It’s the worst fear for someone in remission from cancer—a recurring diagnosis. In August 2017, the day after her 48th birthday, GiGi Sturgis was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia for the second time. It had been 16 years since GiGi first entered remission from AML. “It hit me really hard,” GiGi says. She has little memory of the first time she was diagnosed, but “this time, in 2017, it hit me really hard.”
While visiting her son at college in Minnesota, GiGi felt familiar symptoms of weakness and fatigue. “When I started feeling sick, I knew exactly what it was,” she says. “I started getting really scared, thinking I probably won’t make it this time.” She was rushed to the hospital immediately—she would stay there for the next five months, too unwell to travel, waiting for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. But this was far from an ideal environment to heal. Gigi was away from her entire life in Atlanta—her job, her home, and her family.
A natural “mother hen,” to say GiGi was worried would be an understatement. “That’s the emotion I remember most: fear,” she says. GiGi argued with doctors about the transplant. She couldn’t imagine having surgery away from home, but they insisted that getting the transplant was her only hope for survival past one year.
Eventually, however, she was well enough to travel, and she consented to putting her name on the transplant list. Even so, her struggles were far from over. “I was still doing chemotherapy every 28 days just to sustain me,” GiGi says. “I was still losing my hair, I was still trying to work, but eventually, I lost my job, my car. I lost a lot of material things because I couldn’t work.” GiGi had to leave her job as a medical technician. She also had to give up hosting her weekly radio show and podcast, “The Journey.”
About a year before GiGi’s second diagnosis, she met Raquel Smith at an event GiGi was attending for her radio show. The two instantly connected, and GiGi would come to find out that Raquel was Beyonce’s personal stylist. “We just connected, and I felt like I was talking to a friend,” GiGi says. Once GiGi got sick, Raquel would regularly check in with GiGi to see how she was feeling. And when GiGi started losing her hair due to chemotherapy, she knew just who to text for advice on wigs. Raquel was receptive, but GiGi would soon realize she had bigger things in mind.
Raquel pulled out all the stops. In January 2018, she assembled a team to surprise GiGi at the Four Seasons Atlanta, calling in a hair stylist and a make-up artist, plus racks of clothing to complete GiGi’s makeover. “They just pulled out the red carpet for me,” GiGi says with a laugh. “I thought, wait a minute, I’ve got a reason to live. I’ve got a purpose.”
One month later, she would receive a bone marrow transplant. One of her four children was a perfect match. Together, the makeover and the transplant signaled the start of better times. The care and attention that Raquel bestowed upon GiGi was pivotal in helping GiGi recognize her right to a happy, healthy life. “[I realized], maybe life is worth living, maybe I am somebody,” GiGi says. “That’s what changed my whole life around.”
This past Mother’s Day, GiGi celebrated her 100th day post-transplant. “Right now, I’m out of the woods,” GiGi shares. She’s staying busy with creative pursuits—writing a book and working on her clothing line, the proceeds of which she hopes eventually to be able to give back to the cancer community. And she also hopes to be able to give someone else the celebrity experience that changed her life for the better.
GiGi has a doctor’s appointment next week to make sure she’s cancer-free, and she’s expecting good news. “I know that I have a long way to go still, but I know I’m not where I was,” GiGi says.