J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 25.
H: You know, I can't stop or I die. I don't want to die, there's lots… there's so many bucket list things that I want to do that I'm not… you know, I'm not giving up ever.
Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.
J: Hey there, Jen here, and this is Vibrant Happy Women, thank you so much for joining me today. On our last episode, I spoke with Madhu Bazaz Wangu about the need to change what's on the inside, our feelings and emotions and thoughts, before anything on the outside can change. Today, I'll be chatting with Heidi Kelly. Heidi is a breast cancer survivor and she teaches us how important it is to live life now and truly embrace the present moment. We'll go ahead and get started.
Welcome to today's episode of Vibrant Happy Women. I am speaking with Heidi Kelly today and she's a handbag designer, producing one-of-a-kind funky fabric handbags; they're really cute. Heidi's also a breast cancer thriver; she likes that word instead of survivor, and we'll learn more about why in the interview. She loves to help women see the positive after a breast cancer diagnosis and she lives in Kutztown, Pennsylvania with her husband, Michael, and their dogs, Speedy, Trixie, and Buddy. Welcome, Heidi.
H: Hi, thanks, Jen.
J: I'm glad you could be here.
H: I'm good I could be here too. I just made it, so… (Laughs)
J: Awesome, awesome. So, well, we'd like to start at her show with our guest’s favorite quote, and which I quote would you like to share with us today?
H: My favorite is, “Live life now.”
J: That’s pretty profound. So what makes that your favorite?
H: It's kind of been my motto recently just with going through the breast cancer just starting this business while I was going through breast cancer, that's kind of like my husband and I just decided that we aren't going to wait until we're 60 and retired and can't do what we want to do anymore. So instead, we are doing everything now when we can do.
J: Perfect. And so you mentioned the breast cancer diagnosis.
J: Take us back to maybe the days or weeks before you had that diagnosis, what was happening, and then walk us through the whole… whole process.
H: Sure. Well, I actually had noticed the problem… well, what I thought was a bruise months ahead of time and the bruise didn't go away, and then I was scared. And I didn't want to admit that maybe something didn't happen because I was young, I was under 40 and, you know, no history and my family or anything. So I kept it hidden, didn't tell my husband, and then probably about 3 months later, I finally went to the doctor or arranged a doctor's appointment and told my husband about it and it was pretty much boom, boom, boom after that. It was… you know, it was… we went to my family doctor, she said, “You need to get a mammogram right away and an ultrasound,” went straight to that that same day, and then a couple days later, it was a biopsy, and then a couple days later, it was positive for breast cancer.
J: Mm! Wow.
H: (Laughs). Yeah.
J: So how did you cope with all of that in one week? Oh my goodness.
H: (Laughs). Well, I'm lucky that actually the day that I found out it was definitely cancer, I happened to be having dinner with… my uncle had flown in from Washington State and he had gone through Hodgkin's twice.
H: Oh, by that time, only once. And he basically… we had dinner with my dad and my grandmother, I had to tell my grandmother and him and my husband, and he basically like, “You’ve got to suck it up and do what you got to do to live.”
H: So I did that. And that night when I came home, I put it out on Facebook that I was breast cancer… because the… there were… you know, most of my friends are my age so I kind of wanted to let them know, “Hey, you know, I'm 38, not 40, and this is what happened to me.” And my doctor said that it had been growing for about 3 years.
J: Oh, wow.
H: Yeah, mm-hmm. (Laughs)
J: So you got the diagnosis.
J: What’s the… what's the first conversation you had about it with your husband?
H: “Am I going to die?” (Laughs)
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
H: … really was the… one of the first things out of my mouth. The other the next conversation was… for us, was… well, he's a big internet researcher so he was looking, and his mom had gone through breast cancer. So he and his sisters were in the industry, so… medical industry, so he had a lot of information. And we were kind of like… we looked at each other and we're like, “I want them gone. I want them taken off immediately.”
H: “I… you know, I don't want a lump back I don’t want any of that stuff.” And he was of the same opinion.
H: And so the first time we go to the doctor for the surgery consult, they're like, “Oh, we'll do everything we can to save, you know, your breasts and all that,” I was like, “Cut them off, I don't want them.” (Laughs)
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
J: And were they willing to work with you?
H: Oh yeah.
J: Were you able to do that right away?
H: Yes. Yeah, they… the first surgery was… the cancer surgeon… the oncology surgeon took both off and the plastic was in there to put in the expanders…
H: … so that we could eventually re… because I went with reconstruction rather than nothing or…
H: So that was my first of 4 total surgeries for the first round. (Laughs)
J: Okay. So you didn't go straight into chemo, you went first for the mastectomy.
H: Right, we did double mastectomy, we consulted with the hematology oncologist and my Oncotype number wasn't high enough for what we thought the risks of the chemo would be and we talked to a radiation doctor and she said, “Radiation is not recommended. Even though you're under 40, there's nothing there.” So we said, “Okay,” and we decided… my and I decided no chemo that time.
J: Oh, okay.
H: Unfortunately, we probably should have. (Laughs)
J: Wow. Okay, so take us forward, what led to that unfortunately that you're talking about? (Laughs)
H: Almost exactly 2 years later, I found a bump on my scar. So we went to the plastic surgeon and he's like, “It's probably just a suture that didn't dissolve,” he's like, “I can take it out,” so another surgery. And about less than a week later, I get the call while I'm the dentist's office waiting for my husband to get his… he's out, you know, getting his teeth done and pulled and I get a call while I'm in the waiting room that it came back positive.
H: So (Laughs)… so he woke up to me crying in his face and…
H: (Laughs). That was… it was kind of intense for him because he had no idea what was going on and I was freaked out and because, you know, things you hear about when you hear recurrence and you think, “Okay, Stage 4 or this or that,” and the only thing that I found out later was that it was a local recurrence.
H: And you think it was because of the blood supply was not… the medication was not getting to that area so it wasn't a full-blown recurrence, it was just a local recurrence.
J: Oh, okay, okay.
H: So not Stage 4.
J: Whew! (Laughs)
H: Yeah, yeah.
J: So how many years ago was that dentists experience?
H: That was just a little over 2 years ago.
J: Okay, so what has happened since that point?
H: Since then, I’ve continued to work on my business. I actually started the business during the first in between surgeries on the first round of cancer.
H: And then I continued to work on the business, got the second diagnosis, had 2 more surgeries for that, then I had to do the chemo and radiation. So I did… but throughout all that, I continued to work because kind of the sewing machine was my therapist kind of thing. So any time I was physically okay, I was upstairs sewing and it kind of just took my mind off of everything.
J: It's kind of brilliant that you had a new business at the same time. It just gave you something to, yeah, get your mind off of it…
J: … but also just to give you an… something to be excited about.
H: Yes, mm-hmm, yeah.
J: Yes. So you had the 2 more surgeries.
J: And then would you say you're cancer-free at this point.
H: I am… I mean, as of that last surgery about 2 years, just over 2 years ago, I'm technically cancer-free, so yes, and then the chemo and the radiation should have killed anything else possible…
H: … that was floating around in there. So I am cancer-free, but in the back of my mind as well as almost any survivor you talk to, there's always, you know, hint. (Laughs)
J: The little fear, right? Yeah.
J: And you lost your hair during the chemo?
H: I did, yep.
H: I lost all of my hair, but I bought some great wigs, I got real hair wigs and I played with… I got mostly blonde so I had my hairdresser do them in like all kinds of crazy colors. So I had purple and I had green and I had blue. So…
J: Oh, fun.
J: Good for you.
J: Why not have an adventure, right? (Laughs)
H: It was fun.
J: So you have the business, tell us what it's called and what you do; tell us more about that.
H: Sure, it's called HKelly designs and it's a handbag business where I do limited-edition and one-of-a-kind handbags. They're mostly fabric, some have leather accents. They're funky, I like to use crazy prints, like if I do one like with raccoons on it or…
H: … right now, I have one that has sloths on it.
J: Oh, cool.
H: Yeah, that's my favorite creature right now. So I like them to be just a little bit odd and different because I'm a little odd and different and I know they're… that people like to have something fun and different and colorful against all that black, which drives me crazy. (Laughs)
J: Yeah, good for you. So if people wanted to see your handbags, where would they need to go?
J: Okay. And then you were telling me earlier that you also like to help other women facing a breast cancer diagnosis, tell us more about that.
H: Yes. Well, the sad thing is… is that Saturday, I got news from a friend, it's actually a guy I went to high school with, his little sister was just diagnosed with breast cancer. So I immediately, you know, said, “If you have any questions or anything like that, you know, feel free to… I'm an open book,” and she knew that. And I actually talked to her brother also and he said, “You know, you have been such an inspiration to her even before she found out about this so that's the kind of thing…” I also had a friend who is a little bit older than me and she ended up getting diagnosed, and she's like, “Do you mind if I ask you any questions?” I'm like, “You've seen me on Facebook, I tell anything and everything. I even write it in my blogs for my business, it's…”
H: “I'm an open book because it's a scary thing and some people, you know, need to… some people don't want to talk about it and… but they're like on the quiet they want to talk about it. So…
J: Mm-hmm. So that's on social media where people can hear more about you in on your blog?
J: Okay. Well, tell us more about… so you have this diagnosis, you've talked with your spouse, there's surgeries and all of this stuff going on, tell us more about the moments when you faced that big picture thinking that led you to this idea of live life now, perhaps spiritual moments or other aha moments that helped you get to the point of, “I'm just going to live my life,” you know?
H: I don't know that it's 1 like particular moment. I mean, there was one time… my husband and I went to Italy last spring and we walked up to the Duomo.
H: And the woman behind us was older and she was like heavy breathing and barely could do it and I had a hard time just… I'm still in a lot of pain from different things due to the medications I'm on, and we just looked at each other after we got back and we're like, “We don't want to be that old and having to see this, we want to see it now and we still can do it.” So it's kind of like, “We need to do as much as we can while we're young.” And this… actually, this past… not even summer, spring, I've turned into Alaska, Las Vegas, California, and Ohio. (Laughs)
H: All within like a… oh, and Florida, within like a 3-month span. So…
J: Oh, good for you; good for you.
J: So many of our listeners are struggling with chronic disease or other kinds of illness or any struggle really, what advice would you have for them?
H: Yeah (Laughs), “Keep going.” I'm going to get a little emotional because I have pain pretty much 24/7 right now due to the cancer medicine I'm on and the reconstruction. It's not like, you know, breast implants, I've never gotten rid of the pain from them. So being under 24-hour pain is hard, but you find the little things and the big things that make me happy. Like, I have… well, I have my dogs and my husband and travel. So you can't stop or you die, you know? (Laughs)
J: Mm-hmm, yeah, yeah. So what helps you… and I'm… it's okay to be emotional, it's okay. What helps you to keep going?
H: I'm not really sure because before all of this, I was actually a pretty negative person and a pretty cynical and not necessarily the happiest person in the world.
H: So going through all this and surviving it may have been the critical turn around to make it just like a switch in my brain said, “Okay, you're still alive, you faced lots of crap and now it's time to do what you want to do forever.” So I have a 93 year old grandmother who is amazing and still alive and barely has any health problems, except for a little bit of heart issues.
H: But, you know, I see her and I know that it's… you know, I can't stop or I die. I don't want to die, there's lots… there's so many bucket list things that I want to do that I'm not… you know, I'm not giving up ever.
J: Good for you; that's the right attitude, I'm glad. And tell us of your bucket list items that you're thinking about right now.
H: Well, basically, pretty much travel anywhere and everywhere in the world. I've done a lot of traveling and it's one of my favorite things to do. But if I had it my way, I would see every… almost every country in the world if I could.
H: Top ones, I would love to travel to… I'm trying to think of ones that I haven't been to yet. I want to do Paris in the springtime.
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
H: I did it in the winter and it was beautiful, but it was snowing so… (Laughs)
H: There's… we just did an Alaska cruise which was way high on the bucket list; just everywhere (Laughs); I know that sounds crazy, but… (Laughs)
J: No, why not? Lots of travel.
J: What else? What else?
H: I… let’s see, besides travel, just I would… I would love to save more and more dogs. I'm a huge rescue lover. (Laughs)
H: So that's… that's my… like right now, I've… we have 3 and occasionally, I try to tell my husband and do a 4th and he says no.
J: (Laughs). Are they all rescue dogs?
H: They are all rescue dogs, yes, and everyone that we've had has been a rescue so that's a big thing I would love. And what's funny is, I'm actually allergic to dogs.
J: (Laughs). So how do you… how do you do that?
H: Actually, it takes about 2 to 3 weeks to get used to them and then I kind of build up a tolerance.
H: And the most recent… well, the 2 boys are lickers and so they tend to help me even more because I used to be allergic to their licks and now, I'm not even allergic to that. So…
J: It's like allergy shots, but in real life. (Laughs)
H: Yes, yes, exactly; I don’t have to get the shots.
J: So tell us more about what vibrant happy living looks like for you today.
H: Living every day like it's your last. I don't say no as much as I used to. You know, my husband will say, “Oh, let's go for a ride or go there,” and I was like… I'd be like, sometimes, I used to just want to just sit there and read a book, which sometimes I still do, but… because I love reading, I could…
H: That's another bucket list is like all books.
H: (Laughs). But live life now, I just don't want to put off what I can do, you know, it's…
H: There's things out there that you can be doing, there's things that can make you happy, there's people you can meet. I've… I used to be shy and now, I go to networking events and meet people and talk to them and found these friends that I never thought I would have out in the middle of nowhere kind of, you know? (Laughs)
J: Nice, nice. So getting out more and just really living life, being in action.
J: Yeah, okay, okay. And what's one thing that's really exciting you about your life right now or something you're really looking forward to?
H: Right now, I'm actually… well, I'm actually getting ready to launch an item that I already have on my website, it's a called the nurses helper and I designed it with University of Penn nurse. And I'm just getting ready to write a article for Huffington Post about nurses because one of the things that I did notice is, you know, the doctors get all the thanks because you see them all the time, but I had so many nurses and so many different nurses and I was going through so many different things that I didn't always feel good, so I never got to thank them all. So I'm working on a… basically, I think it's going to be like an open letter of thanks to all my nurses and to all nurses everywhere kind of thing.
J: Aww, nice.
H: And… yeah, and… and then I'm going to… I have this bag and anyone who buys it for a nurse or is a nurse, it's cheaper than what it would be.
J: Aww, that's so thoughtful. I know a lot of nurses as well and it's a thankless job sometimes.
H: Yeah, I have several friends who are nurses and actually I just… they're… they're getting pictures of like a group of them so that I can put them into the article so…
J: Ah, yeah.
H: … they’re… yeah. (Laughs)
J: Great. Well, I'll watch for that; Huffington Post, okay.
H: (Laughs). Yes.
J: You met Heidi Kelly here first.
H: But I had… I just… last week, I had an article, my first article published in Huffington Post, so I was really, really excited about that one.
J: Nice. And what was it about?
H: That one was cancer sufferers don't want to hear, “Oh, my mom died from that.”
J: (Gasps) Oh geesh, course not.
H: Because that's usually the first thing you hear when you tell someone you have cancer, mm-hmm.
J: Wow, okay, well…
H: Yeah. (Laughs)
J: We all need to role play what we should be saying.
J: So moving on to some of your favorite things, we already talked about your bucket list items (which sound amazing by the way).
J: What is a favorite personal habit that contributes to your success?
H: Favorite personal habit is getting enough rest. Like, I give myself time to rest. I am not a 24/7 on-the-go person, I've never been, and with all the stuff that I've been through, if I go 24, I can't function. So I take time out to sit down and relax and pet my pups and, you know, like that kind of thing.
H: Relaxation is key for me, and if I have to, I will for that massage that I need for my legs or, you know, something.
J: Good for you. More people need to learn that.
J: The art of relaxation; it really is an art in today's world.
J: What's a favorite easy meal that you like to you regularly?
H: (Laughs). Basically, the only meal that I cook is chicken of some sort or another.
H: I may add cheese or I may add pesto or tomato sauce, but it's usually chicken because it's pretty much the only thing I can cook.
J: That works.
J: Well, you say you don't cook too much, but I bet you still have a favorite current… a favorite kitchen gadget.
H: Yeah. I saw that question and it's my dishwasher.
J: (Laughs). Oh yeah.
H: Yeah, because I don't like doing dishes.
J: And a you’re reader so…
J: … I'm sure you have a million favorite books, and if…
J: I'm going to let you have the privilege of recommending more than one if you want to.
H: Well, my old time all time probably favorite is ‘The Great Gatsby’…
H: … is an old favorite; I read it in high school. And… and after I read it, I read more of his books because I loved it so much.
H: Slightly newer and a little bit crazier is ‘Interview with the Vampire’.
H: Yeah. I do the range of pretty much any kind of fiction, historical fiction; I will read anything I can get my hands on pretty much. (Laughs)
J: Wow, good for you. Okay, we'll have those in the show notes at jenriday.com/25. And then, what's the best advice you've ever received?
H: It's the advice my uncle gave me and he said, “Suck it up.” (Laughs)
J: “Suck it up.”
J: Sadly, that applies to every human being, right?
H: Yeah. He's a 2-time Hodgkin’s… stage 4 Hodgkin's survivor.
H: So I will take that. (Laughs)
J: Yeah, for sure, for sure.
J: So our final question, Heidi, if you had to create a 3 to 5 part formula of actions or beliefs or attitudes that make you the happiest, what would you include?
H: It would be my animals, and it could be more than just the puppies I have now, but animals in general, my husband who has been amazing through everything and so supportive, and doing what I love for a living.
J: Oh yeah.
H: Yeah, being able to do what I love for a living is amazing.
J: Good for you. So, Heidi, thank you so much for sharing your story.
J: Give us one more reminder of where we can find your handbags…
J: … and then leave us with a parting challenge.
H: Okay. So you can find me at hkellydesigns.com, I'm also on Facebook and Instagram and all those with H Kelly designs. And my final challenge to everyone is, “Live life now.”
H: “Enjoy what you have now; you never know what tomorrow holds for anyone.”
J: Okay, “Live life now.” And thank you so much for being on the show, Heidi.
H: Thank you, Jen, thanks for having me; it was a great time.
J: Heidi is definitely a strong and amazing woman who's grabbing life by the horns and we would all do well to emulate her. You can check out Heidi's funky handbags by going to hkellydesigns.com. Make it a great week. Take care.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast at www.jenriday.com.