Sarah Kelly was 36, newly married and expecting her second child when she felt a lump in her breast. She wondered if it might be a blocked milk duct—two months early.
“Thank God I was going to the doctor’s so often at that point,” Kelly says. “It was a large mass that was on the side of my breast.”
While waiting for biopsy results, Kelly gathered with her entire family, and they were there with her when she got the call with her diagnosis: stage 3 triple negative breast cancer.
“I’ll always remember that day,” says youngest sister Leah Robert, who administers chemotherapy for New England Cancer Specialists in Scarborough. “For some reason, as an oncology nurse, I didn’t think my family would be touched by cancer. I see people walk through those doors all the time who lose their lives to cancer—so it just hit hard for me.”
And the timing of Kelly’s diagnosis—at 32 weeks pregnant—was shocking.
Kelly started with two rounds of chemotherapy that can be administered during pregnancy. Then, at 38 weeks, she delivered a healthy baby girl, Anna. Within days, Kelly was on chemo again and in the days in between, she needed blood transfusions. After chemo, radiation and a lumpectomy followed.
“There was a lot going on,” Kelly says. “My husband and I needed some time to disconnect from something truly traumatic in our lives and to just relax.”
Kelly’s three siblings—Kristen, Leah and Ted—helped with babysitting and planning date nights.
“I remember seeing my sister for the first time without hair,” Robert says. “As redheads, our red hair is what identifies us. She had just shaved her head. She walked in, and she looked beautiful. She had these big sunglasses on, this bright red lipstick, and she had this look in her eyes, this kick-ass look, like ‘I’m going to do this and there’s no turning back now.’”
It was a long eight months, but by the time baby Anna reached her half-birthday, Kelly was cancer free.
Through it all, it was only natural to ask the big question: Why?
Kelly’s cancer wasn’t genetic, and it wasn’t caused by her pregnancy. “There’s nothing I can point to and say, ‘That’s what happened,’” she says. “But, when you get cancer, you really take a hard look at everything you put on your body.”
Halfway through those months of cancer treatments, Kelly suggested to Robert that they start a business together.
“Sarah has always wanted to start a business, since she was about 5,” Robert laughs. “We talked about it, and we wanted to work with people, and we wanted to give back.”
Beyond that, they weren’t quite sure what direction to take—until Robert attended a wellness conference with a focus on natural beauty products and cosmetics. Kelly, who has an MBA from Simmons College with a focus on sustainability in business, had started her marketing career at Tom’s of Maine. And cancer had only deepened her interest in natural products.
“There’s already such a focus on organic and clean eating, but our skin is our biggest organ,” Kelly says. “Everything you put on your body goes into your bloodstream and is filtered through your liver.”
That “everything you put on your body” includes makeup.
“I’ve never been a big makeup person, but as a redhead, mascara is extremely important to me,” Kelly says. “When I got sick and lost my eyebrows and eyelashes, that’s when I found that great lipstick changed the way I felt going through treatment. It was colorful and something that could transform me as I walked out the door. I could put on my scarf and my pretty lipstick, and I was armored for the day.”
Having survived cancer, Kelly set out to create a clean, beautiful lipstick.
While Robert’s colleagues pursued master’s degrees in medicine, she raised some eyebrows last summer by starting a beauty boutique in Kennebunk with Kelly, while continuing with full-time nursing.
Then, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $10,000, the sisters launched SaltyGirl Beauty, made with natural, organic and nourishing ingredients. A full line—including foundation, concealer, cheek tint and the all-important mascara—releases this month.
“I remember, growing up, we would go to the grocery store or to do errands, and before we would run out, mom would have to put her lipstick on,” Robert says. “I remember asking her, ‘Mom, why do you have to put your lipstick on?’ And, so simply, she put it, ‘Because it makes me feel complete, confident and beautiful.’”
That, the sisters say, is what SaltyGirl is about. Being naturally beautiful, confident and a little badass. Just like them.
A percentage of everything sold at SaltyGirl—at the boutique and online—goes to a foundation inspired by those date nights Sarah needed with her husband as a respite from cancer. Foundation4Love has given back to eight families so far—with spa days at River’s Edge Spa & Salon in Kennebunk, Red Sox tickets and even a cooking-class dinner party.
Several of the recipients have been Robert’s patients at New England Cancer Specialists—which recently became a partner with Foundation4Love.
Two recent recipients were mother and daughter Joanne Rowe of Kennebunkport, who was in treatment for lymphoma, and Amanda Lamb of Cape Elizabeth, who is in treatment for appendiceal cancer (a diagnosis she received while pregnant).
“For my mom and I, cancer treatment had pretty much taken over our lives,” Lamb says. “It tanked our energy levels, took our hair, weakened our bodies and destroyed our appetites. Instead of getting our nails done side by side like we used to do, we were instead receiving chemo side by side in the treatment room.”
For one special day, Foundation4Love changed that. Rowe and Lamb were treated to massages, manicures and pedicures at River’s Edge Spa, followed by dinner at Joshua’s in Wells with their husbands and Lamb’s 2-year-old daughter Nola.
“To get pampered,” Lamb says, “to forget about cancer for one day and to reconnect with my family was priceless.”
For more about SaltyGirl Beauty and the Foundation4Love, go to saltygirlboutique.com
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough who might just have to start wearing lipstick.