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“Stay Positive” Debbie Mason’s Journey with a Daunting Diagnosis (podcast)



Cancer is never a diagnosis you want to hear. Debbie Mason, active resident of Peachtree Corners and wife of Mayor Mike Mason has faced ups and downs in her battle with this terrifying diagnosis. In this follow-up episode to the article in Peachtree Corners Magazine, Debbie and Mike share the story of their incredible journey.

Time stamp:
[00:00:30] – Opening
[00:02:05] – Routine Testing
[00:05:21] – The Diagnosis
[00:07:51] – Treatment and Complications
[00:16:01] – Love, Support and Prayers
[00:18:07] – Changing Priorities
[00:20:57] – Mike’s Feelings
[00:24:33] – Dealing with COVID
[00:25:53] – Next Steps
[00:30:10] – Closing

“I’ve clearly felt the love… I’ve been told that I have a whole city of people praying for me. And I felt that prayer, I actually can feel it. So it humbles you. Because usually I’m on the other end of the giving, in all my years of doing all that I do. I’m usually the one doing for people.”

Debbie mason

Podcast Transcript

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life, the podcast that talks about everything that’s happening in the city of Peachtree Corners. And shares the stories that are out there of people that are working in this community, playing in this community, living here. Sometimes we also do podcasts as follow up to articles in our magazine, Peachtree Corners  magazine Tonight is one such podcast. We have a story in this latest issue about a young woman. I’ll call her a young woman because young at heart, right?   She’s with us, her and her husband. They’re going to share a story and a journey that I think is important for everyone to know because of how it came about and because of what she’s going through. It’s interesting in a time of social distancing though, in a way of life that we’ve all become accustomed to, right? Because of the pandemic, because we’re afraid of catching Coronavirus 19. But washing our hands we’re doing social distancing, we’re facing these challenges and yet among our lives among other people, there are other challenges that within the midst of that, other challenges are coming up that they have to face. Complicated in this world, but it is such that the world doesn’t stop, it just keeps going and things will happen as they do. But good story here and a good message that you should all take from this. So let me introduce Debbie Mason and Mike Mason. They are with me tonight to talk essentially about the journey that started in November, 2020 or November, October. So Debbie, why don’t you bring us through a little bit about what is going on, how all this started and tell us about it?

Debbie: [00:02:05] Well, It was very, a very innocent happening. Mike and I were helping a local political candidate run for reelection. And we were working in her campaign and I simply called and asked a neighbor if we could put a sign in his yard. And he said, oh, sure. Put a sign in our yard, we love that person.  But don’t hang up, Debbie. I want to talk to you about something else. And I said, what is it? He went on to say did you know that my mother recently passed from ovarian cancer? I said, oh, I’m sorry. No, I didn’t know that. And he said on her death bed, I made a promise to her and she made me promise every woman I talk to, I would tell her to get a CA 125 test. Now that’s just a blood test. I said, I’ve never heard of that test. And it was Richard Munos a nearby neighbor. And I said tell me about it. He said it’s just a blood test. I mean, you can get it any time and costs maybe $25, $50. But you can add it in with your blood work when you’re having a physical and I was due for one. And so I went in several months later and I asked the doctor to add a CA 125 test to that. And when I got the results back, it was slightly elevated. It concerned me. I’m a little scared, but the doctor said, don’t worry about it. That test can be high for a number of reasons. But if you’re really worried, we can get a scan. And since you’re, an older woman that would probably be wise. So we took the next step and I had a scan of my abdomen. And they found what they called a thickening in my uterine wall. And he said I’m not really worried about that. It’s out of my hands now. You need to go to your  gynecologist and have him check it out. So I went to my gynecologist, had him check it out. And he said, Debbie, I don’t think that is a thickening I believe it’s a polyp.  I said, do I have anything to worry about? And he said no. We see these all the time, it’s just a polyp, we’ll do a DNC where they scrape the inside of the uterus and get rid of it.  But we’ll go ahead and take your fallopian tubes and ovaries because you’re past childbearing age and then you won’t have to worry with the CA 125 test anymore. I said that sounds good. So we scheduled it. It was scheduled very soon, right before Thanksgiving of 2020. Several days later I recovered nicely We were about to go out to dinner actually to celebrate my good health, when the phone rang and it was Dr. Morgelle. And he said, Debbie, I’m sorry to have to tell you. I have devastating news. The polyp was cancer.

Rico: [00:05:17] What did you think about at that moment?

Debbie: [00:05:21] I couldn’t breathe. It’s just, when I think about it. Nobody wants to hear that. And then he went on, it got worse. He said it’s carcinosarcoma. Well, I’d never heard of that. And he said, it’s the worst diagnosis any woman wants to hear. He told me the kind of cancer it was. And we talked shortly and then we hung up. And so needless to say, we called my sons and canceled dinner. They came over, we cried. But you know, like we always do Rico, in anything that we tackle, what’s the next step? Well we were going in, it was the week before Thanksgiving. We said, okay, now who do we know? What can we do? Our minds started turning. And Mike might want to come in here cause right.

Mike: [00:06:20] You always go with the facts. And so I immediately, after supporting Debbie and everything, got through that, I said, look. Before we get too far into this, let’s get the facts. because she was told you need to get a surgeon immediately. A gynecologist who’s also a surgeon and I recommend this person. It’ll be hard to get that guy because he’s on Thanksgiving holidays. And so we started calling people to how quickly can we get in to see him? How quickly can Debbie have the surgery? But in the meantime, you go to Google and you figure out everything you need to know about carcinosarcoma. And it’s terrible. It’s exactly what the doctor said.

Debbie: [00:07:02] Everything that you hear is gloom and doom, because this cancer is always found late stage.

Mike: [00:07:11] Late third or fourth. You don’t see symptoms until late.

Debbie: [00:07:15] Yeah.

Rico: [00:07:16] When we had that conversation some weeks ago, you and I. And I thought this would be great to share in the magazine and on the podcast I went and I looked. The same thing you did probably, Web MD and you look at all the stuff that’s out there. What type of cancer is it? And you’re right, it’s scary. And even if you’re not a religious person, I think you find that the world sometimes brings things to you, presents themselves to you in a way. Opportunities present themselves to you. You walked up to that guy’s door  and you found salvation to a degree, because you found it early.

Debbie: [00:07:50] Yeah.

Rico: [00:07:51] So once you went through that, once you got tests, the shock I’m sure, and the emotion and the supporting.  I think husbands to some degree, want to be problem solvers. We want to be able to be that supporter, but we want to solve the problem. So how did it go? Where did you take it from there then? Because it was before Thanksgiving. So how did that go?

Debbie: [00:08:11] First of all, we called our family doctor. Who had found it through a scan, the polyp.  Because the doctor we had contacted, the surgeon who we weren’t able to get in to see until after Thanksgiving said to have a chest x-ray or a scan of the chest. I said to Dr. Singal and we had occasion to talk to him can you order that? And he said, yes we’ll get that right away. Went over and got that done. But I think  we mentioned to Dr. Singal in him getting the results saying that, because this cancer would typically move to, the lungs is a popular place it likes to go. That scan did not show any evidence of metastasis as we read the results. And we asked Dr. Singal. So well, we just had the other scan, he said that should help too. And between those two things, for the first time, I felt a little bit better. Mike, is on the board of health with being the mayor of the largest city. So he’s friends with Audrey Arona who is the chairman of the board of health and she just so happens to be a gynecologist before she was on the board of health. So again, we’re grasping for information and we can’t find professionals fast enough. So we called her and ran that past her. And we told her the story. She said, what? You mean, how? You found this?

Mike: [00:09:50] She said, you weren’t having any symptoms?

Debbie: [00:09:52] This cancer is always found because a woman is bleeding and that’s usually stage three or stage four. Debbie, this neighbor of yours probably saved your life. Well we, that it is yet to be seen but she’s right. Because I was thinking let’s get my affairs in order Mike. I mean, I’m going to die. Well, we all know we’re going to die, but I wanted to think I would have it a little more time on this earth. But I thought I would have to get my affairs in order. She said, Debbie, this is survivable. And that was the second ray of hope that I got. When we finally got in to see the surgeon, he was more gloom and doom. Because he says that cancer is just a monster. It’s known for coming back. Let’s just get it out as quickly as we can. So we got it out a few days before Christmas, it took me almost a month to get it scheduled. People love to do surgeries at the end of the year for insurance purposes, I understand. So we said, whatever hospital, I don’t care where we have to go, first available. And they took out my entire uterus because he had to determine if it had passed through the wall. And that’s how we were able to stage the cancer.  And then he called me, but of course he told me the good news in the hospital. I had a little setback, but was home recovering well. And I started bleeding and it just wouldn’t stop. So they rushed me to the hospital. And I have a heart issue as well, and I was taking a blood thinner. And that was complicating the situation. So they got the bleeding to stop and everything was fine. But I remember him coming into my room. He said, Debbie, stage one. You’re lucky. Stage one. And he held up his finger like that. And I said, oh my God, I cried and cried. But he said I’m gonna still present your case to the tumor board at the hospital. And they’ll tell us what they want you to do. So he did, he presented it and they suggested since the cancer had progressed through 60% of the wall of the uterus. They don’t like to see more than 50%. 50% they’ll only recommend radiation. Since it was a little more, he said for the best outcome for this woman, let’s do chemo and radiation. And I thought if that’s what we got to do, let’s do it. So I scheduled a chemo for the next week, went in, did a full round of chemo. And went a week later for my blood work. And they looked at me, I was awfully tired but I assumed that was from the chemo. They looked at me and said, my goodness when did this start? And I said, when did what start? What do you mean? They said, well you’re terribly jaundiced Debbie. And so the doctor came in and said, oh my goodness. Let’s put her in a wheelchair and take her downstairs to the hospital. We were over at Duluth North Side. And I had gone into a rare reaction to the chemo. 1% of the population experiences this, and I was in liver shutdown. And so the doctor pulled the chair into my room and I said, this doesn’t look good if you’re going to come in and sit down. Because you know, doctors just don’t usually do that. And he said, yes, it is. You can live with cancer, but you can’t live without a liver. And they even talked to liver specialists at Emory about the possibility of a transplant. But then the guy we contacted Dr. Lord who is wonderful, came into my room and said, who said anything to you about  liver failure? You’re not in liver failure. The liver is a wonderful organ that bounces back. What I suspect will happen, I don’t know for sure, but what I suspect will happen, your liver values will rise. It’ll take a day or two for us to see. So the next day they came up slightly and the day after that, they came up even more. And so they let me go home because there’s nothing that you can do to improve your liver. It just does, it just reacts on its own. It took about a month for my liver values to get back to normal. So I survived that, I dodged that bullet

Rico: [00:14:55] They ended up stopping the chemo?

Debbie: [00:14:58] Yes. They said, no more chemo for you. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld with the soup Nazi. No more chemo for you. So the only thing I can battle this cancer with is radiation. Once I recovered enough, I started on my journey with radiation. And I had three rounds of high dose radiation. Which I can’t say I really suffered any side effects from that. A little bit of tiredness. But I was lucky. I thought I was due, I was overdue for some luck, so.

Rico: [00:15:36] That’s right. Most people have, depending on where the radiation is done, most people end up with side effects and stuff. But you obviously were able to bounce back and going through that radiation, the three rounds of radiation. When was the last round that you had?

Debbie: [00:15:52] It was probably the end of February.

Mike: [00:15:55] I was going to say, sometime in March, but same time frame.

Debbie: [00:15:59] It may have been the first week of march.

Rico: [00:16:01] Right. So Debbie, you’ve gone through a lot. Back and forth, complications, liver. I probably not knowing how it would exactly feel, I certainly know how bad luck feels sometimes I feel you know, darn, I don’t win the lottery and I’m doing this what’s going on? You know, and you’re fortunate you have a lot of people you know. So for those people that obviously, I think people know Mike Mason’s the mayor. I think most people know you’re the first lady that you’ve been you’re  a founder and on the board of the Peachtree Corners Festival. You were part of the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association, you’re still on the board now. I’ve known you guys going back. I don’t know, 20 odd years, maybe? I don’t know, It’s been a long time.

Debbie: [00:16:45] It’s been 20, 25 years.

Mike: [00:16:46] When you first moved here.

Rico: [00:16:48] That’s right I moved here in 95, met Tom Rice actually, knocking on my door, the first campaign. And I was like, do I know you? And he was like, I’m Tom Rice, I’m running for office. A former assemblyman for those that don’t know. But yeah, it’s been a long time now. And I don’t know your personal lives per se. But you know, I’ve seen your kids grow up a little bit and stuff. But you’ve had a whole city, lots of friends I think. You must have a tremendous amount of support from people that you knew.

Debbie: [00:17:15] I’ve clearly felt the love. My youngest son who doesn’t live here, came all the way down from Connecticut and he came in right before Christmas and he stayed through surgery. And he didn’t stay through the radiation, but he stayed there through most of the tough parts. And just countless people with food, with sending gift cards. And the stack of cards I got and all the people saying I’m praying for you. And I’ve been told that I have a whole city of people praying for me. And I felt that prayer, I actually can feel it. So it humbles you because usually I’m on the other end of the giving in all my years of doing all that I do. I’m usually the one doing for people.

Rico: [00:18:07] You’ve been a fundraiser, you’ve been out there for a lot of different charities working on foundations. You’ve worked on the Norcross High School Foundation of Excellence. Actually, you guys were I think entered into the hall of fame. You’ve been out there doing things. And so when something like this happens and you’re on the other end of that receiving.  And obviously the big C word that people worry about, thank God, you seem to be heading in the right direction. Do priorities change? What has been probably the biggest change in your life?

Debbie: [00:18:37] Well, you look at life differently, I’ll say that. You don’t think long-term, you think short term. Mike and I,  always say we give ourselves away. It’s something that we need to do for the community. But we might forego something that we wanted to do. I don’t do that anymore. And I, told my partner in crime for the festival just the other day. I still love the festival it’s just my baby. I birthed it. But I just don’t feel the burn to raise the money like I used to, I used to treat it like it was buried treasure. There’s a dollar out there, I gotta find it. And I just don’t feel that anymore. And I’ve dropped off of, I used to be on Gwinnett, Clean and Beautiful board. And I’m still active in my neighborhood. But I’ve just slowed down. I  take more time for me. I still make it a point that I attend every city council meeting and work session. I think probably since the city’s been in existence, I missed one meeting when I had heart surgery and I missed one meeting…

Mike: [00:19:52] Pesky cancer, right?

Debbie: [00:19:54] Yes.

Rico: [00:19:56] Right. I know you have a beautiful garden and we had a photographer go out and take pictures and I can tell you it was hard to pick out the right picture for that spread in the magazine. So there was a lot of great pictures in there. Do you find yourself spending more time there? What do you find yourself doing?

Debbie: [00:20:13] Our garden has never looked more beautiful because we got started early this year.

Mike: [00:20:18] She did a great job.

Debbie: [00:20:19] But because of COVID-19. COVID has been good to us because we’ve sidestepped the disease and it’s given us more time at home to plant. Because when I’m in that backyard, I’m in the zone. My hands are in the dirt and everything. Mike says, I paint with flowers.

Mike: [00:20:38] She does.

Debbie: [00:20:40] Yes, you’re right. I had changed my priorities there. We just love our yard. We enjoyed a staycation before it was popular to staycation. Because we’re not big travelers. We’re homebodies and we just love our home and we love our backyard.

Rico: [00:20:57] Mike, as a husband, as mayor of the city as a friend. Husbands are sometimes deep friends with their wives, right? You hope that’s the case. How did that compare? How did you feel? Tell me a little bit about how that felt man to man here.

Mike: [00:21:11] You probably know this about me and a lot of people do. I’m very objectives oriented and I just make a list and work the list.  I was an accountant, a chief financial officer for years and years. I try to get the irrefutable facts. And so that’s what I started doing.  Jokingly I like to say, I wish the had the luxury of having feelings. But it’s helpful. If you try to avoid having feelings, you can’t. It’s your wife. Been married 48 years. It’s your best friend. But you also play the role. So one role is I’m the guy who’s got to get all the facts and make sure that when we talked to doctors, I’m there. And COVID got in the way and Debbie would zoom me in or FaceTime me in.

Debbie: [00:21:58] Yeah, he was not allowed in the room. When I saw these doctors and like I said, it’s like drinking out of a fire hose and the information is coming. And when I would leave the room. I couldn’t remember anything they told me. It was just overwhelming.

Mike: [00:22:14] And I would be able to communicate. Because I had already read everything that’s possible to read. And I’d already figured out stage one is this, and stage two, is that. But what about this? And so I was ready. And so we went through that and I would help her. I would provide structure to her. Okay, no. Here’s the parts. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m talking to the doctor and this is it. I would call doctors and schedule things for her so that she didn’t have to deal with a lot of that stuff because you don’t have a lot of bandwidth left. You know, that was the thing. It was emotionally draining to deal with it. So she was dealing with something that would drain away. And if you’re dealing with the bureaucracy of a doctor’s office or a hospital, that can kind of drain you too. So I would handle all that. And then when we would get setback news, or it would be like, oh no, what does that mean? My job is always to be the team cheerleader. No, that is not what it’s going to happen. You know, you have to focus on this, you have to wait and get this fact. All we’ve heard is this, that does not mean that. And you have to be very clear on expectations and relentlessly shamelessly cheerlead.

Rico: [00:23:32] Even when I’m sure that Debbie would be like, I don’t need the cheerleading. This is the way I’m feeling right now. I’m just going to have to go with it. Because I can imagine. I have a wife that, I’m at the doctor’s with her sometimes like that, because it’s not only listening to the stuff. She’s very good about remembering everything. She remembers everything. But you want to be there to handle perspective also, right? It doesn’t mean this because you’re only listening from a certain point of view because that’s where you are. You’re afraid of what’s going on and it’s a tunnel vision almost. And you need that extra person there with you that you trust to be able to bring you back a little bit.

Mike: [00:24:08] Yeah. To literally ask questions about now, wait a minute. Let’s be clear. What about this? What about that? Because when you’re in the moment with a doctor they give you time. But remember, they’re trying to get to the next patient as well. So you want to get all the facts clarified before.

Debbie: [00:24:25] And when they’re a cancer doctor, guess what? The next patient has cancer too. They want to have their time and they should have their time.

Rico: [00:24:33] And COVID obviously ranked in there because of the way the hospitals were working then. At least the beginning of the year. Did that even bother you? Was that a concern?

Debbie: [00:24:43] I was scared to death. Let’s see, COVID started  around February of 2020, I mean 19. And then I got the diagnosis of my cancer in October. And you had to mask up. No doctor’s office would let anybody else in the room. And the last place you ever wanted to be was in a hospital. And I was in the hospital for two surgeries. And then for two times for my liver failure and my bleeding episode. How we managed to, and still, I thank God that we had sidestepped getting COVID-19 so far. And I’m worried about this Delta variant. Oh my goodness.

Rico: [00:25:29] Right. So you guys masking up still now when you go out? If it’s too crowded?

Mike: [00:25:33] We started again.

Debbie: [00:25:34] It depends. When I go to the grocery store, if it seems especially crowded, we mask up. And in restaurants or our favorite restaurant that we go to. But for most places, this morning I was at the nail salon, we were the only two people in there, we didn’t. We just use our judgment.

Rico: [00:25:53] Yeah, no, I get it. And you’re right. I just thought of masking up a couple of days ago because of the variant and stuff. And I also found out one of my tennis partner, but he was on the altar team I’m on, has COVID. Just got it. Even though he’s fully vaccinated. So there you go. And there are more people like that it seems. I’ve been speaking to a few doctors and they’re seeing more of that. That even though you’re fully vaccinated, there’s still people catching it. So you want to be careful out there and you’ve adjusted your lifestyle a bit. You’ve set your priorities. I’m sure moving forward as things progress. God willing, everything stays better. I know you’re still concerned. You have another test coming up in a week or so.

Debbie: [00:26:31] Yeah. I mean when we got the word that the scan, the first scan that I received, there was no sign of metastasis. So it was clear. Naturally I cried in the office And they told us how it works. You won’t have another scan unless you have symptoms. So anyway, when we got the number of the CA 125 test and that number had elevated, I said, oh no, it’s probably just like Dr. Solmeri said it’s back. And then Mike in his cheerleading fashion said, no Debbie. Remember, let’s look at the facts. He reels me back in when I need it and thank God I’ve got him. I don’t know how I got so lucky. We’re gonna go next Wednesday to have that CA 125 test redone and see if it’s jumped again. So we’ll know then if it has jumped again, there will probably be something going on. But if it has stabilized because that number can go up or down, it’s not a finite number. Like most blood tests. It can bounce around. It measures inflammation. And so inflammation can be from whatever.

Rico: [00:27:48] Yeah. A variety of reasons. I’m sure.

Debbie: [00:27:50] Yeah.

Rico: [00:27:50] I think we’re at a good point here. I appreciate you sharing your time with us, with everyone, to talk about this. Obviously CA 125 is the test that every woman should take. And it’s like you said, it’s inexpensive. It can be part of your physical, your lab work.

Mike: [00:28:07] The CA obviously stands for cancer, but it measures inflammation as Debbie said. So there are a lot of false positives. Young women, particularly. If a woman starts her period, it’s going to skyrocket. But it can register all kinds of things. That’s why doctors say they don’t do it routinely with women over a certain age. But we have gone through this with other doctors.

Debbie: [00:28:28] I can remember the oncologist, the surgeon telling me, he said, I don’t want you going out and telling every woman you meet. Because he knew the story. To get a CA 125 test. It’s just gonna cost them money and it’s going to scare them to death. I said well, yeah, I was scared to death too. But what if they’re like me Dr. Solneri? And he said yes, in your case, it may have saved your life. And that’s the end of the story. Give me false positives.  I’ll take them all day long. If I peel that onion and it comes back, no cancer.

Rico: [00:29:08] I think at one point mammography was like that. They were trying to say, let’s cut it out because you don’t need it at a certain point. Every life is important. Yes. You want to be able to have that option.

Mike: [00:29:19] Exactly.

Rico: [00:29:20] If you want that option, you should be able to have it.

Debbie: [00:29:22] I would like to think that every woman, by the time she maybe is age 40 would be a good time to start. I’m quite sure there’s women somewhere that have gotten this cancer younger than that. But I think to be reasonable at 40 would be a good age. But most certainly, I was a 70 year old woman. I still had my uterus, a lot of women don’t. I went for genetic testing to see if I had a marker somewhere that a BRACA gene was why I got my cancer and they were all negative. And the genetic lady told me, the reason you got cancer debbie was just because you had a uterus.

Mike: [00:30:08] She didn’t inherit it from anybody.

Rico: [00:30:10] Wow. Okay.  I appreciate your time with us. I know we had talked before about how Debbie is from Indiana. Mike’s from Georgia, native. Just to give some people some background. Although when did you leave Indiana Debbie? Did you come straight to Georgia or did you come through by way of somewhere else?

Mike: [00:30:27] How long do you have?

Debbie: [00:30:30] That story is so long, Rico, I don’t know if you really want to know the answer.

Rico: [00:30:37] That’s for another podcast then.

Debbie: [00:30:39] Yes, another podcast

Rico: [00:30:42] It’s good to have you on and I appreciate you sharing your story. It’s a touching story. And Mike and Debbie.

Debbie: [00:30:47] I thank you for letting us have the time with you to share the story. Because if this saves one person’s life, it will be worth it.

Rico: [00:30:59] For sure.

Mike: [00:31:00] And I’ll take this opportunity.  Constantly, relentlessly, get vaccinated. Same thing. Get a CA 125. I do it all the time with people. And I mean it. Some people get mad at me. I’m sorry. Not really. But be vaccinated. And women over a certain age, really talk to your  doctor about it. But CA 125. Might save your life.

Rico: [00:31:23] Thank you guys. I appreciate that. Thank you. And thanks everyone for listening. Pick up the magazine, you’ll find it at most businesses and catch the show later.

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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down



At a City Council meeting on April 23, Diana Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.
Diana Wheeler on stage at Town Center // Photos by Tracey Rice

Diana Wheeler starts her own consulting business

When a city is established, there’s a lot to do to get it going. One of the most important decisions is hiring effective staff. Diana Wheeler was one of those qualified employees who helped turn Peachtree Corners into the community it is today. She’s also credited with being the city’s first hire.

“I worked in Alpharetta for about 20 years as a community development director, and I decided that it was time to try something new and different, something I hadn’t done before. I was going to start up my own consulting business,” said Wheeler.

She was only a few days into her new career when the city of Peachtree Corners called.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’d like you to come and help us out. We’re starting up a new city, and we don’t really have any planners. We need a community development department,” said Wheeler.

So, she went back into city government work and put off starting her business.

Years of service

“I was the only employee for a while,” she said. “There were a lot of interesting times, and there were opportunities I’ve never had before, like setting up all of their programs and systems at the beginning.”

At a City Council meeting on April 23, Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.

“A lot of things were accomplished, and after 12 years, I thought, well, you know, I still want that one last sort of professional challenge that I hadn’t ever done before, which was to go out on my own and take advantage of the connections that I’ve made over the years and work on projects that were of interest to me,” she said.

She let the city leadership know that it was time for that change and that she’d be making that change at the end of April.

“Diana’s daily presence was profoundly valued by her colleagues, who benefitted from her expertise, leadership, and perhaps most importantly, her composure in the face of the numerous challenges that the Peachtree Corners city government has encountered during her tenure,” read a statement from the city.

Don’t call it a retirement

As the community development director, Wheeler wore a lot of hats, metaphorically speaking.

“When I was community development director, I had four divisions: the building department, which issues permits and performs inspections; code enforcement, which basically enforces the city’s regulations in commercial and residential areas; planning and zoning, which does all the public hearings and all the zoning research work, and when we added the Town Center, we added special events,” she said. “It’s just a lot of different things. And the city has a very limited number of employees. So, everybody does multiple tasks.”

But she hasn’t entirely left the city. Through the end of the year, she’ll be coordinating the special events at the Town Center.

“We’ve got an incredible lineup. We have all sorts of really cool concerts …  and we’re also introducing a night market, which is like a farmer’s market,” she said.

The market will take place on the second Saturday of the month and will have about 14 different vendors selling produce, homemade products, and other items.

“We’re going to have a talent competition this year,” she said. “It’s called Peachtree Corners Has Talent, and we’re asking people to submit YouTube videos, and there are prizes for winners.”

Additionally, there’s a children’s festival and one for the canines in the new dog park.

“On December 4, we’re going to have the huge holiday glow event, which is our big holiday gala at the town center with a concert and Santa and all sorts of stuff for kids to do and a sing-along and lots of free hot chocolate and cookies and things like that,” she said.

Wheeler is unsure if she’ll continue working as a consultant with the city beyond December, but she’s excited about her next chapter. Her consulting business is focused on special projects.

A new journey as a consultant

“In communities where they have a limited staff but would like to take on a project, for example, the city of Jasper and the city of Milton have two different areas where they have projects that they would like to take on, but they don’t have the staff resources,” she said.

That’s where she’ll come in.

“They hire people sort of as a side project to work just on that project. And those are the sort of things that I would do,” she said. “I get to focus on a specific project and don’t deal with the day-to-day things.”

Wheeler said she likes that she gets to choose what she wants to work on and use her skills and experience to the fullest.

Highlights of Wheeler’s career with the city of Peachtree Corners:

  • She laid the groundwork for the establishment of Peachtree Corners’ inaugural City Hall.
  • She was instrumental in the development of the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Urban Redevelopment Plan, Livable Centers Initiative, Innovation Hub Master Plan, Winters Chapel Road Corridor Study and conceptual planning for the Multi-Use Trail network.
  • She established and nurtured the Arts Council, created the Arts & Culture Master Plan, and promoted other public art initiatives, bringing the residents enriching cultural experiences, artistic expression and a sense of community pride.
  • She played a pivotal role in the establishment and ongoing support of the Peachtree Corners Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Downtown Development Authority, Redevelopment Authority, Arts Council, and Green Committee.
  • She played a crucial role in securing the city’s Green Community Certification and its Tree City USA recognition.
  • She spearheaded the implementation of the city’s initial zoning laws and led the Code Enforcement, Building and Permitting and Planning and Zoning Departments.
  • She pioneered the city’s first Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
  • She played a key role in launching Special Service Districts, contributing significantly to their initiation and success.
  • She Diana guided Town Green and Town Center initiatives.
  • She organized and managed Peachtree Corners’ special events.

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Rooted Interiors Unveils Largest Transformation Project Yet for a Family in Need



Grandfather's bedroom before and after // photos courtesy of Rooted Interiors

Rooted Interiors, a new non-profit organization dedicated to transforming lives through design, has announced the completion of its largest transformation project to date.

With a commitment to providing complete interiors to individuals and families emerging from homelessness, Rooted Interiors continues to make a profound impact on communities, one home at a time.

The latest project marks a significant milestone for Rooted Interiors as it demonstrates the organization’s unwavering dedication to creating havens where families can plant roots and thrive.

Through meticulous planning, collaboration and the support of generous donors and volunteers, Rooted Interiors has successfully transformed a once hopeless space into a warm and welcoming home for a deserving family.

At the heart of this project is a single mother, accompanied by her two children and her father, who found themselves in dire circumstances after the mother fled from an abusive partner, forcing them to seek refuge at the Family Promise shelter in Athens, Ga.

Upon securing a new home, however, their relief was short-lived as they found themselves in a space devoid of warmth and lacking the essentials of a home.

With no furniture besides a dining room table, no washer and dryer and a malfunctioning fridge, their daily struggles persisted for three long months.

But Rooted Interiors didn’t just redesign the family’s space, they filled it with love and hope.

Through this project, the organization transformed the family’s house into a sanctuary, addressing not only their physical needs but also their emotional well-being. From carefully selected furniture to thoughtful décor choices, every detail was curated to create a space that felt like home.

“We are thrilled to unveil our latest project, which represents our continued commitment to serving those in need,” said Kristina McCalla, Founder and Executive Director of Rooted Interiors.

“Our Rooted in Renewal Program not only revitalizes physical spaces but also renews hope and stability for the family who calls this house their home,” she added.

Rooted Interiors offers a lifeline to families in need, empowering them to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence.

“This journey is not just about creating aesthetically pleasing interiors; it’s about using the language of design to uplift and restore,” said Kristina McCalla, also Lead Interior Designer at Rooted Interiors.

“Rooted in faith and love, each project is a testament to the belief that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a place that reflects their humanity and worth. By providing a thoughtfully designed and fully furnished home, we aim to empower families to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence,” she explained.

As Rooted Interiors continues its mission to fully furnish homes for those emerging from homelessness, this project serves as a testament to the organization’s impact and the generosity of its supporters.

Through ongoing partnerships and community engagement, the organization remains committed to building brighter futures for individuals and families in need. For more information about Rooted Interiors and how you can support their mission, visit rootedinteriors.org.

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BRACK: Peachtree Corners to lose Peterbrooke Chocolatier



Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson.
Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson. Photo provided.

Peachtree Corners will soon lose one of its most iconic, popular and tasty businesses.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier, run by Geoffrey Wilson and Scott Gottuso, has been told by Peachtree Forum landlords, North American Properties and Nuveen Real Estate, that its lease will not be renewed. The last day of business will be July 25.

Meanwhile, Peachtree Forum is getting several new stores. They include Kendra Scott, Sucre, and The NOW Massage. Previously announced were Alloy Personal Training, Cookie Fix, Gallery Anderson Smith, Giulia, Lovesac, Nando’s Peri-Peri and Stretchlab. Wilson adds: “We are not in their big picture.”

Wilson has operated Peterbrooke at the Peachtree Forum for 14 years and Gottuso has been there nine years. They have made the chocolatier profitable and doubled sales. Wilson says: “We turned it around through community involvement and made relationships. We worked with the schools, gave donations, did a lot in the community, and made a difference. We produce most everything we sell in the shop, so it’s labor intensive. We make European-style chocolate treats from scratch from the very best ingredients, package it, make gift baskets, and also sell a lot of gelato.”

Key items include truffles, hand-made caramels, cherry cordials, chocolate-covered cookies and pretzels and strawberries hand-dipped in their own blend of chocolates. (They are all good!) One of Wilson’s and Gottuso’s most iconic products is chocolate popcorn. Once you try it, regular popcorn is tasteless. “We sell a lot of it.” Wilson adds: “Gelato sales have carried us in the summertime, since there are not many chocolate holidays in the summer.”

Peterbrooke now has five employees, and would like to have 10, but it is difficult to hire people with the skills in chocolatiering. A key part of its business is corporate companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Capital Insight. The Peachtree Corners’ Peterbrooke has corporate customers as far away as Cleveland, Ohio.

The operators were surprised when the Forum owners did not renew its five year lease. “The big decisions were made in Charlotte or Cincinnati, not locally,” Wilson feels. “We were no longer in their big picture. They want new and glitzy, shiny, fancy and trendy.”

The operators plan to start their own chocolate company, to be called “Scoffrey,” and initially sell online, plus have pop-up locations during holidays, and possibly have a booth in other merchants’ stores on occasions.

“Whatever we do would look different. We might rent a space somewhere close by so that people can still have the good chocolate experience with us, but we won’t have a regular audience walking by.”

Another element: the price of chocolate futures has spiked this year, with a bad crop production year. Wilson says: “That is key to our business and a huge cost increase. That doesn’t help.”

Wilson adds that the forced closing of the Peterbrooke location “is something like the death of a friend. But you go to the funeral and to the wake, and in six months or a year, It won’t be so bad.”

Have a comment?  Send to: elliott@elliottbrack

Written by Elliott Brack

This material is presented with permission from Elliott Brack’s GwinnettForum, an online site published Tuesdays and Fridays. To become better informed about Gwinnett, subscribe (at no cost) at GwinnettForum

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