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Business owner sells upcycled products while fighting brain tumor

Photo Credit: GAZETTE PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Wendy Malcomson and her daughter Madilyn sit in front of Malcomson's newest venture, Creative Sister, which is now open in Old Town Sherwood selling upcycled and vintage items.


Wendy Malcomson’s newest venture is located in a tiny building in Old Town Sherwood, but while her business might be small, her life story would fill a giant book.

Malcomson was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer at age 22, after a misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and was told the average survival time for someone with her type of tumor — a grade 2 astrocytoma — was five to seven years, including for patients who have their tumor completely removed.

But even when these type of tumors are removed, “there are microscopic ‘fingers’ that infiltrate the surrounding (normal) brain tissue,” Malcomson said. “That is why it is considered incurable, even though my tumor has been stable for more than 13 years since my initial radiation and chemotherapy.”

Now 36, “I am very much living on borrowed time,” she said, adding that because of her brain cancer diagnosis, “I had given up on marriage and kids.”

Yet today she is married to Ron; they have a daughter, Madilyn, who is 7 years old and starting the second grade at Hopkins Elementary; and she recently opened Creative Sister selling mostly upcycled goods that she has created.

Raised in Junction City, Malcomson received a tennis scholarship to the University of Portland and majored in nursing. A couple of months into the tennis season, she severely injured her back, which resulted in spinal fusion surgery on the second day of Christmas break.

Despite extensive physical therapy, Malcomson was unable to return to her favorite sport, so started swimming competitively, a sport she first took up at 6 years old. She swam for Portland Masters Swimming for a few years and had several top-10 finishes at the national level.

Then came the diagnosis of brain cancer, which was discovered when she had “a fluke seizure” in the operating room at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center while observing surgery as a nursing student.

“I was devastated and severely depressed after I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but when I found out that it was a brain tumor, it changed my whole outlook, and I was just happy to be alive,” Malcomson said.

She started on what was supposed to be a two-year course of an oral chemotherapy called Temodar but decided to stop that treatment because her tumor was already stable and it made her too ill.

Malcomson changed her major to interdisciplinary studies, focusing on nursing, biology and health education so she could graduate on time, and in 2001, during her senior year at University of Portland, she started a nonprofit organization called Cancer World Resource Center. Unfortunately, after 9/11, the economy tanked, and funding dried up.

Malcomson was offered a job working from home full time as a lobbyist for the National Patient Advocate Foundation based in Washington, D.C. She rallied volunteers, organized regional and national conferences, and drafted legislation pertaining to the 18 states she covered.

“There were only four of us for the whole country, and it was a huge job,” said Malcomson, who was the foundation’s regional director for governmental affairs and was promoted to run the State Government Affairs program a year later. She lobbied for health care reform until she was asked to move to Washington, D.C.

Shortly after Malcomson’s diagnosis, she concluded that “if I don’t move on with my life, cancer wins.” She met Ron in January 2002 on Match.com after he was intrigued by her profile headline: “Who wants to date a cancer patient?”

At the time, Malcomson was living in Portland, and Ron was living in Marysville, Wash., and they initially dated for a few months despite the distance between them. They broke up briefly and then got back together in 2005, married and created their own paradise on rural Soper Hill outside Marysville, completely remodeling their 2,400-square-foot home and building a 50-foot-by-100-foot trout pond with a 75-foot cascading waterfall.

In 2007, their daughter Madilyn was born. “She is the light of our life,” Malcomson said. “She brings us more joy than I ever thought was possible. It has been such a blessing to still be here to watch her grow up.”

At the same time Malcomson was asked to relocate to Washington, D.C., in 2008, her mom was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Always close to her family, which includes two sisters and a brother all in the metro area, she and Ron, who worked as a firefighter/paramedic, decided to move to Portland. A week after getting the news about her mom, they packed up and left their dream house behind.

Photo Credit: GAZETTE PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Madilyn Malcomson stands in her mom Wendy's new shop, Creative Sister, which is filled to overflowing with all kinds of unusual items that Wendy has put together or repurposed for sale.


Fortunately, Wendy’s mom ended up having a slower-growing variety than the typical adenocarcinoma of the pancreas and is still alive battling the cancer. Although it was tough to leave their house behind, Malcomson said that making the decision to move and be near her mom in the Portland area for the last six years was the best decision she has ever made.

In February 2013, the Malcomsons moved to Sherwood, where her sisters Sally and Kathy have lived for nearly 20 years, into a house next door to the building that would become her future business.

The building was being used for a photography business, and Malcomson told the property manager that she was interested if it became available, thinking she would do “some sort of crafty things.”

“I had started making dresses for Maddy,” Malcomson said. “One Thanksgiving or Christmas, she was wearing a dress made of eight different T-shirts, and people were saying, ‘You should totally start a business.’ As I made more, it got easier. I donated some jewelry I made to a Tualatin High School auction, and I got great feedback.

“The building next door became available for lease earlier this year, but I sat on it for six weeks. When I told the landlord I wanted it, I was told it had been leased the day before. I was devastated.

“I prayed and prayed, and a few days later I learned the deal fell through. I had a soft opening in June. Now I have a zillion projects in progress. If only I could create things as quickly as I dream them up, I’d have a much larger shop.”

The prospect of Malcomson’s brain tumor growing again is only on her mind occasionally. “Moving forward and truly living my life has helped me forget that I have cancer most of the time,” said Malcomson, who is supposed to get a brain scan once a year. “One doctor said it might never grow, but the rest never said that was even a possibility. The percentage of progression is high, so I’m just hoping to buy time until they come up with a more effective treatment.”

Malcomson recently was asked to blog about her experience on ihadcancer.com, and said, “I never knew it was possible to live as long as I have. I want to give other people hope.”



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