Performing as ‘Lucy’ helps her hide the scars from metastatic skin cancer

By Hannah Winston
The Palm Beach Post

Lista “Lucy” Faircloth almost missed her birthday celebration this year.

She’s facing another surgery — her 10th in 10 years — and doctors said they have to remove her nose to stop the spread of her skin cancer.

Then, it will be surgery on her chest and then her eye, again.  

It’s too much, this metastatic monster that shows up, then goes, then appears again.

As she blow-dried her hair that October evening, getting ready for her 60th birthday party, her hair “fell out in globs.” Her chest hurt from a recent infection that manifested after years of radiation treatment meant to prolong her life.

She thought about her two sons, Armani, soon-to-be 16, and Landon, 18.

Could they look at her the same way? With part of her face cut away to save her life?

She already lost her right ear to cancer, but she could hide that behind her hair.

This time, she can’t hide, and she’s not sure she’ll find a doctor who can rebuild her to be the ever-smiling, ever-optimistic spirit the world, and her boys, are used to seeing. 

She laughed. The best part of the pandemic has been the masks, she said — that way, she can hide.

Before melanoma was first found on her arm 10 years ago, Lista loved being seen.

She dressed as Lucille Ball and performed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as the “I Love Lucy” star.

When the first spot of melanoma was removed, she thought she was in the clear for a few years. But there was more — cancer in her ovaries, the back of her head, her tear duct, her right ear. Every time she got better or felt ahead of the game, the melanoma returned — or squamous cell skin cancer appeared, like the spot on her nose, which has now invaded her nasal cavity.

Through it all, she kept dressing as Lucy to stay distracted and help others through their struggles, too. She’d visit cancer floors in children’s hospitals, smile for many last photos and memories, spend hours listening to their stories, all the while fighting her own battle silently. 

She beat the odds many times. Eight years ago, doctors expected the melanoma to kill her within three years. She’s still here.

“I call myself a miracle,” she said. “I think I beat all the odds for my sons.” 

But this time, and this year, feel different. 

Ten years of battling cancer all over her body has taken a toll. She won’t give up fighting, but this is going to be her hardest battle yet, she and her doctors agree. 

“You feel like it’s someone else’s turn (to fight),” she said. “I want the big hooray. I want to ring the bell. But I never seem to get past a year.” 

She’s always been able to make it by, with the help of friends, church, nonprofits and somewhat steady work to keep her kids fed and dressed with a roof over their heads. 

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, it threw her for a loop. 

She couldn’t work because her immune system was compromised from all the treatment. On top of the squamous cell found on her nose, she’s battled the infection on her chest for a year. It causes constant pain. She has trouble sleeping and no bed of her own to try and get comfortable in.  

As their trailer rots with mold and is infested with rodents from previous hurricanes, she and her youngest son have been able to stay with friends and family. Her oldest is studying at Florida Atlantic University, in his own bubble. She hasn’t been able to see him as the virus spread on campus, infecting him and others. For her birthday, he was on FaceTime to join the festivities. 

As she got ready for her small party, she decided to do something she knew would help her escape. 

She packed on the makeup with the signature red lip, put on her pearls and pulled on her curly orange wig, transforming herself into her other life as actress Lucille Ball. 

“Even when I’m at my worst and I get dressed as Lucy, everything is OK.”

LUCY’S WISH

Lucy Raircloth and her youngest son have been staying with friends and family because their mobile home is in disrepair with mold, rodents, leaks and other issues. If they had an RV, it would give them a place to call their own. Before the end of 2020, Lucy expects to have her 10th surgery in 10 years for metastatic skin cancer. This time, doctors believe they will not be able to save her nose and other parts of her face as they had in the past. She hopes to be put in contact with a reconstructive plastic surgeon, who can make her outside match her Lucy spirit inside.

She needs help with car payments or a new car to drive to doctor appointments. Her son needs a new computer to help with schoolwork. Though she spent several years as a Lucille Ball impersonator at Disney World, neither of her sons has been to the theme parks. She would love passes to Walt Disney World so she can take her sons. “What do I want?” she says. “I want my children to be happy. I need that last hurrah of motherhood for me.”

Nominating agency: Cancer Alliance of Help and Hope.

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