Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series - Advocacy
At the end of last year, we had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah Kelly and Melissa Berry to talk about their experience with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and how as a result of their cancer diagnoses they are moving forward with career, family, and advocacy today. Check out a few other topics we discussed with Sarah and Melissa including diagnosis and genetic testing.
Question: Both of you have definitely been making an impact on the breast cancer community. Please take a moment and share with us how things have changed and how your experiences have impacted what you're doing in terms of your family, career, etc. since your TNBC diagnosis?
This "Cancer Fashionista" thing really happened by accident. I'm a fashion and beauty publicist. When I was first diagnosed, and once I knew what my treatment was, I thought to myself, "How am I going to look and feel like me?" Not even a supermodel but how am I going to look like me going to meetings, fashion shows, and other meetings with beauty editors. I hit the internet and I was like, "Where's the vogue of breast cancer?" There was nothing in one place - the wigs, the lashes, makeup. I ended up making a list of the things that I liked because, to be honest with you, a lot of the products that I was finding looked like something you'd see in a catalog in your doctor's office. It wasn't something that I could really relate to. I wanted to maintain myself. I wanted to maintain my style and aesthetic.
Started with making a list of breast cancer friendly products
So I started to make a little list of brands and products I liked. SaltyGirl Beauty, AnaOn Intimates, and Violets Are Blue. There are some brands I call them cancerpreneurs, real women that end up inventing and launching brands as a result of their own breast cancer journey. I ended up making this list, and then my mom and my friends kept asking me, "Oh, I have a friend of a friend who was has diagnosed with breast cancer. Do you have that list of those great things?" And then one of my really good friends, Gina, who is also a web designer, said, "Melissa, why don't you just start a blog?" I was like "I can't even make dinner right now. I'm going through chemo. How am I going to start a blog?" But that's exactly what I did. This is how the whole "Cancer Fashionista thing started.
Becoming a breast cancer advocate
I realized that writing about my fun finds like all the cool bras and makeup, and then sharing it with women was actually making me feel better. It was part of my healing. To this day it's so weird because I never thought I'd be where I am, but anytime someone reaches out to me and is like, "Oh, where do I find a great bra?" or "What kind of deodorant should I use?" or "I want to use clean lipstick what's a great brand?" I feel so good to be able to be a resource for them. It's pretty amazing. So that's sort of the journey of how I went from breast cancer patient to advocate. I'm just really grateful to be in this place where I am right now - meeting and helping incredible women.
After my diagnosis, I did not see myself going back to corporate America and working 50 to 60 hours a week in a high-stress job doing marketing and sales like I was doing before my diagnosis. For me, too, I always wanted to have my own business. I went and got my MBA a couple of years ago, and really wanted to do something that would help me take that leap. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was cancer that gave me the kick I needed. So with that, I started looking at all the ingredients that I was putting in or on my body and tried to take control of the situation. I think at the end of the day everyone is just trying to get control of the spin that you're in when you're diagnosed with cancer. For me being able to figure out ingredients I was putting in and on my body was a way for me to gain that sense of control back that I needed. This is when Leah, my sister, and I, started SaltyGirl Beauty, which is a clean beauty company.
Education and empowerment workshop for breast cancer patients
In addition to the beauty line, we're now able to do education and empowerment workshops with women that are going through treatment. We are also helping them try to figure out this new person they're looking at when they look in the mirror. Through our "mini glowovers" we are helping to give patients a sense of themselves, again, by putting on a lipstick, or giving a little bit of color to the cheeks. Along with that, these workshops have turned into retreats and bigger programs that we're doing. We have a retreat that we do every year for women going through treatment. It's open to all stages, all ages, all types of cancer. We're really excited about that. And then we do, also, survivorship programming with big hospitals, and smaller cancer organizations as well. Education and empowerment have become a real passion of mine.
Giving back to cancer patients who are going through treatment
As part of my passion, I got my MBA in sustainability and business so really wanted to be able to create businesses that are socially conscious, and can give back. We have created a business model that supports that. When Leah and I were talking about setting up SaltyGirl Beauty, a big part of what we wanted to do was give back. We do that in the form of the retreats, and the workshops but also in a nonprofit that we started called Foundation4Love. A percentage of all purchases that are made at SaltyGirl, along with a lot of private donations and events that we do to raise money to give back to adults going through treatment. For example, we have given spa days, and we always try to give back to not only the cancer survivor but also that person that's been by them the entire time. A lot of the times we'll send sisters away for a weekend. We'll send families to an event. So it's a nice way for families to make memories with their children. We have sent people to Red Sox games, Bruins games, or other New England based activities. We've given back to more than 50 at this point. It's hugely rewarding for our business and ourselves.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer?