It all started out with a pain in his shoulder.
Rebecca Boland's husband, Mike Ash, went to see an orthopedist. After several tests, the couple heard the worst: It was neurological.
Still, after several visits to the neurologist, they don't know what's wrong with him. "We're praying it's MS," Rebecca said. "As opposed to Lou Gehrig's or a tumor on his spine, both of which will kill him."
The health-care industry is familiar to both Rebecca and Mike. They work at Palmetto Health in Columbia. Rebecca is a research associate, and part of her job is to assist in developing projects that help people, including one that allows people under the poverty level to get health care. It's a long drive from Rock Hill, but they love their jobs.
Never miss a local story.
Rebecca met Mike two years ago when she contacted him because her business needed a contractor to facilitate an online survey for residents in orthopedic programs. They met when he came from New Orleans to Palmetto Health. "It was about time I found somebody nice," he said.
"His dog liked me, so that was a good sign," Rebecca said.
After three months of dating, Mike and his dog moved from New Orleans to Columbia to be closer to Rebecca, a Rock Hill native.
She wanted a small church wedding. "Can't we just get married during a Sunday service?" she asked her mom. So they did just that -- at Episcopal Church of Our Saviour last February.
Her parents still live in her childhood home. Mike and Rebecca were spending every weekend helping out around the house, and Rebecca's parents brought up the idea of expanding the home and moving the newlyweds in.
Mike and Rebecca loved that idea. "It just seemed right," Rebecca said. Her parents want to grow old in that house, and now, with the expansion complete and Mike and Rebecca so close, hopefully they can, too.
Sadly, Mike's dog passed away last year. Rebecca brought three cats into the relationship, and one day, while Rebecca and her mom were taking a walk, Mike met them on the street, holding a fourth kitten. It was malnourished, covered with fleas and very small. "There are two more," he said.
They gave the new cats a home, first on their screened porch and now as permanent residents. "Once you name them you know you have to keep them," Rebecca said.
Mike's symptoms first appeared just months after their wedding. Rebecca is consumed with worry and fear surrounding her husband's illness. "This is my husband and he's hurting and he's in pain. And I want him better."
Mike says about Rebecca, "When I'm tired and I'm ready to give up, she says 'No, you need to keep on fighting.'"
"When the pain gets too much, she's my willpower. She pushes me to my limit. It's the greatest thing in the world, when you're beaten down, to have someone there to keep on fighting. She puts her own feelings aside for me."
"I'm a fighter. I'll fight until the end."
One day at Piedmont Medical Center, waiting for Mike, Rebecca picked up a copy of rejuvenate magazine and read about the makeover contest. "Could I?" she thought. She went home and thought about it some more.
Between doctor's visits and the long commute to work every day, Rebecca rarely has extra time to relax. Spending money on herself was something she just didn't have the means to do. One day, a couple of weeks after she saw the magazine, she decided to go for it and enter the contest. She sat down and started writing a letter to rejuvenate, explaining how a makeover would help.
Mike poked his head into her office door. "Whatcha doin'?" he asked.
Almost embarrassed, she told him.
"Well, good!" he said. "Go for it. You deserve it."
She did deserve it. And she won.
The makeover began at Talbots in Rock Hill. But before they went, Mike handed Rebecca $1,000. It was money he had earned doing a side job, and money he wanted her to spend on herself. Talbots was giving Rebecca a $200 outfit, and Mike wanted to give her something too. "You can tell he's a caring person," Rebecca said.
"Shh," Mike said.
Charlotte Ervin and Frances English of Talbots were very excited to select outfits for Rebecca. Rebecca has an "O" shaped body, explained Charlotte, which is defined by shoulders and hips that are the same proportion. She is also very tall (6 feet) and has slender legs. Charlotte's goal was to choose clothes that elongate the torso and define the waist -- clothes that accentuate Rebecca's narrow hips and focus on her legs.
Rebecca loved all of the clothes Charlotte and Frances picked out for her, and the hard part quickly became picking her favorite outfits. Frances helped her select a black poplin shirtdress with a belted waist for her winning outfit. Frances showed Rebecca how she could accessorize the dress differently by changing belts and adding jewelry. Rebecca chose a brown beaded necklace and earrings, which matched the belt that came with the dress.
She also purchased a few other outfits to go with her new look. "I never get to do this," Rebecca said. "I feel like a princess!"
In Shape Personal Fitness & Nutrition, located in Fort Mill, donated three personal training sessions to the makeover. Michelle Orme did a comprehensive analysis of Rebecca's fitness level, which included strength tests, body fat analysis, etc. As a result, she was able to set some goals specific to Rebecca and her exercise needs.
"I'll admit, I was a little nervous before I went in," Rebecca said.
Michelle discovered that Rebecca is very strong: In fact, she was able to do more than double the amount of pushups for what's recommended for her age. She was also able to do quite a bit of crunches. "She's definitely not at a beginner's level," Michelle said.
"Exercise helps increase my energy level," Rebecca said. "It helps to relieve stress."
In Shape's biggest goal for Rebecca is to improve her cardiovascular fitness. Rebecca walks every day, but, as Michelle explained, if someone does the same exercise for a long amount of time, eventually the body will adjust and it will stop becoming a challenge. In Shape plans to help train Rebecca by recommending a variety of exercise. "Always vary the exercise by cross training," Michelle said. "It will fool the body into burning more calories."
As Rebecca creates more lean muscle tissue through weight training, she will increase her metabolism. Even when she's resting or watching TV she'll be burning more calories, Michelle said.
Every person is going to lose weight according to their genetic makeup. However, 75 percent of success in weight loss is nutrition. "You'll just never get there" without healthy eating, Michelle said. A lot of times, when people begin an exercise routine, they start eating more and it nullifies all the exercise they do. "The bottom line is: calories in versus calories out. If you take in fewer calories than you burn, then you will lose weight."
However, it can be tricky. For example, Rebecca was on a diet of 1,300 calories a day because she was trying to lose weight. "That's not enough," Michelle said. Because of Rebecca's height, she should be taking in closer to 2,000 calories. If she eats too little, that would risk slowing her metabolism and actually counteract any weight-loss attempts. Making sure the calories are healthy is also key.
It is complex, but Rebecca need not worry. In Shape provides comprehensive counseling to help people reach their goals. "We spend a lot of time with that because it's so important," Michelle said.
Rebecca was very pleased with her workout. "Michelle was really great," she said. "If my form wasn't exactly right, it was great having her there watching [and correcting] me."
"I feel a lot of encouragement. I feel really motivated. And I learned a lot about form and balance!"
Massage and facial
After a challenging workout, Rebecca was treated to a massage by Donna Henderson at Beyond Measure Salon & Spa in Fort Mill.
"I've never had a massage or facial, so I am definitely looking forward to the pampering." Rebecca said.
Donna specializes in neuromuscular rehabilitation, which includes deep tissue, sports and prenatal massage.
"I help with hip pain and lower back pain. But if you just want a stress reliever, I do that too," Donna said. "No one ever gets the same massage twice."
Donna explained massage is more than just a nice feeling. Regular massage contributes to healthy living. Massage can flush toxins from the body and boost immune systems.
Because of the flushing of toxins, there is a recovery period with massage. Donna gave Rebecca water to help and warned she could potentially feel a little flu-like that night or the next day. To rid those feelings, Donna suggests one of the following: Drinking water, exercise and sleep.
Rebecca scheduled a repeat massage for a month later. "It's truly a mind body spirit -- gives you mental clarity," Donna said. "It's very empowering to have a healthy body."
Rebecca then had a facial by Jenny Zima at Beyond Measure.
Jenny explains why a facial can be beneficial: "Your skins rids of dead skin cells about once every 30 days. It almost gives you a 'dead film' look. Once you get a facial, it helps give a cleaner, brighter look."
Jenny does a European Facial, which includes a massage on the face. Just like a traditional massage, it accelerates blood and oxygen to the pores.
Facials are good for most skin types. The only skin type that would really want to avoid certain types of facials would be people who have extreme acne or highly sensitive skin.
"They are so relaxing," Jenny said. "Most people that get them all the time say they enjoy the relaxation even more than the actual cleansing procedure."
Hair and makeup
The next day, a glowing Rebecca returned to Beyond Measure in one of her new outfits from Talbots. Gail Love treated Rebecca to a new hairstyle and makeup.
First, Gail spent several minutes talking to Rebecca about her routine: How much time she takes to get ready in the morning, what she does to her hair.
"Did you have any specific makeup you wanted me to use or did you want to use mine?" Gail asked.
"Makeup?" Rebecca replied. "I don't own makeup. I haven't worn makeup since the '80s!"
After evaluating Rebecca's needs, Gail cut a few inches from the length of Rebecca's hair, then added layers. "I wanted something she could maintain," Gail explained. "She can still pull her hair up, and it's easy to style." She softened the layers around Rebecca's face, and left long bangs.
Based on Rebecca's fair skin tone and blue eyes, Gail picked a darker reddish brown for the hair color, then added caramel colored highlights. "I wanted her hair color to be a little richer," Gail explained. "But it can't be too dark because of her skin tone, so I added the caramel highlights."
After an eyebrow wax, Gail applied natural-looking makeup emphasizing Rebecca's striking blue eyes. "When your eyes are dressed up, it just makes everything else seem dressy."
Gail leaned Rebecca's chair back to apply her makeup. When she sat Rebecca up to look in the mirror, a change occurred: Rebecca's smile was bigger, her posture was better, her eyes were brighter.
"I can't believe that's me."
To create a lasting memory of Rebecca's experience, Hamel Photography treated Rebecca to a studio session and prints. Rebecca had mentioned previously she's not very photogenic.
"Who says you're not photogenic?" Steve Hamel asked. "You're beautiful!" Steve even tested out some new camera filters on Rebecca because she makes such a good model.
The fairy tale ending
The best part about the experience: Rebecca got to go home and show her husband Mike her new look. "Well, the first thing he said is I look sexy!" she said.
Rebecca said the whole experience has been a tremendous boost to her confidence. "I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be pampered and treated like a princess."
About Rebecca, Mike said, "I put her first in everything. She puts me first in everything. We both believe we should put each other first, and if we ever do fight, that's what it's about. Once you have that in your life, everything else seems meaningless."
She loves this man. She needed this experience.
"Mike has told me several times how much he likes my new look. Best of all, he told me I look beautiful. Of course every girl knows beauty comes from the inside out, but it certainly comes out a great deal more when you feel good about yourself," she said.