Adele Hartland says that if anyone can handle breast cancer, it's her.
"Who else has 20 wigs in her garage and lives 10 minutes from MD Anderson?" she says jokingly as she passes out candy canes to fellow patients in Mays Clinic.
No one seems to know that Adele is also there for treatment. Admittedly, with her bright smile, red velvet skirt and knee-length boots, it is hard to tell. For today, she's Miss Claus, one of the many playful characters she's dressed up as for her chemotherapy treatments at MD Anderson.
"I come here with the mission to show love," Adele says. "By dressing up, I'm able to bring joy and laughter to others, which I think are two of the highest expressions of love."
And it has. Whether it was the Breast Cancer Fairy Godmother costume -- where she went around waving her wand and saying, "Bibbity, boopity, boob" -- or the time she wore a turkey on her head for Thanksgiving, doctors, nurses and patients are struck by Adele's bubbly personality.
A calling to help others
Adele says her strength comes from living a life full of "prayer and loving others." This calling has led her all over the world, including Afghanistan, where she worked at an airport passenger terminal moving troops throughout Afghanistan. Her sisters and friends would send decorations and candy, which she used to create a sense of "home" for soldiers that were deployed during the holidays. She has also done humanitarian and mission work in several other countries, including Siberia. In each of these roles, her costumes and lighthearted attitude made appearances. It's also what has spurred her to start conversations in the waiting rooms at MD Anderson, where she goes every Tuesday for chemotherapy.
"I've made beautiful, meaningful connections," Adele says. "I really cherish the people I meet and how they're thriving - not just surviving."
Though a lot of good has come out of it, Adele says there have been some chemotherapy side effects that have been tough to overcome. In addition to dealing with nausea, loss of appetite and fatigue, she's lost the long, dark hair she was known for.
"My hair was part of my identity," Adele says. "Although there have been moments where it's hard to accept the reflection I see in the mirror, I now try to refocus my attention on what I'm grateful for. Bringing smiles to other patients' faces makes this a little easier."
"I've never felt more beautiful in my life"
When asked how cancer has changed her outlook on life, Adele says that it's reminded her of the importance of with whom she surrounds herself.
"I have to be pickier because I no longer have energy for people who drain me," Adele says.
She's also learned that friends, family and loved ones deal with a cancer diagnosis differently.
"Some of your closest family will back up and go silent, whereas random friends will step up and do everything," Adele says. "I've learned that you can't use cancer to shame others into acting how you want them to act. The best way to respond is with love and grace."
Despite the physical and emotional changes cancer has brought, Adele has stayed true to herself.
"I was living my life in a full way before my diagnosis," Adele says. "Cancer has just deepened that experience and made me more grateful."
With or without the costume, Adele says she's never felt more beautiful in her life.