Editor’s note: Meet Kara – a quarterlette with a truly inspiring story. At age 26, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five years later, she is healthy, happy, and running her own nonprofit, Fighting Pretty, that helps other women battling cancer to maintain hope and stay positive through their treatment.
Quarterlette: Tell us about yourself – education, career background before starting Fighting Pretty?
Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do as a profession. After going to school at York College of Pennsylvania where I majored in Marketing, I knew I wanted to be a “business woman.” Growing up in a small town, I was nervous to work in Manhattan – but that excited me. So I decided to apply for a job in advertising working on the “Got Milk?” campaign. After working there for roughly two years, I moved on to another ad agency and really spread my wings working on brands from Procter & Gamble’s Pepto-Bismol, to L’Oreal’s Garnier Nutritioniste, to Hilton Hotels and more. It was at this ad agency, Publicis Worldwide, where I grew up.
Most people at 26 are dating, having fun with their friends and trying to figure out their career. For me, I started dating the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with, and was diagnosed with Stage 3b Breast Cancer.
Publicis was incredibly supportive. During the time of my diagnosis, I was up for a promotion and once I came back to work after going through several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Publicis awarded me my promotion. I truly became the “business woman” I had set out to be.
In 2010, I set out to Bloomberg LP working in their newly formulated Marketing Department as a Global Program Manager managing integrated marketing communications for their media arm. At Bloomberg, I was surrounded by a philanthropic community. We were constantly encouraged to work on outside projects and get involved. Not realizing at the time, that this was the best decision of my career. It was setting me up to truly explore my passion: helping other people.
Qlette: Fighting Pretty is all the more special because not only does the organization have a wonderful mission, but it grew out of your own personal experience. Tell us about how the idea for Fighting Pretty came about.
While going through something that traumatic at such a young age, I saw so many people come out of the woodwork to show their support. The strength that I received from these people is what kept me fighting all the way through.
One of the gifts that meant so much to me was a pair of mini pink boxing gloves. They came from my best friend’s mom, who was also a breast cancer survivor. She wrote this long note that said “Never stop fighting!” So I hung them on my bedpost, and would look at them every day – even after my hair started to grown back – to remind myself that I needed to fight through the treatment, the pain, the pity, the insecurities and ultimately, everything that cancer hit me with.
About one year after my treatment finished, a family friend, Jen, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I wanted to send her something. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “You know, I’m doing fine. My fight is over, her fight is beginning. She needs my mini pink boxing gloves.”
So I sent a care package with my mini-pink boxing gloves, along with other items. She loved them. She fought her fight, and now those gloves have been passed along to 4 other woman – battling all different types of cancers.
I also knew that during my cancer journey, I tried my best to “feel good.” I would wear lipstick, would wear heels to my doctor’s appointments and get dressed up to go to chemo. Cancer takes away your woman parts…and I wasn’t going to let cancer take away feeling like a woman. And this was an important part of going through this process.
Women at the hospital would stop me all the time, asking why I looked so good. It was only because I tried. I wore bright head scarves, bright lipstick and heels! I needed to feel like me – even if I didn’t look like me.
Looking back on my journey, these were two things that kept me going: strength and beauty. I knew that Colleen’s mom passed on her strength to me, and that I passed on my strength to Jen, and she passed on her strength to the other women. This idea of sharing your strength, was something that really mattered. And something that really worked. I needed to share this. The idea of working to feel beautiful, and even sexy, keeps you feeling good – like yourself!
Qlette: So how does the organization work, what’s your mission, and how long have you been operating?
The mission of Fighting Pretty is to help women feel strong and beautiful during and after cancer treatment. Our main operation is sending care packages, known as “Pretty Packages” to women battling cancer. In the package, we include:
- mini pink boxing gloves
- brightly colored scarves
- makeup such as lipstick, blush, eyeshadow
- brightly colored nail polish
- a journal for inspiration
- magnets with uplifting sayings (like Never Never Never Give Up)
- pink panties
- seasonal items such as socks, hats, sunglasses
Fighting Pretty was created at the end of 2012, when a high school friend of mine was diagnosed with lymphoma, and that really hit me hard. I was so sad for her knowing that she was about to start her own cancer journey. I reached out to her, and formalized the idea of Fighting Pretty.
I sat with a coworker to come up with the name, started a Facebook page, and started posting inspirational posts and asking if there was anyone out there going through cancer that deserved a Pretty Package. Through my own network of friends and family, Fighting Pretty gained traction. We sent out three Pretty Packages in January 2013, and 70 Pretty Packages in December 2013.
Qlette: Sometimes the hardest part of running a business or organization is just taking the first step. How did you get started?
I started by working with a branding consultant at my current company as a favor. I told him about the company and he immediately helped me think through the brand attributes and what the mission of the company would be. As soon as you start having conversations about it, you kind of owe it to yourself to make it happen. I didn’t want to be a liar!
So we got to a name that I loved – Fighting Pretty. It meant exactly everything we were looking for. It’s not only that cancer is “fighting your pretty” but that you ARE Fighting Pretty. I love it.
Once that was set, I started a Facebook page, developed a logo and announced it to the world in that way. We quickly got followers from my network of people. Then a friend reached out stating she had contacts with a pro-bono law firm. I took a leap of faith, got connected with them, and now we are 501(c)(3) incorporated, have a website and over 1600 followers, and have sent over 400 Pretty Packages to women all over the world including Canada and New Zealand.
Qlette: What has been the most exciting moment with Fighting Pretty?
The most exciting moment for me has been to see the reactions we get from the women who receive our Pretty Packages. I have had the honor of meeting a few women, and have hugged them, cried with them and laughed with them. I go to the post office and receive the most unbelievable “Thank You’s” and cry every time I’m there.
The posts on Facebook of the women bringing their gloves to treatment, wearing their scarves or even just showing how they got dressed up makes all of the hard work of starting Fighting Pretty beyond worth it. We are truly helping people get through their cancer journey feeling strong and beautiful!
Qlette: Now that you’ve beaten cancer and really moved on with your life, is continuing to hear about the struggles of others fighting the disease as part of running Fighting Pretty ever difficult? Do you ever wish you could simply leave that part of your life in the past?
Of course, hearing the struggles of women going through treatment can bring back memories. While I went through the disease, I kept asking myself “Why me?” Now I know it’s because I learned a lot during my experience and I’m meant to help people get through their own cancer journey. So though I am heartbroken for each woman diagnosed with cancer, I know that I can help them because I’ve been there, and I truly understand.
Having cancer changed me. I grew up at age 26, and was faced with really hard decisions. And going through something like this never really goes away. Under my clothes, I have a constant reminder of what I went through. So even if I tried, I could never leave it truly in the past. It’s made me what I am today, and I am actually really grateful to have gone through it. I found the greatest love during my cancer journey and finally became the woman I was always supposed to be.
Qlette: What’s next for Fighting Pretty?
This is just the beginning.
Right now, Fighting Pretty is still in its early stages. Though we have sent out over 400 Pretty Packages in one year, that is a very small sliver of what we can do. With the help and support of individuals and companies for donated goods, monetary donations and funding, we hope to send Pretty Packages to all of the millions of women who are diagnosed with cancer every year. But of course that takes time!
In the meantime, anyone interested in donating can visit our website at www.fightingpretty.org or visit our Facebook Page / Donations Tab.
To have a Pretty Package sent to a woman battling cancer, they can fill out the request form on our website too!