This is the first installment of the Sun City Candle Co interview series. We plan to bring you talks with amazing, inspiring women who own businesses, face down difficult challenges, inspire us and generally kick ass.
Blazing your own trail can sometimes be full of self-doubt. Through our own journeys, we’ve come across some incredible women whose stories bring us hope and encourage us to keep on going when the going gets tough. We’re sharing them with you in the hope that when you’re going through a rough patch, they’ll help reignite the spark that keeps you burning so bright.
For our first interview, we had the opportunity to speak with the extraordinary Marie Springsteen. Marie not only beat breast cancer, she took the fight to a whole other level by co-founding the 4 Words Foundation. This foundation helps people in need get testing and pay for cancer-related expenses that they might not be able to afford otherwise.
S - Let’s start with your background. Where are you from? What do you do?
M - I am originally from Connecticut. I’m a full-time Human Resource professional, working for a manufacturing facility in Ft. Myers, Florida.
S - When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?
M - In June of 2012, I went for my annual screening, which I do like clockwork. Then I was called back for a second one. They did a biopsy and it came back positive for what was called ductal carcinoma in situ [DCIS]. It’s not a lump. It’s cancerous cells in the milk ducts. Because of its size and the biopsy results, it’s Stage Zero. It’s one of the most treatable cancers, but I had the highest grade, which is more aggressive. They did a partial lumpectomy on it, and I went to radiation for seven weeks.
S- How did you feel when you heard your diagnosis? What thoughts went through your head?
M - My mother raised me to be very well grounded. The day that I got the call, I was at work. I have a great doctor who knows I don't need to be babied. His nurse said, " The doctor wants you to come in to see him. You have breast cancer."
Yeah. That word hits you like a brick wall. but I think because of how I was raised, and what my mother taught me growing up, I am very no nonsense.
I sucked in my breath for a minute, said, “Okay,” then went down the hallway and talked with my bosses. I said, “Look I have to leave. This is why and I will bring you up-to-date.” I went home, got my husband and we went to the doctor.
The biggest challenge was that everything seemed to be in slow motion for a couple of weeks. I had this cancer in me and I wanted it out! It felt like it took forever to get to the point where I could have surgery, then I had to wait for a couple of weeks to start radiation.
It was “hurry up and wait.” I was waiting for pathology. I was waiting for an MRI. I got an infection between surgery and radiation that delayed radiation another week.
I have nothing but accolades for my health care team, but I just wanted it done.
S - What is 4 Words and what inspired you to write it?
M - 4 Words is a book I wrote during treatment. The four words were, “You have breast cancer.”
It's a day-by-day recount of things that happened. Writing it was a cathartic release for me, a way of dealing with the treatment and the surgery. I also wrote it to help other women who have the same diagnosis know what to expect.
I included terms and descriptions of things like “60 gray”, which is a level of radiation, and the type of machine that was used for my radiation. I gave acronyms so when their doctor throws them at them, they’ll know what they mean.
One of our employees here drew a new superhero for me when they found out I had cancer. Three of my doctors all decided to draw what the breast and ducts look like for my husband. They must have all gone to school together, because it was the same exact picture! All of these things are in the book.
I wrote about what happened that morning, how long things took. I put resources in the back. It's only one hundred and eight pages—you can read it in the bathroom.
S - How did your goals and priorities change after your diagnosis?
M - I look at things a little bit differently now. I'm very dedicated to the company that I'm an HR manager for. I'm a corporate officer, but I have my other life. When I leave work, it's about my husband. It's about my family. My friends. It's about the foundation.
I am an HR professional. When I got my diagnosis, I shared my experience with the employees of our company because they were all in shock. I handle the group benefits here, so I was like, “"this is how your benefits work.” I was an open book about it.
When I heard that I had to go into radiation, I started researching. I was seeing costs $60—70,000 and I was thinking “Oh my God!” It ended up costing a $50 copay for every visit, so in the end my total was $1,900. My insurance picked up the rest.
Don't be afraid of your insurance. Take care of your health. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen.
S - Tell us about the 4 Words Foundation. How did it start and who benefits from it?
M - When I was going through radiation, I met many other cancer patients. I knew I was very fortunate. I started volunteering with a local non-profit when I saw that there was a gap that needed to be filled.
I formed a 501(c)(3) with my best friend, Janette L'Heureux, and my niece, Corrine Abbott. It snowballed from there. We have no salaries—we all hold full-time jobs. And we don't just do breast cancer. We do all cancers. We started off with The Twelve Days of Christmas with Radiology Regional, where we donated twelve mammogram screenings to people who were self-paying during the Christmas holidays. We knew that they wouldn’t show at their exams if they needed the money. Radiology Regional went through their lists. When people called in to cancel, they said, “Hey, wait a minute. It’s paid for.”
Our first year, we helped five or six people. We've helped 30—40 this year. We’ll pay for copay and coinsurance and deductible if people need help with that as long as it's cancer related. We don't have funds to do surgical, but we do non- surgical, testing, screenings, costs for biopsies or MRIs.
We recently helped a gentleman who needed to have a TEP device for head and neck cancer. People who have throat cancer have to cover up the hole in their neck to talk. This is a device that they can have put in to give them quality of life. They don't have to keep covering it up. We help pay for portion of that.
S - What kind of feedback do you get from people whose lives you touch?
M - Facilities love us. The doctors from Radiology Regional doctors refer potential donors to us whenever they can. The Florida Everglades and Norman Love chocolates donated to us because of word-of-mouth from these doctors. Some patients who we’ve touched want to give back by volunteering or donating.
S - Do you have any advice for women who are just starting on that difficult road that you walked?
M - Stay off the internet! There are a lot of boards where people go in and commiserate. they have their place, but there is a lot of misinformation going around. There's too much there that will scare you for no reason. When someone's first diagnosed they need to stay off that. Talk to your doctors or go out and look up real detail through the National Cancer Institute or the National Institute of Health.
S - Do you have anything new planned for the future?
M - We are trying to expand our donor base. Along with our annual events, I am pushing out a $10,000 Community challenge. I am looking to get 100 companies donating $100 so we can raise $10,000.
For 100 bucks, we will put their logo and website on our page as our annual sponsors. Four times a year they will go out on our social media. That’s only $0.27 a day—you can't get advertising that inexpensively. If they can't afford that, they can even pick 3, 6, 9 or 12 months and we can break it down for them.
Our money stays in the local community here in South Florida. If Corinne raises money in Connecticut, it stays in her area. Aside from business filings, paper and ink for the printer, we have no overhead. That's less than 10% in administrative costs. The rest goes to awareness luncheons and caring for people.
I get as much donated as I can when it comes to raffle prizes. We have a timed 10K/5K run with a walk in January. It's called Facial Hair for Cancer Causes and it shows our support for men's cancers. We're in our third year for that. We have the Racing for Cancer Causes Bed Race in May. We're coming into our 5th year for that. People put together four wheels and a platform and they race. It's a tax-deductible donation for them and it shows the community that they support a nonprofit that they believe in.
S - What is your relationship with Sun City Candle Co?
M - Leslie was a recipient of one of our Twelve Days of Christmas mammograms for self-payers and she wanted to give back. She donates to us from the Protect the Tatas line and donates sets of candles for raffle prizes for baskets that I put together. She's very generous and a fun person.
S - Do you have a favorite candle?
S - Is there anything else you would like to add?
M - Cancer is not a fun word to hear. Trust me. But everyone handles it differently. It's kind of like when you have a death in the family: you go through those stages of mourning or sadness or denial or whatever. You have to let it happen and no one should ever be faulted for how they feel about it. The more people talk about it and know that there's someone there to talk to, the better.
If you are interested in donating, becoming a volunteer, or if you live in the Fort Myers area and need help paying for your cancer testing or treatment, click here to learn more about the 4 Words Foundation. If you want to support the 4 Words Foundation and get something nice for yourself, click here to check out Marie’s favorite candle, Pink. 30% from the sale of each candle in the Protect the Tatas line goes directly to the 4 Words Foundation to support their mission to raise awareness of the importance of early cancer detection and offer financial assistance to those who may not be able to afford tests and screenings.