A 41-year-old Shelby Township woman who has beaten thyroid cancer, undergone three surgeries and laughed and cried enough in the past three years to fill a lifetime, has penned a witty book about her battle, the right shade of lipstick and finding her voice.
Anna Marie Warner, who describes herself as a wife, mom, singer, saleswoman, lipstick connoisseur and cancer survivor, can now call herself an author.
Wagner admits that she is not a professional writer, but several months after the book was released, it has served its purpose and touched others.
She said she has received letters from strangers saying her honesty and sense of humor has helped them through some of their darkest hours. Some women even have felt inspired to take a trip to the cosmetic store and buy a bold shade of lipstick that they would never have dreamed of wearing.
"This book would not just inspire people but encourage them that it could be anything, we handle so much. No matter what, you have to keep your faith and approach things with humor. Also it’s really important to find an outlet,” said Warner.
For Warner, her outlet was journaling and collecting lipstick.
Warner said she never intended to write a book, but all throughout her treatment she had kept a journal and updated her family and friends about her progress and setbacks via email.
Then one day as she was driving, Warner said a light went off and it wasn’t red. She knew then that she needed to publish the letters.
Every chapter of the book starts off with a shade of lipstick that best matched her mood. The day she found out she had cancer, Warner was wearing a nude shade.
Warner said her love for lipstick started after she graduated college and couldn’t afford fancy new clothes for her fist “real” job. Instead, she began collecting lipstick.
Visiting the cosmetic counter at area departments stores became a form of therapy for Warner. She said the women who worked there were paid to give you compliments and sell you makeup that would make you feel better. In fact, Warner laughs, that it was the cheapest form of therapy she could find.
That therapy was about to come in handy.
Warner Is Dealt a Crushing Blow
For anyone, the words “it’s cancer” coming from a doctor’s mouth are devastating, but for Warner, a professional singer who has performed in plays, at minor-league games, Detroit Lions games and in church, being diagnosed with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer that could leave her voiceless was twice as hard to swallow.
In the book, Warner says the days following her first surgery were some of the darkest.
After she came to from the first surgery, doctors broke the news that they had to cut the right laryngeal nerve, and although she could rehabilitate her speaking voice, she would never sing again.
Doctors also said the cancer was more aggressive than they originally thought and it may have already spread to her lungs and beyond.
Thankfully, the cancer hadn’t spread, but she was left voiceless for about six months and underwent radiation for a year.
Warner said she learned how to communicate again with her family. Her three children could understand when she was mad, sad or happy by her stomps and finger snaps.
Warner said the small things we take for granted suddenly seemed so difficult.
She dreaded going through the drive-through for fast food or a cup of coffee during those six months.
“Nobody thinks about going through a drive-through,” says Warner, who at first told strangers she had laryngitis, but than came to terms and began telling strangers she had cancer.
After the first round of radiation and more than a year later, Warner still had difficulty breathing, but her voice was returning.
However, during an 18-month ultrasound, doctors discovered the cancer had returned.
In a letter to friends, Warner, who started wearing darker shades of lipstick, said, “ I am at peace with whatever may happen.”
The second surgery went on without a hitch. Doctors said they were able to remove the tumor and Warner woke up to find she had a voice.
Her voice was a little weak, but nonetheless, she was just happy to have a voice.
Warner returned to work, started buying bright lipsticks again and encouraged her friends and family members to not take their voices for granted.
“Please use your voice, use your voice to speak up for what you believe in. Use your voice to speak for others who can’t speak for themselves. Use it to tell others how much you care about and love them,” she says in the book.
Two months later, Warner was wearing red lipstick, singing again and had signed up for a half marathon.
Around Christmas 2010, during Warner’s three-month ultrasound, doctors found the cancer was never properly removed and had grown.
Warner says she wanted to wear black lipstick this time around, but to her dismay, her husband actually went to the cosmetic counter and bought a multi-pack of lipstick.
Surgery was scheduled for March 2010.
This time, the stakes were higher since the cancer ran right through her nerve and was resting on top of her trachea.
Doctors warned Warner that the surgery could take a turn and she may have a tracheotomy in her throat when she woke up from surgery.
“I had prepared myself for a tracheotomy, and that I won’t be able to talk, sing or swim,” Warner said.
Nutty was the name of the lipstick Warner purchased from the drugstore, which she said described her mood swings quite well.
Warner woke up from the surgery to find her voice, her breath and her family.
One year later, Warner remains cancer free and more than 50 tubes of lip gloss richer.
On April 21, Warner will be celebrating the voice that was almost taken from her at the
Cancer survivors and vocalists will be sharing their stories at the Baldwin Theatre in Royal Oak.