by Contributor

By David Abbott

In February 2023, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This became the beginning of the seventh stage in my journey with cancer that began in my 20s. The seven different types of cancer don’t matter…it’s still all cancer. And the news crushed me. 

Almost immediately, my Fitzgerald’s (Grand Rapids, Mich.)family stepped up. Knowing I’d be out of work for nearly three months, they first helped send letters to my clients and prepare the store for my absence. While in the hospital they visited me often. Molly, our buyer, even came to my room with swatches for the next season, which fueled my hope to return.  Jesse, Jane, and Jerry Girod, the owners of Fitzgerald’s, assured me of my solid footing in their family. Amid my diagnosis, they set aside our business relationship and tended to our real relationship. In such uncertainty and change, their faith in me had me in tears. They believed in me, and for that, I am so truly grateful. Family, friends, and a whole community of love and support showered over me. Two friends created a GoFundMe to help me with bills and life changes. My journey has served as inspiration and hope for so many. Their words and deeds have fed my soul and given me strength.

Even with all that support, something major was missing: Literally, me.

With this stupid disease, I lost 70 pounds moving from a 46 to a 40, 36 to 31, and 17.5 to 15.5. Suddenly my entire identity — how I expressed myself through my clothing — had to change. Everything in my closet had to go. From my gorgeous Stenstrom floral shirts to my Samuelsohn peach corduroy jacket, my dozen-plus Coppley Made-to-Measure bright jackets, and my shit-ton of playful sportswear was all useless to me. And, no, nothing could be altered. Believe me, I tried. It was a butchering of coats and shirts. I still looked hollow and like I was swimming in them.

As my clothes went away, it seemed like my identity was going with them. Clothing defines me. In work and play, my wardrobe is my art, a big way I truly express myself. My weight loss all but decimated a big part of me and my “brand.” There was only one thing left that would help.

I had to go shopping!

Fitzgerald’s to the rescue, again. I started my “spree” there with a wealth of choices.

Kurt Thorne, my colleague from Fitzgerald’s, was one of the first to get me started. While I was rehabbing, he came to the hospital, measured my new sizes, and prepared custom orders. He made sure everything would be ready when I got back to work. During his visit, three of my clients showed up. There was laughter and joy, and for a moment, it was just like being back in the store.

Our vendors also rallied around my return with tremendous support! Stenströms, Billy Reid, Coppley, Samuelson, Magnanni, Meyer, Teleria Zed, Johnnie-O, Hart Shaffner Marx, Faherty, Paige, William Kleinberg, and many others helped build back my new closet.

While I was off to a good start, I still yearned to fill back faster. That’s when I rediscovered eBay and the thrill of the hunt for fun, humorous, and flashy additional pieces. It created opportunities to revisit vendors from my past at Holt Renfrew, Boyd’s Philadelphia, and other retailers. I dove in and found Paul Smith, Etro, Bally, Gucci, Far Afield, Mr. Turk, Polo Ralph Lauren, All Saints, King Baby, and so much more. My eBay acquisitions became the exclamation points for my new comeback look.

As my wardrobe filled in, I still had to decide what to do with all the old clothes. My good friend, Jeff Byas, Store Director for Billy Reid Chicago, drove up. Together, we packed everything up for resale.

He took it to Elliot’s Consignment in Chicago, which is already delivering sell-through. I so wish we had closer consignment stores in Grand Rapids, but I’m still super thankful Jeff made the drive. He remains a hero for clearing out my closet.

My first day back at Fitzgerald’s was May 1st. I delivered an astounding amount of business that continued through the rest of May. It was a joy returning to such great support from clients. I missed so much work while recovering! When chemotherapy began, my work became the best distraction from the pain, lethargy, anger, and sadness of being sick.

Back on Facebook, I closed each missive with my motto, “Life is short…dress well,” sharing more about my cancer journey there while showcasing my new looks. It is my armor for feeling better.

I still have a long way to go in my recovery. As treatment winds down, I’m building back my physical and mental health. This industry has proven a haven of hope and healing for us living with cancer. I truly love my career.

Jack Mitchell, the renowned author, and speaker, encourages all of us to hug our customers. The feeling of having your customer hug you, however, is healing on many levels. My healing is happening. It’s happening in my passion for clothing. It’s happening in my ability to serve my clients. I am grateful for my place in the Fitzgerald’s family and the joy we bring to our fantastic clients. I’m so grateful for my friend Karen Alberg Grossman, who encouraged me to share my story and the profound effect our industry has had on my life.

Life is short…dress well always!

Follow David’s journey and his new looks on Facebook/davideabbott.


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