determination to go on in spite of all the lemons you have faced.  You son is super-blessed to have a mother like you.  
Thanks so much for sharing you story.
Linda T.

9:01 AM on Friday, November 16, 2012

What a wonderful tribute to your family members and a great help to patients of all diseases every where.

6:43 AM on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dear Deb,
You are an amazing pheonix out of the fire. I am touched by your story and your determination, and I will remember it as I walk my journey. Having lost my mother, and then beloved step-mom, I can say your son is very blessed to have such a devoted mom and an amazing lady! Good luck woth your company and thank you.

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