For my March inspiration of the month, I introduce to you my client and friend Carrie Broomhall.
Carrie is one of those women that oozes GOOD. She speaks kindly and softly, her eyes glow and she is a true radiant beauty from the inside out. Carrie is the picture of health.
It was almost a casual discussion when I learnt that Carrie had some major health curve balls thrown her way - I would never have guessed that only a few years ago she was seriously ill with aggressive cancer. On top of her survival story, Carrie has successfully started a new business that has skyrocketed to success, and is a busy wife and mother to three children.
Carries story is one of survival, strength, love and tenacity. Her determination, positive attitude and desire to live a full and happy life shine through when you speak to her.
I know you will find Carrie as inspiring as I do.
** Tell us about you Carrie**
I am 38 years old, a business owner, mother, wife and cancer survivor.
My two sisters and I were born and raised in Christchurch and the walls of our home were (and still are) literally covered in the paintings of contemporary New Zealand artists. My father and I share the love of art and so I firmly believe that my passion for the fine arts began at day dot. As a teenager I excelled at painting, design and printmaking and continued to study these mediums at Dunedin university. I met my soul mate Sam in a ridiculously average bar in town almost 16 years ago. Our mantra became-'why postpone the inevitable' so shortly afterwards we were engaged, then married then pregnant with our baby boy.
We now share our 15 acre property with our 3 gorgeous children, 9 of our own horses (my husbands new sport is polo), 4 mental chickens and 2 lunatic dogs- Monty and Moose (I would happily be that nutty dog woman and have many more if my husband would allow it!) .Things at our house can get a little crazy sometimes.
**Upon meeting you, I would never have guessed the health issues you had been dealt in the past. Can you please talk us through your diagnosis, treatment and recovery?**
Three years ago we were holidaying with friends and family in Golden Bay. I developed a UTI (urinary tract infection) - I had been getting them on and off for about a year. When back home I booked an appointment with Dr Joy Dixon aka super woman. She, like me, felt that the multiple courses of antibiotics my GP had been putting me on weren't working so she stepped them up and prescribed a strong 3 month course to hopefully nip any residual bugs in the butt! This was done after I had a bladder scan which had come back completely normal…
About 2 months into that course I noticed one morning a tiny clot of blood in my urine. I was sent directly to hospital and cutting a very long and emotional story short- our lives were flipped and I was diagnosed with aggressive, muscle invasive bladder cancer.
Bladder cancer is known as being an overweight, smoking, 60years+ male disease and at 34 years old and healthy - I just didn't fit the bill. But, cancer (or Mr Stinky cancer as he is known round here) just didn't seem to get that memo.
The tumour was aggressive so an aggressive approach was necessary. I underwent chemotherapy for 3 months prior to the operation to try to stabilise the cancer and to attack any microscopic cells that may have metastasised.
After the chemo with my hair falling out in clumps, school drop offs and midnight searchings on the internet for any new options out there, I had a massive ‘radical cystectomy surgery’ and ‘radical hysterectomy’ to remove by entire diseased bladder, my ovaries, uterus, cervix, the top of my vagina, parts of my bowel and lymph nodes to my heart. A small part of my bowel was then turned into a new urinary reservoir (called a neo bladder), which the amazing surgeons re-plumbed to what was left of my urinary system.
I woke up breathing just 3 breathes a minute with a bowel that refused to work and felt like I was truly going to die. With my ovaries gone I was thrown into instant menopause and the hot flushes and tears were intense.
A month later when I was finally released my new neo bladder refused to work. I was readmitted several times requiring blood transfusions and antibiotics. I endured 6 months of complete incontinence and rocked adult nappies for that time.
Finally, feeling like I was at rock bottom I went back to see my amazing gynecologist, Joy who once again stepped up to help me out. She was amazed to hear that I had never once had a physical examination post op. All it took was a quick look to see that my body has developed a ‘vesico/vaginal’ fistula (in layman's terms- my amazing body had created a tunnel from my stomach cavity to the outside world to drain the urine that would otherwise pooled inside me and made me septic!) Damn our bodies are incredible!
So, back to the operating theatre for me - my neo bladder had magically ‘disappeared’ and this time round I woke up with an external urinary bag (aka a urostomy). This, at the beginning of it all would have been my least favoured option but, it turns out death definitely beats that hands down. I am grateful everyday for my bag. Don't get me wrong- I HATE it but the alternative was never an option for me. I try to embrace it and I think because we have young daughters I still try to rock a bikini so that neither of them grow up thinking their mum has body hang ups.
Life for me now has a whole new level of motivation. I have a blog- firstname.lastname@example.org and hope that I can reach out to other people who may encounter tough times with a cancer diagnosis or changes in their bodies for the worse. Cancer in many ways has been a blessing. My own cells created the cancerous cells and that motivates me to take care of my body. I see cancer now as my guru, it reminds me daily how fragile our wee worlds are and how precious our time here is.
** Tell us about your business, Show Pony**
My sister and I started our millinery business last year off the back of a watershed moment for both of us. Liv, my younger sister had just come out of a relationship and our father had just been diagnosed with secondary cancer. We set out with the simple goal of creating a bit of a distraction for ourselves while life threw us more curve balls.
As children, Mum and Dad took all three of us to plenty of race meetings around the country and overseas. Mum’s outfits were always on point and Dad was in his element on course. We started to make our own headpieces as we got older but life was too busy to make it a business.
That changed last year and Liv and I decided to start Show Pony Millinery. Together with my background in fine arts and my sister’s marketing skills we make the perfect team and can make each other laugh like no one else can.
**What have been your biggest obstacles along the way with starting your own business?**
Juggling our business and raising my young family has been a challenge at times and there are days when it just doesn't work! Some days after getting our children ready for school, cleaning up after our 2 gorgeously crazy dogs, feeding out hay to our 9 horses in the rain, tending to the chickens and meeting wholesale deadlines - I do wonder what the hell I've signed up for!
My husband, Sam has the patience of a saint. He has been incredibly supportive of me, which has been absolutely crucial in the success of achieving our work\life balance.
**What advice do you have for mothers/women wanting to start their own business?**
We have learnt to have strict work/life rules in our house and running our own business means we have the power to do that. I think it’s incredibly important to be able to separate the two-especially when working with family. Being a mum is the hardest and yet the most rewarding job. I know everyone says that (and some people wont believe that but its true) and so our children come first.
When I was bed ridden I promised myself that I WOULD get better and would spend more time with our children-I had feared the worst and the thought of leaving them made and still makes me fiercely determined to still be here when they are in their 60's!!!
The second thing was to start my own business doing something I was really passionate about and thirdly to live my life trying to be as empathetic and motivating as I can be. I think we all need to feel lifted and inspired on a regular basis.
**What is the motto you live your life by?**
There are days when I’m certain that even the most positive person out there will want to hide under a rock and there are days that I have certainly thought that that would be an easy alternative for me.
I think being a mum is exhaustingly motivating. We are role models to our children 90% of the time and that is a HUGE responsibility (freaking out writing this-eek!). It does however make us just keep on keeping on, placing one foot in front of the other - which is great but it is the other 10% of the time that is absolutely crucial to nail. Mums MUST take care of themselves and each other. Embracing what makes us truly happy is my advice. NEVER live life like you are doing time!
With my family, my friends and recently more importantly, me. Life has a lot of ups and downs in it. We need to take care of each other, not judge so much and raise each other up. Above all else, have fun and dance whenever possible!
All the love in the world goes to Carrie for sharing her story - you are such an incredible human being and I'm so proud to call you my friend.