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Our Co-Founder's Cancer Story

From our Co-Founder, Hilary Amburgey

My Cancer Diagnoses

A diagnosis of cancer was not exactly how I imagined my sophomore year of College. I definitely did not imagine being deemed a cancer survivor as I graduated college. I was far more worried about classes, friends, fun, and living out my youth.

Only a couple of weeks into my first year of college, Hurricane Katrina ravaged my hometown of New Orleans, forcing my family to unexpectedly leave the city and some never to return. 

My dad moved to Gainesville, Florida where I had started my first year at the University of Florida, making my freshman year of college somewhat different than I had originally expected.

 I found solace in developing friendships with other New Orleans natives at UF yet still felt the need for a fresh start and soon found myself at the idealistic University of Georgia. 

A couple of months into my first year at UGA, I felt a large lump on my neck that seemed to appear overnight. Like most teenagers, I ignored the lump and assumed I must have pulled a muscle causing swelling and discomfort.

Several months went by and finally my mom convinced me to see a doctor. After a needle biopsy gone wrong at a doctor’s office around the corner from me at College, my mom insisted I fly to Baltimore to see a doctor where she lived. I should have known the news wasn’t good when the first doctor who looked at my neck immediately called in his resident to look and touch the golf ball sized tumor protruding from the right side of my neck. Cancer was the last thing on my mind. 

At 19 years of age, just three days shy of my 20th birthday, I was given the diagnosis of Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I rushed back to Athens, GA to gather my belongings and celebrate my 20th birthday with a couple of friends, only to return the next day to have my port placed and start chemotherapy.

To all of our surprise, the cancer was not only in my neck, but had spread to my clavicle, my chest and my spleen. The extent of my disease put me in the class of diagnoses they refer to as “late-stage” cancer. I will admit, while I was always thin and probably appeared to be in good health, I did not have a healthy diet or exercise much. I was a 19-year-old in what I thought was the prime of my life. Everything changed from that day on. 

Processing My News and Learning to Cope with Cancer

I went through the normal phases of grief that they teach you about in your college level psychology class, as anyone would that is battling cancer and all that it entails. 

First came denial, then anger, bargaining with god, depression and eventually acceptance.

What I didn’t know at the time of my diagnosis, was that cancer would not only change my college years, but it would change my entire outlook on life and give me a purpose for living. 

Those 6 months of treatment were grueling. Everything was a struggle- eating, sleeping, bathing, getting out of bed was all a task. If not for the support of my family, friends and amazing staff at the University of Maryland Cancer Center, I am not sure I would have made it to where I am today. Until you have gone through chemotherapy and cancer treatment yourself, it is difficult to understand how much of a struggle life as a cancer patient really is.

Six months following my cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatment, I returned to college bald and emaciated yet determined to graduate on time with my peers as a cancer survivor.

When I returned to college, I quickly realized I had changed as a person and lacked the same carefree attitude of my counterparts. 

I was more serious and more determined to live a meaningful life.

I changed my major to Psychology, with the idea that following graduation I would obtain a Master of Science in Nursing. 

I changed my eating habits, became a pescatarian, tried to limit my alcohol consumption, increased my physical fitness and found myself taking moments throughout the day to practice gratitude for my newfound health as a cancer survivor. 

Living as a Cancer Survivor 

Following graduation from college, I went on to nursing school and soon found myself as an Oncology nurse at NYU medical center, taking care of many patients that reminded me of myself only a few years ago. 

The work was rewarding, yet often mentally and physically exhausting. As a cancer survivor and nurse, I constantly struggled with wanting to provide my patients with more than just the medical treatment and focus more on their entire well-being. 

While I was unable to do much exercise or movement during my own cancer treatment, following it, I found movement and yoga to be a form of therapy that helped heal my mind and body. 

While I felt fortunate to call myself a cancer survivor, I still found myself struggling with anxiety and the constant fear of death. Yoga and exercise provided immediate and long-lasting relief from intruding thoughts and fears. 

After taking a break from the nursing world to have my three children (something I never thought would happen), I finally took the time to get certified as a registered yoga teacher. 

My first job following certification was at an underprivileged elementary school for at risk children. Watching these students learn trauma informed mindfulness and how to incorporate breathing, mediation and mindfulness to help cope with their own life struggles was rewarding and satisfying. 

I knew right away how impactful and important this work was.

How Yoga Changed My Life

I met my business partner, Elizabeth, shortly after at a children’s yoga teacher training and we started our first business, MilkLoveYoga. Over the past year and a half, we have had the privilege to teach hundreds of children in our community and see the joy that yoga and mindfulness brings them.

Elizabeth and I thought of ways to expand and reach more adults and children and decided we needed to take a risk- a BIG risk.

Almost one year ago, we embarked on the launch of Jollie, an active brand that emphasizes a happy, healthy life. 

As a former cancer patient and Oncology Nurse, I knew the research supported the many benefits yoga and mindfulness can have on an adult cancer patient’s quality of life, and when I dove deeper, I realized those same results were there within the pediatric cancer population. 

Elizabeth and I discussed how Jollie could give back, and we knew immediately that we could make a big impact by giving back to that same cancer community that I still identify with.

With a 1:1 model, with every yoga mat purchase, we will donate one yoga mat to a pediatric cancer patient. We also plan to donate a percentage of all sales to help fund pediatric therapy programs across the US. 

I am grateful today to be a cancer survivor and for the journey I have been on since finding my love for yoga and becoming an entrepreneur, it truly has saved my life and helped give me purpose alongside my family and friends.

I am hopeful that as a brand, Jollie will continue to grow, and make a big impact in a community that means so much to me. 

To learn more about our brand story visit our about page here.

 

 

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