The moment Wil Carson met Holly, his wife of almost 10 years, he says he knew he had found a girl who was smart, ambitious, resilient and resourceful – “a force of nature.” If he had ever doubted this, two years ago she proved him right.
It was in 2013 that Wil’s doctor told him he had stage IIIB colorectal cancer, and the girl he met while in graduate school at UCLA became his anchor. “Words are not designed to express how you feel at the moment you hear ‘cancer,’” says Wil, father of two. “It was the most scary and challenging time of our lives.”
Wil and Holly’s second child, Kepler, was just three weeks old when the cancer diagnosis came. Their daughter Kiki was 2, and Wil was 36.
“Thank God for my wife,” says Wil, an award-winning architect. “From that first night, she was not only caring for me and the kids, but she started researching and was on the phone with a good friend who is a radiation oncologist. She somehow managed balancing everything.”
Wil, who is now cancer-free, went through a year of treatment involving three surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Holly, who returned to her job as director of special projects at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, was juggling work, parenting and Wil’s medical appointments. She continued to make her own baby food, jog Runyon Canyon with two kids in a stroller, bolster Wil’s spirits and marshal friends and family to help. And to ensure Wil’s doctors and nurses knew how grateful they were, Holly sent a batch of homemade treats with Wil to almost all appointments.
“So many nights after the kids went to bed, Holly and I would sit in bed and just talk,” says Wil. “When you’re a parent and you’re dealing with issues of mortality, you feel very alone. With Holly, I knew we could be very honest with each other and I knew that we could all depend on her.”
Holly says she looks back at that year and realizes it was the hardest of their lives, but at the time, she simply focused on what needed to be done. “I was scared, but I didn’t want to get stuck in that place,” she says. “I joined a lot of forums and learned as much as I could, and that helped a lot. Talking to others going through treatment was very comforting.”
This experience has reinforced many of Wil and Holly’s core beliefs. They now plan more for their family’s future, and worry less about the little things. Most of all, they savor their time together to the fullest. “We love to have a picnic at the park and just run around with the kids,” says Holly.
Holly’s courage and constant encouragement prompted Wil to nominate her as an L.A. Parent “Amazing Mom.” “Ask my wife, Holly, how she is and she’ll likely say ‘tired,’ as many moms juggling a career and two children would,” he wrote in the nomination form. “Holly’s had an extra challenge these past two years: me. I hope you’ll recognize Holly as your Amazing Mom. It would help me say thanks to someone who quite literally saved my life, has raised two fantastic kids in the meanwhile, and shouldered so much.”
We agree, and in April we treated Holly to a day of shopping and pampering at our favorite shopping center, Plaza El Segundo. Her Amazing Mom Makeover included $250 gift certificates to H&M and Ya Ya’s Boutique, hair styling at Vicara Aveda Salon and make-up and a mani-pedi at the Nail Garden.
Clothes: Los Angeles-based lifestyle designer Deanna Zaccari was on hand to help Holly put together stylish outfits for an elegant evening out, a romantic date night and a fun day with her family.
“It was a pleasure to work with Holly,” says Zaccari, who works with celebrities and other high-profile clients for red-carpet events and movies, but also specializes in one-on-one consulting with local moms. “Many of my mom clients are worried about looking age-appropriate. As a mom and a stylist, I don’t think our age and how we dress is defined by numbers. You can be fashion-forward and age-appropriate at the same time.”
Communication is key to working with a personal shopper or stylist, says Zaccari. The goal is to have a wardrobe that fits your lifestyle. “Holly is a working mom with two small children, so having a wardrobe that is transitional and easy is key,” she says.
For L.A. Parent’s cover look, Zaccari paired a short bubble-style skirt with a print top, going against Holly’s penchant for solid colors. “Subtle prints can add life to your wardrobe,” says Zaccari.
Zaccari also found a modern black dress with an attached waist tie detail that complements Holly’s slim figure, and a pair of fitted jeans that Holly would not typically wear but looked fabulous in. “Outfits that are more fitted give Holly a youthful look without making her look like she is trying to dress too young,” says Zaccari.
Hair: At Vicara Aveda Salon, Paige Kyriakos transformed Holly’s long, straight hair by cutting layers that added volume and interest, but were still long enough to pull into a ponytail if the busy mom was in a hurry. “My hair style is pretty predicable,” says Holly. “I wear it long because it’s easy to manage, but I like this new length. Paige also taught me how to use the curling iron to create some tousle and movement.”
For moms on the go, Kyriakos recommends getting a trim every eight weeks and touching up gray roots every four to six weeks to keep hair looking healthy and fresh. “I see so many moms come in looking tired, and just by touching up their roots and giving them a nice trim, they leave feeling refreshed and transformed,” she says.
Another must-have for busy moms is dry shampoo, because washing and blow-drying your hair every day is time-consuming and drying for your tresses. Kyriakos recommends giving yourself a great blowout, then managing that fab style over a few days by using dry shampoo. “I can’t stress this enough,” she says. “It’s the best. It saves time and it saves your hair from becoming dry and damaged.”
Nails and make-up: At the Nail Garden, our Amazing Mom was treated to a mani-pedi and make-up just in time to head to our cover photo shoot. Co-owner Sam Maximous says the salon works with a lot of moms, and she knows first-hand that self-care is not always a priority for those with young children.
Maximous says the best way to keep nails healthy is with a good moisturizer. “Massage your hands and nails with lotion several times a day, and especially before going to bed,” she says.
To smooth dry, tired feet, use a lava stone in the shower and moisturize every night. Maximous also suggests eating lots of green, leafy vegetables and a variety of colorful fruits, and drinking lots of water, because a diet rich in vitamins and minerals results in healthier nails, skin and hair.
Imelda Rosales, make-up artist and skin therapist at the Nail Garden, says the best “out the door” look for busy moms is a good concealer to camouflage blemishes, under-eye circles and any skin redness. Finish with mascara and a neutral-color lip gloss. “Don’t forget sunscreen and a good moisturizer,” she says. “The sun is your skin’s worse enemy.”
For Holly’s make-over, Rosales created a polished daytime look, with earth-tone eye shadows and a charcoal color eyeliner. She added blush with a touch of shimmer to give Holly a natural glow, and finished with a light lip gloss. “If you’re creating smoky eyes, then don’t put on a dark, heavy lipstick,” says Rosales. “Keep the focus either on the eyes or the lips.”
Sitting in the salon chair, soaking her feet, Carson couldn’t remember the last time she had a pedicure. “It was probably while I was pregnant with my son over two years ago,” she says.
A day away from work and mommy duty was a nice treat for our Amazing Mom. “Shopping and pampering is always fun,” says Holly. “But finding the time these days is not easy.”
Elena Epstein is Director of Content at L.A. Parent.