80. Liz Benditt: An optimist’s perspective on surviving cancer

Liz Benditt talks to host Sue Stockdale about how she endured four different cancers over a period of eight years, and how she and her family adapted to the unexpected situations they faced together. Following this, Liz used her experience as both a marketer and a cancer patient to launch www.TheBalmBox.com – a site featuring functional self-care and gift packages for cancer patients.

Liz Benditt is a senior marketing executive with 25+ years professional experience with a wide variety of brands, products and services including Lyric Opera, Ace Hardware, Hallmark, SONIC America’s Drive In, Blue Bunny Ice Cream, Mattel Toys, Walt Disney World, and Bluetooth. In addition to her role as President and CEO of The Balm Box, Liz teachers undergraduate marketing courses at The University of Kansas School of Business. She is a public school and community service advocate, serving on leadership boards for National Charity League for Greater Kansas City and The Mainstream Coalition. Liz lives in the Kansas City metro with her husband, two teenage kids, and one terrible dog.

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Key Quotes

To get my mum to shut up, I went to her dermatologist and it turns out that I had melanoma skin cancer.

Many skin cancers are not at all scary.

I got the call on a Tuesday to tell me, and by Friday I was having surgery.

They said if the cancer has spread, you have maybe a year to live.

11 months after having been diagnosed with melanoma, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

I think it’s important to take care of your body and to pay attention to holistic methods.

You learn to just have a little more faith.

Don’t panic until you have to panic.

I had stuff happening that was a distraction from panicking over whether or not I was gonna die.

Science is not as absolute, I think as we’d all like to think it is.

You choose what to focus on. And I chose to focus on living versus dying.

Liz Benditt Transcription

[00:00:00] Sue: Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale, and welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast, the show with the social mission to help you be inspired by people who may be unlike you. I’m delighted that we’re kicking off series 11 with episode 80 already, and my guest today is Liz Benditt, a senior marketing executive with over 25 years of professional experience. And after enduring four different cancers over the course of eight years, Liz decided to use her experience as both a marketer and a cancer patient to launch her website, the Balm Box. I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation. I think Liz brings humour, positivity, and practicality to it, describing to me how she and her family adapted to the unexpected situations they faced together. Welcome to the podcast, Liz.

Liz: Thanks for having me.

Sue: Today’s conversation I think is going to be a combination of understanding a bit about your professional background and your personal experience. And as you tell your story, I’m sure our listener will understand why both of those things are relevant to our conversation. Maybe we can start with your professional experience, because I know you’ve got a background in marketing?

[00:01:27] Liz: Yeah, so let’s see. I earned my undergraduate degree at Boston University with a focus on broadcast and film. I thought that I was gonna go make movies. I went to work for Disney and in a very creative position and realized that I was much more interested in the business of entertainment at the time than actually making and writing and producing content. So my dad encouraged me to get an MBA, and he was as usual, as parents are want to be, and I went to his alma mater, went to University of Southern California and earned my MBA with a focus in marketing that coincided at the time of like the great big internet boom. You know, where all of a sudden all these really interesting startups and companies were exploding with totally new marketing, branding, positioning, advertising campaigns, because your market was no longer limited to the people in your geographic region, right? Your store could reach anyone anywhere. And so I got really excited and interested in the idea of internet marketing advertising, and started focusing my career in that direction and has been going in that direction ever since.

After getting my MBA at USC, I went to go work at Hallmark in Kansas City, which was a crazy, if anyone that’s in the States knows when you’re in Los Angeles and you take a job in the middle of the country, people are like, Wait, what? Why? And it was because my mom was sick, my mom had breast cancer and I wanted to be closer to her, and Hallmark was recruiting. It was sort of like the moons aligning, and [00:03:00] I never in a million years thought that I would actually stay in Kansas City. But then I met my husband and we bought a house and we got married and had some kids. And now I realize that, you know, my quality of life here in the Midwest is really, really fantastic, and I’m really grateful that we ended up relocating here. So I worked at Hallmark and a whole variety of positions. I ended up working at Bluetooth for a bit. I think I was employee number three, which was kind of cool. I had to learn how to make my own coffee, like there wasn’t an admin to do that. I traveled all over when I was working for Bluetooth, which was fantastic.

Got my very first business trip to Japan as a result of that, working with interpreters, it was such a good experience. Exhausting. Never saw my husband realized I wanted to have a family. Some point thought, I gotta see my husband to have a family. and gotta wanna see those kids. And so realized I needed a job with a little less travel and especially international travel. And so I moved to work at Barkley, which is an independently owned advertising agency here in the Midwest. And then that kind of led me down a career of different positions and different marketing leadership roles. and that eventually takes me to, I would say 2017, I was Vice President of marketing at a commercial manufacturing company, and that was my fourth cancer diagnosis, which we’ll come back to and circle around too. I had breast cancer and kind of started to have this epiphany that there’s gotta be something more like this is, this is not all that it’s gonna be. I wanna do something different. And that’s when I thought, you know, I’ve struggled so much with my health, which we’ll come back to. And there is this big market opportunity, really back to what I studied and started was internet advertising, Internet marketing. Why can’t I merge these two things together? And that was when the idea for, well why can’t I be an entrepreneur? And what would that mean to our family? Going from a two income family to a one income family is no small feat. So how would that work? And it took us about two years of planning and eventually in fall of 2020, we launched the BalmBox.com.

[00:05:07] Sue: You have skirted across quite a few major topics that we can circle back to explore

[00:05:14] Liz: for anyone the moon’s aligned, but it took a couple years, right? For all of that to happen.

[00:05:17] Sue: Yes. So as you’re speaking, Liz, I’m hearing a hectic lifestyle and travel involved with your job. Yes. And also some health challenges that you also threw into the conversation. So tell us a bit about what happened.

[00:05:32] Liz: we’ll go back to 2009. So I was VP of marketing at a commercial finance company, and my weekend time was very precious to me because that was family time. At the time, my daughter was almost three, my son was a baby, he was one, and we were at the pool and with my parents and my son, You know when those one year olds decide that they’re just tuckered out and they gotta take a nap and he had fallen asleep on my [00:06:00] chest. He’s sweating all over me and I’m just loving it. But I am in a contorted position to kind of keep him in place and not let him slide off cuz I am a little worried about the chunker falling off into the concrete. And so, and I only share that because I was in this weird position and my mom was face to face with my upper thigh and she was looking at the thigh saying there’s a mole there that I don’t like the look of. You really need to go to dermatologist and get that checked out. And I like any 30 something blew my mom. I don’t have time to go to dermatologist, whatever, like that’s, I’m not dealing with you. And she was so persistent. She kept emailing and texting and calling me about going to the dermatologist about this mole coz she did not like the look of the mole on my leg. And finally, just to get her to just shut up, I went to her stinking dermatologist and it turns out that it was melanoma skin cancer. So many, many skin cancers are not at all scary. They just get ’em nipped and tucked and whatever. But that melanoma is a very fast moving cancer and it was very crazy cuz here I am, I’m an executive, I work 60, 70 hours a week. My free time is very limited. Everything is highly scheduled. We have an incredible nanny who is the one that kind of throws all these balls in the air and keeps things happening. And now I have to stop everything and get it taken care of and it was so crazy. The doctor called and said, Look, I gotta tell you, you have melanoma.

I’m gonna make an appointment with the surgeon for you to do a pre-op appointment. I don’t care what is on your schedule, You need to go like it was this sense of urgency. That was very startling. And so I got that call on a Tuesday, and by Friday I was having surgery. and anyone that’s gone through any other surgery will know that that’s been in as fast like that. Just, just really, really warp speed. And so to have your whole life turned upside down, the space of four days was crazy. And what they said was, Look, if the cancer has spread, you have maybe a year to live. And if it hasn’t spread, No big deal. Just one more sunscreen like , like those are the choices. It’s pretty extreme. And so I believed that cancer hadn’t spread. We’ve got it soon enough and I became obsessed with sun hats and sunscreen, and my poor children like look like mummies when they go to the beach because they made them wear like long sleeve swim shirts and hats and everything. So yeah, it was supposed to just be something you kind of get over and move on with, and it was very surreal.

And 11 months later, out of the blue, Same scenario. My kids are one, two, and four. I went to go get a regular mammogram and it turned out that they saw some abnormality and as a result of abnormality, went to the doctor and she know having you go to the doctor and they’re looking at your boobies. Then her fingers start checking up into my neck, and I’m like, Well, the, the boobs a little lower, what’s going on? And it turns out that she saw lump in my neck that I hadn’t felt or or noticed, and turned out that that was thyroid cancer. So 11 months after having, been diagnosed with melanoma. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

And so I was like, Okay, so do I have my surgery in the next four days? And they’re [00:09:00]like, well, here are all these pre-op labs that we want you to do. We wanna do these tests and all this stuff. And so schedule your surgery for the next six to eight weeks. And I felt this like panic, like I have cancer in my body, we gotta get it out. Like where’s the sense of urgency? And it turns out it’s not a very fast moving cancer. And then we have time. And in that moment those the lead up to that surgery. I was very stressed. I just wanted to get the cancer out. And now in retrospect, I can look back and say that was a gift. I had my childcare set up, I had my work projects all kind of squared away. It was, you know, when you plan a vacation versus having to like an emergency, just drop everything and go. It was awesome. Things were much more organized and which was really lucky because as a result of that surgery, I fell into this teeny, teeny, teeny tiny category of patients that this happens to 2% of patients. So it’s very rare, but as a result of my thyroidectomy, I became hypoparathyroid, which means that my body does not process calcium like a normal person, and we all need calcium for muscle function. If you don’t have enough calcium running through your body, as a result, your muscles start contracting and it starts in your extremities and then works all the way into your body until it hits your heart, which is a muscle, and your heart stops and you die if it’s not caught in time, and so they didn’t know this, obviously, they let me out of the hospital. I went home, I went to hypoparathyroid shock, was it back in the ER in the hospital for two weeks while they tried to figure out a drug therapy that would get me normal and because like I said, it only happens to 2% of patients, it’s not well studied.

There’s a fair amount of trial and error in trying to figure out how to normalize calcium function. It took me another probably year or so to kind of learn myself that in addition to all the drugs that I have to take in order to regulate my calcium, I also found that changing my nutrition and diet habits made a huge difference as well. And so that was another one of those clues that look, I believe fundamentally and firmly in Western medicine. I think it’s really important, but I also think it’s important to take care of your body and to pay attention to some of those more holistic methods. And it’s not in either or. You can have both. So I changed a lot of things about my nutrition. Most importantly, I dropped gluten from my diet and I started getting a lot healthier At that point, had joined a running group and ran my first half marathon. The running was also really helpful to me in terms of helping me with my energy and regulating my metabolism. So just all these things kind of worked together and I was doing better. I kind of moved on with my life. Cancer was in the be view mirror, right?

[00:11:36] Sue: you’re sounding incredibly upbeat and positive , I’m wondering what your mom was thinking of this, having her being the one that sent you off to get that mole looked at initially.

[00:11:48] Liz: Oh gosh. I mean she owns that. I told you so in like a really big way. My mom is amazing. At the time that I was diagnosed with the melanoma, my dad had been working on this long term [00:12:00] project in China, and he was typically in China for two or three weeks at a time. Would come home for a week and then leave again while in this particular timeframe, instead of him coming home for a week, my mom was gonna go to China to visit him and get a trip to China out of it, which is gonna be really cool. And she was really looking forward to. And so when I got the call from the doctor that I was gonna have to have surgery in the next four days, the first person that I called was my mom. Don’t tell my husband that I called my mom first and I said, I can’t believe it. You’re right. It’s melanoma. And she was literally just walking onto the airplane to go to China.

And I’m like, I’m gonna have to have surgery the next four days. I can’t believe this. And so she hung with me. She turns to the stewardess and says, Get me off this plane. And she, I mean, to this day, like I get teary thinking about like this is post 9-11. It’s not like you could easily get off a plane.

I don’t know what she said or did cuz she’s incredible. Right? But she got herself off that plane and she was with us and it was amazing because we were in a mild state of panic that whole week. Like my husband thinking about, what would it be like to have to raise two babies, that is his wife. It was very scary. And the beauty of, I think that we can also, in being with a two year old and a one year old is man, those little boogers are need machines. You know, they need naps and snacks and stories and baths. And I think that like the distraction of caring for two littles in the middle of this, just waiting three days for the biopsy results to come back to find out whether or not the cancer had spread was incredibly helpful, and my mom was with us all weekend and I think she was sort of the adult in the room, you know, just it was gonna be fine. She wasn’t worried. And I think that that was, you learn from that. You learn to just kind of like have a little more faith. Not in a religious way, just more kind of like in a, the universe is gonna be okay and have a little faith and deal with each problem as it arises, as opposed to just obsessing over what’s gonna happen if it happens, if that makes sense. So I think that that set the standard really well for us. Like, Okay. She was calm. It was fine.

[00:14:08] Sue: so having moved through that first set of circumstances with your mom and your husband, support and your family there for you, and then having gone through your thyroid treatment and the unexpected consequences of that, Then we’re only halfway through the cancer story here.

[00:14:25] Liz: Those two pieces are so fundamental. One was don’t panic until you have to panic, right? That was the melanoma story. And also keep busy, right? Staying busy through that whole thing. Just childcare, work. I had four days to let go of long term projects and working out what was gonna happen and trying to kind of keep my staff in line and making sure my monthly report still got to the CEO. I just had stuff happening that was a distraction from panicking over whether or not I was gonna die and I do think there’s a lesson there, right? Like there’s some value to staying busy. I think that that was, for [00:15:00] me, mentally, very, very helpful, being involved in the minutia of life, right? And then in with the thyroid piece, then the other lesson there was having time to plan and prepare is a gift If you can do that, it’s better because then especially when the unexpected happens, and instead of being out for a week, I was out for almost a month at least I had planned for it at the time. I said, somewhere between five and 10 days. Well, it was more like 30, but because I had planned for that, there was oversight and planning and people were able to react much more competently and with more confidence because I had planned for it.

Same thing with childcare. It was all organized and planned around. My mom didn’t have to jump off a plane, you know, like all that stuff was just so much more steady, like there were casseroles in the freezer. I was organized, and I think that that organization was so unbelievably helpful as compared to the frantic nature of what happened when I had the melanoma. And so again, you learn. The other thing that I learned through my thyroid experience is that doctors are not like all knowing seers, especially when you have a really rare side effect. There is a fair amount of trial and error and working with people that are open to that test and learn, test and learn, test and learn, and working with me on, okay, well here are options A, B, or C. Here are what I think are the pros and cons of A, B, and C. What do you want to do? And being part of that negotiated conversation to me was really helpful because I knew what I was looking for. I knew the side effects to keep an eye out for. I understood that there was a choice that I had chosen, and then also taking a little bit more control, realising I’m so tired all the time. This has to be clinical fatigue. I wasn’t this tired when my kids weren’t sleeping through the night. Something is medically wrong with. And like raising my hand and saying, This isn’t right. In fact, when I raised my hand and said, This isn’t right to the endocrinologist I was working with at the time, he looked at me disparagingly and said, You know, you’re a working mom, working moms are always tired.

And in my head I flipped him off. I didn’t personally like, I’m more polite than that, but in my head I was like, Yeah, we’re done, And I went and found an endocrinologist that would work with me and I also went to a nutrition expert and said, tThis is something is wrong with me. And so she looked at my labs and she said, Let’s drop gluten and see what happens. And in six weeks I felt like I was more awake. And so again, you learn to advocate for yourself. There’s no quick fix. And the other thing I also learned about this whole process is there are choices. There are lots and lots of choices in your treatment plan. There’s not this like protocol that is pre-prescribed.  It’s not like to choose your own adventure book, right? Where they say, Okay, well if you choose to go down board number one, then here are the seven different treatments that you’re gonna get, it’s this constant working with seeing what’s gonna work, what’s not. Science is not as absolute, I think, as we’d all like to think it is. And that was a big learning.

[00:18:00] Sue: I’m hearing that the kind of practical nature of your thinking, the practicalities of having the casseroles in the freezer. Yeah. The kids are organized, the projects put to bed or delegated to others, and one of the challenges for any of us is when we’re going into the unknown, is how we manage the emotional aspect of it. And I’m imagining there can be time where you do go to the dark place. How did you manage your emotional state during these times of uncertainty?

[00:18:26] Liz: I guess I took that note from my mom. I just didn’t accept it. Right. I didn’t accept the fact that I was gonna die. No one said I was, They said there was a chance I could, so I just, it didn’t accept that reality I just focused on, Okay, well here are all the things that I can do to ensure I live, so let’s focus on that. I don’t know. I learned that right through the melanoma you choose what to focus on. And I chose to focus on living versus dying. And also, again, through melanoma, it’s an incredibly helpful to have two toddlers that are just, Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy. You’ve got your reason right there. I’m gonna live, It’s not a choice. I’m not dying. Yeah. I just, I’m choosing to live and I think that even in the most dire circumstances, choosing to focus on living is more productive.

[00:19:23] Sue: What happened next? You had two other different cancers after the second one, is that right?

[00:19:28] Liz: Yeah, so the third cancer happened in 2015, so I had a nice little five year break there. 2015 I now am besties with my dermatologist who look at every inch of your body look for little abnormality. It’s humiliating and awful, and it’s super important and you should. And she didn’t like this little nudge on my nose. And so she thought, Let’s take a look at that. And she took it off and it turned out that it was basal cell skin cancer. So the good news is basal is not melanoma. It’s not as fast moving. You have time. The downside was the section that they were gonna need to take was gonna be rather large. And so the question becomes from a plastic standpoint, how do you close the gap in this big hole in your nose?  This is when I start to apply my learning and I get a referral to a plastic surgeon that’s part of the same practice, and he says, Okay, well standard of care here is we’re going to cut and I’m gonna take my…. Take your finger to the bridge of your nose. And we’re gonna create a cut all the way from the bridge of your nose, down through your smile line, all the way down to your chin. And then we’re gonna rearrange the skin so that it covers the nose and just pull it forward. And then you’ll have a scar that goes from your nose. Down your face, down to your chin. And I was like, So I’m gonna be scarred for the rest of my life for this non-invasive cancer. Like really? Is there no other choice? He’s like, No. And I was like, Just, I’ll give you a call. And so I went and spoke with other plastic surgeons and it turns out that there was an alternative surgery and it was much more complicated. And you know, in the US we have a terrible healthcare system. I will be the first to complain about it, but so it was a much bigger deal to get the health insurance company to pay for it because it was [00:21:00] a three part surgery as opposed to a one part simple surgery.

But in this three part surgery, they go in and remove the cancer from the nose. And then they did this crazy thing where, They cut along the shadow line of the nose. So I do actually have a scar, but you can almost not see it because it’s just, it’s so well hidden. And then you know, when you like get a chicken and you’re inserting the herbs like into between the skin and the meat, that’s what they did to my face and I was awake for it. I don’t recommend that. It was so weird. It was so weird. But they stretched out the skin. And then they did this like weird gross cover thing that got stitched onto my face and then for like a week I hung out and they waited for the skin to just relax. And then you go back and they stitch it up and as a result you have a much less disfigured face. So again, like I learned right through all of that crazy with my thyroid cancer in particular, and also like with the melanoma, Hey, I have time. This isn’t fast moving. Let’s just take a breath and see what the choices are. Let’s interview doctors and see if anyone has a better alternative. If all three people say, Yeah, sorry, you gotta live with a great big scar in your face. I would live with a scar on my face, but let’s just, I can to ask and to see what the choices are. And I took my time and I found a phenomenal plastic surgeon. And then even then, then we chose a date that worked for my schedule. So I was able to, I planned my son’s birthday party and we did that, and then I had my surgery. So it didn’t have to be so disruptive, and again, I could choose when to do things based on when it was convenient for my personal life, my professional life, and I have a much better outcome as a result. So it was much less stressful.

[00:22:45] Sue: So in light of the experiences that you’ve had with these three cancers, have you made any changes to the way that you work in your [00:22:53] professional life?

Liz: Do you think that like if you go back to the first couple, I really had to delegate. I had to let go and I think that that was such a good lesson, especially for a new manager when you’re in your early thirties and and managing departments. It’s new. It was the first time I was really managed. I had that much leadership responsibility and it was really good. I had to let go. I had to delegate and things went okay. And so I learned to delegate, right? And I learned to ask for help and I learned to delegate early as a manager. And I think that that has been foundational, I think, to my overall professional life. And I think that that makes me a better leader in manager.

[00:23:30] Sue: And does that apply also, if you like, with your family and, and in your personal life? The ability to let go to come and accept support.

[00:23:35] Liz: Absolutely. My kids have had such a unique experience growing up, right, with a mom that is sometimes really sick, and I think it’s taught them to be a lot more compassionate, understanding that sometimes people are going through trauma that you can’t see, and I think that this is such an unbelievably valuable lesson when you experience it yourself. You’re so much [00:24:00] more, I think, empathetic as a result. And I, and I see that empathy in them and it makes me very proud. They also learn to be more responsible. Like sometimes mom can’t make dinner, I’m just too tired, and they will make pancakes for dinner or order a pizza, or it’s eggs and toast night. We call it in our house sometimes is forage night, Like it’s every man for himself. Figure it out. There’s food in the fridge. And we started that when they were young. I mean, I wanna say maybe when they were eight and ten, like that kind of idea that maybe they need to help pitch in because things were in a weird space right now and it’s not business as usual now.

Also, right as a mother has showed me what my kids can do. Hey, eight year olds can make scrambled eggs. It’s okay. They’re a little runny. It’s edible. It’s all fine. So things like that I think have been really helpful to us as a family and strengthen us as a. We were just on vacation a couple of weeks ago, and we were on a cruise, roughly the same location where we would have dinner every night next to this really big family. And at the end of the cruise, this one woman came over and said, I’ve just been watching your family, and I want to let you know. How wonderful it is to watch it, how like your dynamic is so wonderful and I love how easy you are and fun you are around each other. And I like to think that maybe like a little bit of the trauma that we, I’ve put them through has been part of what brings us closer. So I, I do think there, there are benefits and I do see those, You see how positive I am. It’s because I don’t think in some way, you know, cancer is awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but there are some benefits if you take them. I mean, the other is the strengthening of my marriage. There are so many choices to be had and some of the choices I’ve made in the past have been in some ways controversial and my husband has just been so supportive and my number one cheerleader and my biggest fan, and knowing like when you have that pressure cooker situation and having experienced being able to rely on your partner like that, it’s a gift. Then I know that he’s there. I think that those are all the little things. It’s not any one thing, right? It’s all these little things that you put together that kind of create that foundation for me as both a professional and in my personal life.

[00:26:07] Sue: So what happened about the breast cancer?

[00:26:08] Liz: I got diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and the learnings on that were incredible because now I have this chance, I’ve had these three experiences. So instead of being told you have breast cancer and panicking, I’m told you have breast cancer. And I say, Okay, well, What are my treatment options? What do I wanna do? Let’s take a breath and decide, let’s interview doctors. And I realize now how unique that is. Most women immediately they hear they have cancer, and their initial knee jerk reaction is, Get it out, get it out, get it out. And so they just jump into whatever the first treatment plan is that’s presented to them, which may or may not be a good choice for. Women are so panicked by the idea that they have the big C, that they go and jump into sometimes the most extreme treatment plans. And I think that’s the other element of our western medicine. There have not been [00:27:00] great strides in curing cancer in the past 25 years, but there have been wonderful strides in lengthening cancer patients long term life. Now you’re gonna have to get into the esoteric question of what is life? What is quality of life? Because there are lots and lots of medications and treatments out that will extend your life or reduce your odds of recurrence. But they’re pretty miserable and they leave a lot of lasting effects. And having a moment to choose what is the right choice for you, to me, is so important. And I don’t see enough patients take that beat and make those choices. I what I see them do is jumping full force into get it out, get it out, get it out. And so there are lots of women, especially with breast cancer, that are hacking off their boobs. And I don’t think it’s necessary. You can have a lumpectomy or a partial mastectomy. I mean, you can kind of do more to save your body. So when women here, there’s a 20% chance of recurrence and they hack off their boobs, I think I wouldn’t do that unless there was over 50% chance of recurrence.

So again, I think that there’s a misunderstanding of the nuance in medical treatments and the choices, and women don’t realize that they have choices. So there are many, many doctors, as I have learned that air towards the most conservative treatment plans, meaning like the most invasive and many that air towards the least invasive. And so you have to just interview doctors to understand which one is really going to click with your personality and your point of view and what you value in quality of life.

[00:28:28] Sue: So you’ve actually got choice here about how you move forwards

[00:28:30] Liz: Yeah. Breast cancer sucks. I mean, even having chosen phenomenal doctors, I love both my surgeon and radiation oncologist. I see them all the time. It still stinks. I mean, there’s nothing pleasant about any of this stuff. It’s painful, it’s miserable. Humiliating, having your boobs on display to everyone.Kind of get over it. Especially when I was going through radiation treatment, everyone kept saying, Oh, you’re so healthy. You know, you run 20 miles a week, you’re young, you’re gonna sail through this. So I scheduled all of my radiation appointments for 07:30 in the morning so that it wouldn’t disrupt my workday, thinking this is just gonna be an inconvenient appointment every day. And it turned out that I got really sick and I couldn’t keep up. And at the time I was receiving so many well-meaning gifts, so well-meaning receiving pink, be ribboned, everything. I have pink, be ribboned, coffee mugs, T-shirts, earrings, head scarves, just all this pink crap. And there is a segment of breast cancer patients that super love wearing Save the Tata’s t-shirts and bragging about, I’m a warrior. I am not one of them. That just was not something that I wanted. I don’t know. It did not sync with my person. And what I really needed was an ice pack that wouldn’t leak through my clothes, or I needed a lotion that would be soothing. I needed a pillow that would separate my seatbelt from my body because that was really painful. [00:30:00] Anytime I got in a car to go anywhere, that seatbelt rubbing against my torso was awful.

So like I needed all this stuff and it didn’t really exist. And what I was getting was all. For lack of a better word, pink crap. And I kept thinking, where is the website that’s selling all this stuff? Where’s radiation relief.com? Where is thoughtful breast cancer gifts.com? And it didn’t exist. Not all of the gifts were all this garbage. And so if you are on Google and you’re searching for this stuff, the number one things you’re gonna see are this boxes filled with inspirational poetry and magnets. And really what I wanted was a freaking pillow and it didn’t exist. And that was so frustrating to me. And so then that was the aha moment, like, oh. Maybe I should do that. Yeah. The marketer in me is like, Oh wait, that’s a really good idea. And so then I spent the next two years really kind of thinking about what that would be. The Business model itself iterated number of times. But back in 2020, do you remember? Two income, family. It took us some time to think about financially how we were going to live on one income and two things happened. One, I was invited to be an adjunct professor at University of Kansas Business School, which is a wonderful part-time job. I love the students, and working in the university setting is great, but it’s also part-time. So it gave me a lot more time to work on launching the business. So the first thing I did as a marketer was I created a survey that I sent out to everyone that had ever sent me an email. I just sent it to everyone and I said, Hey, and could you answer this survey and share it with everyone that you know, because I would really love your feedback. There’s no incentive other than just, Hey, could you help me out? And the survey went viral and collected the 600 responses and it was awesome. And the survey went  it had two paths. If you’d ever had cancer, you would go on one path where you talk about the different things that you would like to have received as a gift and if you ever had purchased something for someone that had cancer, what did you buy? If you went down that path. And it turns out that my experience was not unique and that when you ask cancer patients, what are the things that you would like to receive as a gift? The number one items are all functional things like lip balm, lotion, fleece blankets, essential oils, things that are really useful, the worst performing items, the ones that nobody wants that got the absolute lowest ratings kicking cancer, tote bags, kicking cancer coffee mugs, worry stones, poetry. And you ask people, What are you buying? People, flowers and food. That’s what they’re getting is a lot of flowers and food. So they want people to know they’re thinking about them. They’re spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on stuff that’s nice to receive, but doesn’t, not terribly useful. And I thought, Oh, okay. I can bridge those two things. Right? That’s the market opportunity. And that was the how the bomb box. B A L M B O X was born. It was a 10 years in process and a lot of experience.

[00:32:52] Sue: It’s amazing how something as potentially life threatening as cancer. You’re describing it as if it’s like a great learning [00:33:00] opportunity and that with your business experience, lo and behold, then you have a website and a market opportunity and with such an upbeat, positive perspective about how your experience can help other people.

[00:33:11] Liz: Well, I mean, what are the choices? I think the other thing that we haven’t talked about, but like in terms of my whole background and upbringing, one thing that’s unique about my history is my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. They met in hiding in World War II, and at the time my grandmother was married and had a son and because she looked like me very, You can’t see this on the podcast, but I look very aryan. I have red hair and, and a small nose, well smaller now that it’s been sliced up, but you know, I didn’t look, I would say stereotypically Jewish. And so they sent her to go find a place for her and her sisters and their children and families to hide. And when she came back, her whole family had been found and taken to concentration camps and she learned at the end of the war, they had all died. And so she and my grandfather met in Poland. They went through this drama. They were in hiding for five years. They eventually got married, had my mom. My mom was born in Poland. They had this crazy immigration story that brought them ultimately to the United States and think about everything my grandmother lost. She was the youngest of five sisters, all who had husbands and children. So this huge family, this doting father, this son, this husband, and she had nothing. I mean, they came to the United States as basically the clothes on their back and she was the most generous, positive person from her point of view. God gave her a second life and she was gonna own it, and she was always just so happy and joyful. And like, how do you not learn from that?

[00:34:43] Sue: Survival seems to be the thread that’s running through the family and doing it with a smile on your face and in an upbeat fashion. I’m energized by listening to what you have to say. Liz, thank you. Despite the personal situations that you found yourself in, you’ve embraced them, your family’s embraced them, and your focus now, Seems to me on how you can help others. So it’s not just on yourself, it’s about how you then pay that forward to other people.

[00:35:12] Liz: I’d like to.

[00:35:15] Sue: I know the nswer to this question before I even ask it, but if there was a listener that’s thinking about somebody that they know that has cancer and that they would like to support them, what would your advice to them be?

[00:35:26] Liz: Visit the bomb box.com. The B A L M B O X.com. But here’s what I will say is we are still new about two years in, and currently, at least as of this recording, only shipping to the domestic United States. So you can support your friends and family in the us We have not quite figured out the international piece. I would love to. It is for sure in the business plan, but we’re a couple years out on that one.

[00:35:49] Sue:  I think the whole point of our podcast is inspiration, and I think even if the listener can’t get a hold of the Balm Box products, depending on where they’re listening from, what I think you have given them, [00:36:00] perspective of how they could support their friends or family members.

[00:36:03] Liz: I think there’s multiple ways you wanna actually physically purchase a gift. It’s, you know, focusing on things that will genuinely help them versus, you know, it quote unquote inspire them. So just if you kind of have that frame of reference, like what is gonna be useful to them during this particular time period. And then the other is, I really think keeping busy is such a gift. So whether it’s through visits or getting you out of the house or let’s go for a walk, or we’re gonna Netflix and chill together, or just, it’s basically kind of keeping your mind focused on something other than your pain, your trauma, your worry. It’s that distraction is a huge gift.

[00:36:46] Sue: Fantastic to speak to you today, Liz. I’ve so enjoyed it. Again, if people want to find out more about you and the Balmbox, how might they do that on social media or the internet?

[00:36:54] Liz: Were on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

[00:36:58] Sue: We’ll certainly put links to all of those things on the show notes to accompany this. I wish you well, Liz, with the venture and with your inspiring story that you have so fantastically shared with our audience today. Thank you for your time. Well, wow, what a message that Liz shared with us. Her positivity and upbeat approach really shone through. Well, as always, if you want to find out more about our podcast series and all the other episodes that there are available to you, hop on over to our website@accesstoinspiration.org or you can connect with us on social media. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Next week I’ll be talking to Abigail Griebelbauer, who is a book author who is writing children’s books that feature characters with dyslexia and adhd. I hope you can join us then.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra
Producer: Sue Stockdale