In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to spend some time talking to Peggy Fry about her life after cancer. Peggy is the President of Sara Happ Cosmetics, a beauty line that has lip products to satisfy you every need. We met through Alli Webb, and I’m so glad we did. She is unbelievably smart and inspiring, and she’s on a mission to educate women about what life looks like after breast cancer.
Name, Age, where do you live?
Peggy Fry, I’m 56, and I live in Manhattan Beach, California.
Give us an overview of your career.
I graduated from USC in 1985. Started at Cosmopolitan Magazine as a secretary, and was in print until 1991 when I got involved in the internet. In 1996 I got a call to work for AOL. Which I did!
You made a pretty big leap before people realized how big the Internet was going to be – that was a big gamble. How did you think about that?
It was a huge gamble! I was pregnant with my daughter and everyone thought I was crazy to leave a cushy job to go into the internet. I just felt like it was going to be the new thing.
I was at AOL through the merger and then left. I joined Netflix a couple of years after that to test and launch their advertising business. They were looking to create another revenue stream. Netflix taught me the value of data and metrics for everything you do in business. Also, their culture and the HR side of their business was really innovative. They believed in getting the best people, and trusting them to deliver.
Tell us about what came next.
My next big job was as CRO for a social tools and data startup in 2007. That was my first real start-up experience. We had a high-powered board, and I was the only woman in the board meetings. I learned so much about start up issues, financing, scaling a business, growing a team etc.. It was an incredible experience, but, it also was the most stressful job I’ve had. It’s also the job where I went through my cancer and treatment.
That’s where when you found out you had breast cancer?
Yes. The night I found out was the night of Barack Obama’s re-election. I woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Ow, my boob hurts. I think I have breast cancer.” For two weeks leading up to that I was tender, but I just thought I was going to have my period.
How old were you?
49. I was perimenopausal, and a year prior to that I had started bio-identical hormone treatments. There’s no evidence that it caused my cancer, but no one really knows. I got married January 1st and started chemo January 2nd. Life changed, really fast. But focusing on my work really helped me. I brought my computer with me to the chemo room. I feel like I got through the treatment amazingly. Little did I know that the after effects would be harder to deal with for me.
What happened when you were in recovery?
Everybody’s so focused on dealing with breast cancer during the illness that nobody really tells you what happens after!
Forget about losing my hair and my eyebrows, and my water eyes during the treatment. It is bigger issues like my energy level, my cognitive level, my immune system tanking, lymphedema. The ability to focus and retain information took a lot of time to get back. And I’m still dealing with things like constantly watering eyes, so I can’t wear makeup under my eyes. Taking Tamoxofin has elevated my hot flashes, which makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
I am still dealing with many of these things today. I have lymphedema in my arm, back, and shoulders. 30% of women experience lymphedema after treatment. I’ve struggled with chronic colds from a low immune system ever since my treatments stopped. My oncologist insisted it wasn’t a result of the treatment. It wasn’t until five years later that an immunologist told me, “Yes, it was caused by that.” This is just something I’ll live with for the rest of my life.
For anyone reading who doesn’t know, what is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. It results from a blockage in your lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling.
One in 5 women who survive breast cancer will develop lymphedema.
How did Cancer Impact your Career?
In many ways. For example, I had just finished my surgery, and was about to start radiation. I got a call from Pinterest, to interview for the CRO position. This was my dream job. I had orange hair, no eyebrows, and I couldn’t carry anything heavy, but I went for it. I knew I looked like a freak, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and at the same time I didn’t want to tell them what was going on.
So, I spent the day meeting people, and my final interview was with a high level executive, a former Marine. During the interview I began having a hot flash. The sweat was dripping down my face and I thought, is this guy going to be able to relate to breast cancer? In the business world I wore a wig, and at first I didn’t tell people. You just don’t know how people are going to react to it. It’s why it’s so important that we have more women in decision making positions in business and in all aspects of society.
What’s your advice to women who are coming through the other side of breast cancer,
Ask a ton of questions, not just to your doctors but to others who have gone through it before you. Some people may only want to focus on getting through the treatment. That’s their choice, but it’s the same way I handled pregnancy – I wanted to know everything, not just about the actual delivery!
Most importantly, we have to share and talk about our experiences. A friend just went through breast cancer and I said, “Do you want to know about all the stuff you’ll deal with after?” And she did.
Is there one resource people can go to?
I’m not an expert. I’m just an expert on what happened to me. But I’m so excited about getting involved with Lymphatic Education & Research Network for Breast Cancer Awareness Month to help spread awareness of this post cancer issue that effects so many women.
Before we get into what you’re doing for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s talk about Sara Happ, a company we love. You’re now the President. Beauty is something new for you – what convinced you that this was the right place for you?
I didn’t want to go back to a high stress job where I was waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning thinking of how to make the quarter. I needed to find something that made me happy.
For me, that meant working with women but in a more advisory role. And then I met Sara. She was a working, single mom who started this company in her kitchen. I was just so impressed with how much she had accomplished on her own. I knew that I could really help her, and believed that we would really complement each other and work well together – she goes on QVC, she does all our PR and is the face of the company, while I’m back at the office running the business.
What’re you guys doing for Breast Cancer Awareness?
We have a list of our favorite pink products, and for every purchase we’re donating 20% to the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. The Pink Grapefruit scrub, and the Sweet Clay Lip Mask, as well as The Pink Slip and our hero product, The Lip Slip Balm.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. What’s the key to changing the conversation about aging?
I think just embracing our aging. For me I think of it as “conscious aging” post cancer. Get In The Groove is a step in that direction – seeing women on your website who look like me and still look cool and sexy, that’s exciting to me.
And of course we need more women role models out there at executive levels, hiring other women like themselves and supporting the women around them. I just hired the woman I mentioned earlier who just went through breast cancer, and has been out of the workforce for eight years. It’s so hard for women who have been out of the workforce for a while to get back in! Everyone wants to hire a twentysomething. It’s just about knowing that women our age are smart, responsible, fun, and we’re going to work our asses off.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Fall asleep on the spot, whenever I wanted.
What would you put on your menopause registry?
Pot. It ties into the sleeping. And also, it’s great for sex.
If you had a warning label what would it say?
Ask all the questions first.
Shop Sara Happ products for Breast Cancer Awareness below: