5 years ago, I was living the life of my dreams…I was married to an amazing man, had two beautiful young boys, Ethan was 5 years old and Brady still a baby. I was a stay at home mom living in a sleepy little beach town in a big gorgeous house that I had dreams of filling with multiple more babies one day.
Then, in a blink of an eye, everything changed. On 12/12/12 I had a breast biopsy and on 12/14/12, I received a telephone call that turned my world upside down. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The first thing I thought was who is going to raise my babies, how am I going to get through this….what will our future as a family look like? I ran to my car that was parked inside the garage and sobbed. I was terrified. Scared on so many levels. The only thing I knew at that moment was that I didn’t want my boys to see me cry. I didn’t want to scare them.
As I sat in the car, trying to pull myself together, I contacted my dad. I told him about the phone call and that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He was shocked, but he kept his composure, and when I asked him, “How am I going to do this, what am I going to do?” he said, “You are going to be strong for your boys.” I explained to him that I could barely walk, strong was not something I felt I could pull off. He said, “You are going to be strong because that is the only choice that you have.”
He was right. I somehow managed to pull it together and go inside and hold my babies.
On 12/27/12 I had a bilateral mastectomy with delayed reconstruction. It would be one of MANY surgeries I would go through during the next 12 months. With nearly 70 staples across my chest, I left the hospital in a daze. So many things remained uncertain, but unwavering was the love and support I had from my husband. He was my ROCK, and time after time he would amaze me with his strength and ability to make me laugh during the most depressing moments.
I started chemotherapy in February 2013. For me, losing my hair was a HUGE deal. I have ALWAYS had long hair. Ironically, at the time my hair was super long, I had planned on cutting and donating it. Right before I started my first chemotherapy treatment I donated my long braid. I contacted a child psychologist to ask how I was supposed to explain this to my children, specifically Ethan. She recommended that I explain that I had cancer and that the medication I needed to take would make my hair fall out, so instead we would have a head shaving party and let the boys help shave my head. We invited friends, had pizza, pink cupcakes, popcorn with pink m&ms, and video taped it so we could send it to my sister, who lives in Tampa. Both my husband and I shaved our heads, and although it was scary as shit, it was also one of the most liberating things I have ever done, AND I lost my hair on MY terms, not cancer’s.
During my chemotherapy my parents would take our kids for the weekends, so I could rest and we could shield them a bit from the reality of the situation. I started to research breast cancer. I wasn’t really asking why me, because SO many women get diagnosed every single day. I was looking for what changes I could make to decrease my risk of re-occurrence. I NEEDED to be there to watch my babies grow up. My breast cancer was fueled by estrogen, and the more I researched, the more I saw the word parabens.
Parabens mimic estrogen and can flood your system. Parabens are often found in over-the-counter beauty and hygiene products. It was then that I decided I would no longer use products containing parabens and hard metals such as aluminum. I was on a mission to locate chemical free products, BUT I also wanted them to be effective. I tried TONS of natural deodorants and NOTHING worked for me. So I started to make my own.
Fast forward several months, and I decided I would start breast reconstruction process. When I say process, I mean, IT IS A PROCESS. Unlike breast augmentation, where you have one surgery to place the breast material, breast reconstruction consists of several surgeries. First, they place expanders under the breast muscle, and for several months the surgeon places a large needle into the expander and over time fills the expander until you reach your desired breast size. Then, another surgery is schedule called the “swap”. This means that the expanders will be removed and breast implants will be placed in.
I had the expanders in and was undergoing the fill process every few weeks. One evening I started to feel really awful and spiked a fever. My husband insisted that we go to the hospital, and by the time we reached the ER my pulse rate was 250 and the doctors at my local hospital took both my husband and I to Chicago by ambulance. The only things we had were the clothes on our backs, and of course my makeup bag. LOL. I remained hospitalized in Chicago for 7 days and was released on our oldest son’s 6th birthday. Three days later we went back to the hospital, and I had both expanders removed, and all chances of new boobs went down the drain. My husband, being the rock he is, told me, “You’re beautiful. I was never a boob guy anyway.”
I had to work hard to embrace my new body and to redefine beauty in my own eyes. I was asked to be part of a photo shoot where I would bare all and show my scars. Reluctantly, I said yes. It was then that I was really able to see myself as more then boobs, and thought, I CAN ROCK THIS.
Fast forward a year, and my sister, Julie was also diagnosed with breast cancer. I flew to Tampa and stayed at the hospital with her while she had her bilateral mastectomy. She opted for immediate breast reconstruction, and several days later I flew back to Michigan. Julie called and asked me if I was still making my own deodorant. I told her I was and sent her some. She fell in love with it and encouraged me to start selling it.
Soon after, I contacted an attorney and got my LLC, and Spero-hope, LLC officially started. Spero means hope in Latin. We make chemical free deodorant and body butter. Watching my company grow has been such an amazing experience. We have sold products to every single state in the country and continue to watch it flourish.
Another major aspect to my business is sharing my scars and my story. I want to help other women embrace whatever scars they are left with after trauma. If my scars and story help just one other person then it’s worth it to me.
The butterfly is the logo to my company, ironically it was also my first tattoo. At the time I was a rebellious teen and that butterfly symbolized freedom. NOW, it has taken on a whole new meaning. I saw a quote by Connie Boucher, “perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness yet become something beautiful”…….I am the butterfly.
Guest Writer — Jamie Kastelic