When I was in grad school, I was part of a very tight-knit program. I was enrolled in higher education administration and they only took in about 30 students each year. They did a great job at keeping us close together in that our program was full-time, we all took the same classes together at the same time, we went to events and conferences together, we did lots of group projects together and the 2nd year students were always very involved in mentoring the first year students. Thus, we were very close and not only schooled together but also socialized together. It was a fantastic, very memorable experience and living in New York City – new to many of us – added to that experience.
Liza was one of the 2nd year students and we became friends during her last (my first) year there. It just so happens that a year later when I was graduating, she encouraged me to apply for her position as she was moving on to another one. I did get the job and thankfully they allowed her to stay on board for a couple weeks to help me transition into my new job. We were connected once again.
Well, you know how things go: life gets busy, people go separate directions and we unfortunately lost touch. This past year she found me on Facebook and we were able to reacquaint after about 8 years.
Her story, since I last saw her, had changed quite a bit. She married her longtime sweetheart and they had 3 beautiful children. However, her firstborn was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, when she was only 2. She did lose her eye but not only survived but has thrived. Nonetheless, it was a very trying time for Liza and her family. I also learned that her family had suffered greatly from ovarian and breast cancer – affecting her sister, grandmother, cousins and aunts. Liza decided to get tested for the BRCA gene (which detects hereditary risk) and tested positive. Having seen her family suffer through cancer, she made the very difficult decision to act proactively and plan for a double mastectomy and oopherectomy (removal of breasts AND ovaries).
I learned most of this humbling story through her incredible blog Marathon B4 Mastectomy where she writes with such eloquence and raw emotion about her experience, cancer anniversaries and upcoming appointments, friends lost and friends gained, grace, gratitude and vulnerability all wrapped in one beautifully executed blog. Oh yeah, and she’s also training for a ½ marathon, which is much more than just a physical feat.
About a month ago, inspired by her story, I created this piece, Brave Girl:
I sent to her without her knowing about it/expecting it. She said it brought her to sobbing tears. I was so pleased that it touched her; I wanted her to know that it was important to acknowledge her fears and only then, continue with courage. I also wanted her to know that I admired her bravery.
Last week I emailed her telling her that I wanted to sell prints, greeting cards, bookmarks, etc. but didn’t feel right taking a straight profit from a piece that was inspired by her deeply personal story. I asked if she would be interested in collaborating whereby I would donate donate 50% of the proceeds of any Brave Girl items sold to an organization of her choice and she (who is soooo connected and has 1,000+ Facebook friends and countless contacts in work/family/cancer communities) would get the word out. She quickly jumped at the opportunity and put me in touch with the VP of the Board of Directors of FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). This organization is a non-profit that offers support, education, advocacy, awareness, and research specific to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and was of great help to Liza when making her decision about how to respond to her BRCA results.
Not only will I be donating to this organization from the people that Liza brings to my shop, but FORCE has partnered with us and is putting my Brave Girl artwork in their online art gallery, they’re listing me as a supporting partner on their site’s shop, (which will direct people back to my site), and they’ll post about my Brave Girl items on their Facebook page. This has the potential to reach thousands of people! I feel SO honored that sales in my shop will benefit such a worthy organization. And I’m also humbled at the power of connections: who knew that after all this time, Liza and I would be reconnected again through art, friendship and a deep mutual respect for one another.
So, if you know of anyone going through a difficult time in their life and who needs a bit of encouragement, or if you know someone who is affected by breast or ovarian cancer, won’t you consider gifting them a Brave Girl print, magnet or note card? Once again, 50% of the proceeds is being donated (that is sales, so if the purchase price of an item is $20 – I’m donating $10 of that to FORCE, not 50% of the profits, but 50% of the purchase price) to an organization that helps promote awareness, support and research of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
*Click here to shop for all Brave Girl items*
From the bottom of our hearts, Liza and I thank you for your support!
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