A Stage IV cancer diagnosis wasn’t enough to derail one survivor’s dream to follow her passion.
By Diana Price
When you envision your dream career—the job that would allow you to fully indulge your passions, that thing that would truly make your soul sing—what do you see? Are you in that role now? Or, like many of us, is it a dream that you’ve pushed to the backseat, making room for more-practical choices?
For Sally Jane Waite, that dream had always been to pursue her passion for fashion and jewelry. Though she completed an undergraduate degree in child studies and later a master’s degree in women and child abuse in the United Kingdom, the New England native was always aware that her desire to follow a more creative path—something that might fuse her enthusiasm for fashion and jewelry with her equally strong appreciation of the natural world and spirituality—remained constant.
When Sally and her husband moved back from the United Kingdom to Boston, she and her aunt, who shares her name, bonded over their mutual desire to pursue their creative passions by designing jewelry that would reflect their love for nature, spiritual inspiration, and high style. After many conversations about their dream, the pair decided it was time to make it happen. “I never thought I’d have the courage to do it; I didn’t even know where to begin,” Sally says. “But the more my aunt and I talked about the idea, we both just decided, Let’s go for it.”
Naming the company came easily: Sally Jane, the name the two shared. And the perfect product to launch their line was a charm featuring a bee, an item that would be both fashionable and symbolic, offering a “chic universal message: show up for your life, be present and ‘just bee.’”
But having decided on the company’s name and first product, “going for it” meant a huge learning curve— neither woman had experience with creating or marketing jewelry. “We just decided that we’d take baby steps and learn,” Sally says. “It took us a long time because we had to start at the beginning—we didn’t even know the basics of how a charm was made, never mind all the other aspects of launching the line.” Despite the challenges, Sally says the process was exciting, and she and her aunt were soon meeting regularly and traveling often to New York City to make their dream a reality. Add to the joy of this new creative endeavor the news that Sally was pregnant with her first child, and life seemed impossibly good.
It was in the midst of this period of personal and professional fulfillment that the then 31-year-old received news that would turn her world upside down. After experiencing recurring painful stomach aches over the course of her pregnancy, she was hit with one so severe that she went to the hospital. The diagnosis: Stage IV colon cancer.
Fortunately, at seven months, Sally’s pregnancy was far enough along that she was able to deliver her son, Sam, a month after diagnosis, at 36 weeks.
Overjoyed to have a healthy baby, Sally says that she and her husband, Steve, were able to take their newborn home for a week before she began intensive cancer treatment that would include a year of chemotherapy and four different surgeries.
Faced with the physical and emotional reality of battling cancer, any work toward building her company, Sally Jane, came to a halt. “That’s where it ended at that point,” Sally says. “We abandoned everything to do with the company because my diagnosis was too serious.”
The year that followed “was the best and worst year all mixed into one,” Sally says. “I had always wanted to be a mom, and I was just so excited that I really was so happy in the midst of all the horrible things I was facing. Sam was the most beautiful distraction.”
Committed to surrounding her new son with love and positivity, Sally was inspired to push through treatment and be as physically well as possible to be there for her son: “I really felt he deserved to have a mom who was fully present and was there to celebrate all of his milestones—when he crawled, when he walked. It really did propel me forward to get through everything as fast as I could. I just wanted to get home to him.”
Supported by her husband and the rest of her family, who stepped in to help care for her and Sam, Sally moved toward the end of treatment. Throughout, her aunt Sally, a Jin Shin Jyutsu (form of acupressure) practitioner, provided invaluable treatments to help her maintain balance and reduce stress—as well as consistent reminders that their shared dream was still a possibility. “She was really pushing me not to give up on that dream, to see it as a goal to reach; she kept saying, ‘One day we’ll be back there, working on the company again,’” Sally says. It was powerful incentive, she adds, at a time when “really I just wanted my life back in so many ways.”
With the end of Sally’s treatment, as she recovered from the final chemotherapy treatments and regained strength, she recommitted to making her dream a reality. “Once I was feeling better, I promised myself that if I got through it, I would be the best mom I could be and that I would use my talents to build our company, Sally Jane.”
Although the dream of the company remained, Sally noted a shift in her approach to the project: “My whole view had changed. I definitely wanted to do it, to use my talents and live life fully, but I also had a really different perspective—if it didn’t work out, it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Having confronted such a significant health challenge and considered her own mortality, Sally says her priorities were much more defined. And with this new focus on what was important, the message of the Sally Jane product line shifted, as well: “Our message had originally been about being present, and now it was really about promoting and honoring strength in the face of adversity, sharing the message that We can get through really hard things.”
Onward and Upward
Since the official launch of Sally Jane in August 2015, its mission mirrors this new, hard-won perspective. “Designed with intent,” Sally says, “our bee looks upward to her highest self, where she remains present and effortless in life, prepared to accomplish the impossible.”
The desire to offer truly meaningful, empowering products has been the driving force as the company sends out its bee charms—on bracelets, necklaces, and silk wrist wraps—to customers around the country. With each order, Sally says, she includes a small card where people can write messages of hope, strength, and inspiration and then share those messages through social media. This dialogue that the products create, as customers share their struggles and their strength, has been humbling and heartening. “I am so inspired by the stories that people share, of overcoming adversity and moving beyond fear,” Sally says. Especially, she notes, because she lives with fears of her own as she moves through survivorship.
As Sally describes her journey and the sustained dedication to follow her passion that has led to her current success, it is clear that this is one dream that will not be derailed.
Paying It Forward
When Sally Waite was able to step back into creating her company, Sally Jane, after her battle with cancer, she did so infused with gratitude for the opportunity she had been given to both follow her dreams and make a difference in the world. And she knew that she wouldn’t be where she was without the care she received at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where she was treated.
“I know I’m a better person and a better mom, knowing that the people at MGH exist in the world,” she says. “So, when we got back to the company after I completed treatment, there was no way I would launch without giving back to the people who helped me get here.” Sally’s commitment, shared by her aunt, resulted in the pair’s decision to donate $1 from every product sold to MGH to fund cancer research and support services. “I think we all need to give back,” Sally says, “and this is my way to say thanks.”