Tera Hamby is glowing, her skin, her eyes. She's shy and doesn't like talking about herself; she's more comfortable being a behind-the-scenes type of person. But she's so happy now and once she gets going, talking about her love, the words come out more easily.
Hamby has been through terrible sadness in her life and has every excuse to be bitter and dark, but she's not.
"I'm lucky," she said sincerely. "I really am."
Seven days after graduating from high school in Pennsylvania, her mom and stepfather, a minister, were driving to visit an uncle when their tire blew out and their car went over a ravine, killing them both. Hamby's biological father has never been in her life, so she went to live with an aunt and uncle.
Soon afterward, she met James Hamby, the long-haired, kind man she later would marry. His parents became her surrogate parents. Hamby believes things happen for a reason and that karma is real — if you are a good person, good things happen and that if you have been blessed, you have to pay it forward. Her husband and his family came into her life when she needed them most. They are her anchor and she loves them.
Hamby began a career managing apartment complexes. Her husband has his own marketing business that he does from home. They moved to Georgia, where her husband is from, and then moved to Florida when she was transferred to the area for her job. She and James, whose dad was in the military and also moved a lot growing up, built a house in Zephyrhills and relished being rooted in one spot, of decorating and making a home.
Then, in 2005 when Hamby was 31, she was diagnosed with cancer in her uterus. She had dealt with severe pain since she was a teenager, but doctors always shrugged it off, saying some women just hurt more during their menstrual cycles. But Hamby always felt like something was wrong — she would literally be balled up on the floor in screaming pain, and her immune system was practically nonexistent. She was constantly sick. At the urging of a friend, Hamby sought out a specialist. She was actually relieved to get a diagnosis, because she had started to think she was crazy or a hypochondriac, since doctors wouldn't listen to her. Now she urges all people to listen to their bodies.
"If you don't feel right, find a doctor who will listen to you," she says.
She had a hysterectomy shortly after her diagnosis. It was a difficult time, even though she and her husband weren't sure if they wanted to have children or not. The finality of it was hard, as well as the side effects of menopause and medication. Hamby, who is 5 feet 5 inches, ballooned up to 235 pounds. But a year later, Hamby began to feel better, which is an amazing feeling after being so used to feeling sick and tired. She got an elliptical machine and watched her diet and lost more than 100 pounds.
She also quit her job managing apartments and decided to go after a job she always dreamed of doing, but was scared to take the leap — creating gift baskets for pets. Hamby loves animals so much — it's the core of who she is and who she always has been.
"They love you unconditionally," she says.
Hamby's company is called Pampered Paw Gifts. The Web site is http://pamperedpawgifts.com. She sends gift baskets all over the country for dogs and cats. She's sought out the best treats from mom-and-pop bakeries, made from natural ingredients that also are fine for humans to eat, and gets them shipped to her. "They're good," she says, smiling, about the treats. There are birthday cakes and biscuits and lovely, luscious truffles.
She donates baskets for free to animal organizations and donates a percentage of her sales to those same groups. Gifts begin at $10 and go as high as a customer wants.
She makes them all by hand and likes to know as much as she can about the pet, to be assured it's a hit.
She and her husband have five "kids," — three chihuahuas and two ragdoll cats. They are the taste testers for all the treats that go into the gift baskets. Photos of them sampling treats are on Hamby's Web site.
"I'm healthy. I'm happy," Hamby says, sitting on her couch with her pups and kitties roaming around. Her voice is bubbling. She dreams of making the business bigger — the more sales she does, the more she can donate to help save pets.
She feels like she's fulfilling her purpose and her dream. And the best thing she gets in return are photos from her "extended kids," the pets who receive the baskets.
"That's the best gift," she says.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.