SheBoss with Ciera Elledge

Megan: So, welcome to SheBoss. I’m super excited because we’re going to talk about someone who has been described in a variety of different ways, from a cult leader to a fashionista to a proud mom and wife, or charcuterie aficionado and also being known as a real bad bitch. So I’m so excited that you’re joining us today. So Ciera Elledge is with us today and she’s got quite a story to tell. So she’s an amazing woman who I’ve had a chance to know over the past couple of years and have been able to experience a part of her journey that is very unique and inspiring and I thought it would be a perfect fit for SheBoss.

Ciera: Thank you for having me.

Megan: Of course, good to help us break in our new digs. I think it’s like number two or three in this office so it’s pretty exciting. So let’s just start off with you just sharing a little bit about the background of yourself and how you got here, where you’re from and a little bit about what’s going on in your world and we’ll go from there.

Ciera: So I actually was born and raised in Huntsville, I’ve lived a little bit of everywhere across the southeast, but I went to Grissom,Grissom local and ended up back here, thanks to my husband who is with the government so obviously, if you live in Huntsville, you are either back in Huntsville because of the government or space or computers or something. I ended up back here because of him and I have been in the fashion industry, fashion retail for a decade. When I moved back it was various brands, Lucky Brand and Taylor BB, Michael Kors and did bridal for a while. So my heart has always been in fashion and that kind of thing.

When I had my daughter, I realized that fashion and retail hours are probably not the most conducive to having a successful family. So, when she was about a year old, I left my full time job with Michael Kors to pursue a career in network marketing and social media, and did that really successfully for quite some time. But realize that, I kind of missed fashion, I kind of missed retail Imiss the fun of getting people dressed every day and seeing the newest trends. So, I actually opened my own online business with one of my best friends for a few years and we started using this software called CommentSold during the process. It’s basically an e-commerce platform that helps you monetize your Facebook following, your social media following and allows the people literally to comment ‘sold’ on Facebook and they get invoiced and make purchases that way.

Megan: Which is so difficult for those late nights shopping, because it’s so easy

Ciera: We make it incredibly easy to print it. So we actually beta tested CommentSold before CommentSold was even what it is today or even anywhere close to what it is today. So I love to tell everybody that I was in it from the very beginning. So, Brandon Cruz, who started it, and his wife, Amanda are some people who I would consider some dear friends also. So, when I took a step back and realized that the day-to-day life of running an online boutique was not necessarily what I was super passionate about.What I was actually passionate about was helping other people do it, teaching,training and coaching. I realized that was probably a better fit for me was being on the corporate side of things and being on the CommentSold side of things. So I stepped into a role there just part time helping them with social media. Of course, I’m not very good at doing anything halfway. So within a few months that had become full time. Then within a few months, I was like, “Hey, there’s this opportunity that I see that I think is going to make the business a little bit better. Can I make this role for myself?” So I basically laid out this role of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to provide value to the company and that was by building an online community. So we have an online community of around 7000 or more retailers who are actively involved in our Facebook community. In that community, they not only help each other and engage with each other, but they’re also learning and teaching. Then I also get to come in and bring in subject matter experts. I get to teach, train and coach and I get to answer questions on a daily basis coming from not only a retail background, but now having that software and services background. So I truly got to take all of the things that I learned from retail, social media networking, personal branding and coaching and I get to apply those to help retailers be successful every single day, which is super cool. Luckily, Brandon and of course, the whole team that CommentSold is great and they were just like, “Yeah, you should probably do that, too. We think that’s a great idea.” So, a week later, that was my position. So I’m the Community Engagement Manager at CommentSold. So, that’s what I get to do every single day and I just absolutely love it, there could not be a better job for me. It’s like I created it myself.

Megan: And you did so that’s the kind of job.

Ciera: It was great because I got to take everything that I’ve learned from so many different industries and apply them to help other people be successful, which is what I truly enjoy anyway.

Megan: Well, and to be able to be part of that with a company that has experienced such massive growth, holy cow! So for anybody who lives under a rock in Huntsville, and doesn’t know who Cierais and that story. So, give them just a little bit of background on that. I mean, because they have seen I mean, they’re one of the like, massive success stories that have come out of Huntsville,one of the few.

Ciera: Yeah, absolutely, one of the biggest tech startups in Alabama and probably in the country, it’s just fantastic. Basically, the background for anybody who doesn’t know is that Amanda was a nurse at Huntsville hospital and she started this little Facebook group, because she wanted to get a discount on some clothes. So, she started buying clothes wholesale. Then she was like, “I’ll add a few of my friends who are the other sizes”, because if you don’t know anything about buying clothing wholesale, you have to buy in packs. They typically come in like packs of six. It’s like two smalls, two mediums and two larges. So, she was buying clothes that she liked at wholesale, and then she was letting her friends purchase the sizes that she didn’t want to keep, which is how it got started, which is how a lot of people probably get started. Then it absolutely exploded to the point where she was hiring people to invoice, basically people were commenting ‘sold’ on the Facebook post, and then they were manually sending PayPal invoices to these people and keeping track of everything manually. And they got to the point where she had actually hired people to stay up all night and do nothing but send invoices and keep track of these things.

Megan: And one thing that’s unique about this, just in case we don’t know, so like with discount divas. So that’s what it started out well and I mean, they would like to model the clothing on Facebook Live or through video, which at that time, not a lot of people were doing. I mean, maybe I’m just antiquated and social, but seeing what they were doing with trying clothes on and showing how it fit and putting different body types in different pieces of clothing, that to me, was amazing. That took the online shopping experience to a completely different level. Then you’ve seen a lot of companies follow suit. But that was one thing that I thought was really interesting and was a new experience for me.

Ciera: Definitely and I mean, they dominated Facebook selling in general, I mean, they’re one of the biggest success stories that comes from that type of selling. And that type of selling was kind of unheard of at the time. Boutiques had websites, of course, that you could shop in but as far as using Facebook as the e-commerce platform was really unheard of at the time. And so Brandon is a successful tech entrepreneur is just a genius, extremely smart and don’t let him actually listen to this, because he doesn’t need to hear me say that. But he is just absolutely one of the smartest people that I know. So she actually was staying up all night and doing all these invoices, he’s like, “Oh, I could probably just write a program to do it for you.” That little project that he thought was going to take him a few hours, we’re now like five years into but he wrote the program and it saved her a ton of time and she was able to grow exponentially through that. It’s come from just a program that scans Facebook comments, and sends invoices, now we’re a full stack e-commerce platform. So we offer web store mobile apps, we just launched Instagram Live selling, which is just insane. We broke into Instagram Live, which is cool. There are some more really neat integrations coming soon that the ink is not dry on contracts yet, so I can’t actually talk about them. But some other platforms that people scroll mindlessly hours on hours on end…

Megan: I think I can guess what that is.

Ciera: …that people eventually are selling live on as well through CommentSold. So it’s really evolved into just this huge thing that we have thousands of retailers and some of the biggest names in the boutique industry are using us which I think is really cool when you break it back down to that community aspect because in our community of six or 7000 people are actively talking to each other and helping us on Facebook, you see people who got started last month getting advice from these retailers who are doing a million dollars a week. They’re freely giving advice and I think it’s just a super cool thing to see.

Megan: That’s awesome. What have you seen that has garnered the biggest engagement by creating that community within the retail space, like what is really cooked them as far as people wanting to give advice and help each other out?

Ciera: I think because they all started from somewhere, they recognize that person who’s sitting there who just got started last month, that was them three years ago, four years ago, five years ago. So, we’re truly like a whole group of community versus competition, they don’t see each other as being direct competition, they see it as being like their friend, or their sister in business, or somebody who’s going to become one of their new best friends. And you would think that the community could be a little bit tense, or maybe not forthcoming, because they don’t really want to give away their trade secrets, or whatever it is. But most people have realized that people shop with people. I can sell the same thing as you but people are going to shop with me for a different reason than they’re going to shop with you. They’re going to shop with me because they love who I am as a person, you’re really actually endearing people to your lives, not more so than they are shopping with a boutique brand. So I think that people have really realized that and so it’s less about competition and ‘that person’s copying me’ or ‘selling the same thing as me’. And more so about truly keeping your head down and staying focused and staying in your lane and worrying about yourself.

Megan: That’s so exciting. I can’t wait to see all that’s to come with the business and your role and all of that.

Ciera: It’d be great.

Megan: Without sharing things that are confidential, what’s one of the big things from a business perspective for you, personally, that you’re really excited about, maybe that’s happening over the next year?

Ciera: We have a few things coming that I can’t talk about but what I am really excited about is, we have a lot of things that we’re bringing to the platform that are going to make retailers’ lives easier. So not only are they going to be able to expand their product offering without making bigger investments, we’ve got some stuff coming for that, that’s going to allow them to truly scale their business without having to have the money up front which I think is something that’s just really exciting. Plus, eventually we’ll have the ability to make it where somebody who wants to break into the business can do so if maybe they have a massive social media following and this is something that they want to pursue. But maybe they don’t want to run the day to day in and out of owning a boutique, they’re not necessarily excited about all of those parts of it. We have things in the works that will allow them to run this successful business without being so hands on, which I think is really exciting. Both of those are two things that I’m really passionate about because it really takes away the barrier of entry. The part that’s really scary, the initial monetary investment and things like that, and really makes it easy to get started.

Megan: Yeah, that’s exciting. Oh, my gosh, it’s exciting. Every time I turn around, I feel like there’s new news about your business and what’s going on.

Ciera: Me too, talking about somebody who has to keep up with the changes, I have to keep up with the changes and all of the product and teach people about all the changes in the product and also have to keep up with all the things that are coming in the future. So yeah, my head is constantly spinning with all the new things that we’re coming up with.

Megan: What a blessing to be able to be in a role where you’re combining something that you love, and that you’re so passionate about coupled with just the technology and the innovation and the newness of setting trends in the space that didn’t exist, but doing it for the right reason which I think is just so exciting.

Ciera: If you asked me five years ago if I thought that I would work at a tech company, the answer would absolutely be ‘no’. I would have thought I was not even remotely interested. It just worked out perfectly that it happens to be a tech company that is grounded in something that I am passionate about. So, it was an interesting transition.

Megan: And you know, you just create your own position and present it and the rest is history. Right, we could do that, why not? I love that. So as I mentioned before, one of the things that I- and you and I are not that close, obviously we’ve worked, our paths crossed in the past a little bit. But because of the beautiful world of social media, you can follow one’s journey, in a way and your journey has been one that has been so inspiring to so many people. And even though you and I are not besties, I feel like I know the inner workings of your life and the challenges and the ups and downs. And so I’d like for you to share a little bit about that. I think one of the many things about you is that regardless of the scenario that you are in or the environment that you’re in, you have become the epitome of inspiration and admiration.

Ciera: Thank you

Megan: But you truly have. I mean, not only for kids, but for women, for couples, for individuals who struggle with things that frankly, are outside of their control. And I loved, I feel weird saying I loved watching this journey. But in all of its ups and downs, it’s a beautiful thing to sit back and watch, frankly, because there are silver linings, and there are challenges, and there’s all that goes in it. Your public journey and the way that I got to know you was your significant weight loss journey, which was amazing, you were like the Shrinking Woman every time you saw and it was the hard parts about that, and the ups and downs with that. And as a woman, man, everybody in between, struggles with that and I think that there’s the theme there that I really felt drawn to was your ability to be vulnerable with the world. It didn’t matter what other people thought you were just being you, which I think is something to be sad about. But about brands in general, like they lose that they lose that ability to be authentic and tell their true story and I think that’s one of the things that has created such a powerful persona around the journey that you’ve kind of had. So, obviously, you’ve had your journey with some weight loss, and you’ve had your journey with a couple other things too.

Ciera: A few things

Megan: I know so why don’t you share with us a little bit about that?

Ciera: I think that there’s something to be said about being transparent. And I know that when I was considering weight loss surgery, I had sleeve surgery about a year and a half ago. I knew what I was considering was almost like a taboo subject. It was like, nobody wanted to talk about it, nobody wanted to admit that they were excited and proud of what they had done but they felt like this sense of shame almost that that’s what they chose.

Megan: which is crazy

Ciera: It’s a life saving and life changing surgery. It’s not something to be ashamed of. So my main goal, when I started considering it was like I was saying, “I’m going to be the person that talks about it so that when somebody else is considering it, they don’t feel that same shame that I felt when I was originally thinking about doing it. So, I really made it a point to be very open and very vulnerable and very public about it even though it’s kind of hard, just because I was more worried that somebody else who was going to be in my shoes, six months here, two years down the road had somebody that they can ask questions, had somebody that had been through it that they could look up to and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.

Megan: So hold on real quick. I’m going to pause right there. So, people not being ashamed about telling their story, you wanted to kind of make sure…

Ciera: That was really the main thing, just making sure that I was super public about it. And there were people who were considering it and I mean, it’s something that saves people’s lives. It changes your life. So it shouldn’t be something that people don’t do because they don’t know where to go. They don’t know what doctor to talk to. They don’t understand the process. They don’t understand how insurance works to pay for it. Mainly, my goal was to make sure that if anybody had those types of questions, if I had the answer to it, I was totally open and totally public so that they could feel comfortable coming to me about it, which happened in droves. I have a very small closed private Facebook group, that’s another thing that is really important to me, creating these small little communities. So, got a couple 100 people in there who just in the past 18 months since I’ve had surgery have considered having surgery, and a lot of them have gone through with having surgery so it’s really neat to see like the trickle down experience of seeing dozens and dozens of men and women go through with having surgery and like getting their lives back because I was willing to just talk about it.

Megan What a rippling effect that has, that’s generational impact that that creates, I mean, there’s no doubt about it from not only one’s individual health, but how they’re able to carry their children and how they’re able to care for their wife or their family member, whatever it might be.

Ciera: It’s really been neat to see that the people who have been involved in that are a lot more open with telling their story too so I see them publicly talking about it and also, doing the same thing, answering questions for people who are interested in it, guiding people through the process. So it’s been really neat to see this whole change and shift in the way people perceive weight loss surgery. They may only be here in Huntsville but it’s been really cool to see that. There’s been dozens of people who now are openly talking about their health and that journey and then making it so that it’s not a taboo or shameful.

Megan: Yes. I love that. So then your journey kind of took a different shift. Yeah, from that you were, again, half the woman that you are, not literally, but I mean, you looked fantastic and you still do. But it was such a journey to see all that happen. It was amazing but then things didn’t stop but things kind of came your way and tell us a little about that.

Ciera: Things changed a little bit. I actually was probably eight months out of surgery and had lost a majority of the weight that I was looking to lose but I was just going through a lot of really weird symptoms that I just could not figure out. And I was like, “Okay, maybe this is hormonal”, you know, you lose 100 pounds in eight months, your body’s going to be a little bit out of whack, right? So, I went to my doctor, and he was like, “Hey, you know, this isn’t normal. There’s something going on. I just need some answers. Can we figure this out?” So I went through a bunch of different tests and finally decided that I wanted to have a hysterectomy. It was like, “I’m done having kids. Done with this part, I’m tired of all of this. Can we just get it over with?”

Megan: Were having a lot of issues as far as pain?

Ciera: Yes, bleeding, pain. I mean, to the point where I would stay up all night long because I couldn’t sleep. It was terrible. So I was kind of like, “Okay, I’m done. I don’t want to have kids anymore. I have two beautiful kids. I have zero desire to have any more kids.” I did not enjoy pregnancy. I was not one of those lovely, glowing pregnant people. It was not a fun time in my life. I feel like anybody who says that they love being pregnant is probably a little bit of a liar, or they have amnesia, and they forgot how terrible it actually was, didn’t enjoy it whatsoever. So I was like, “I’m done. Let me just go ahead and have this hysterectomy.” And luckily, I finally found a doctor who was willing to just do it. Because I mean, I’m 33 I’m not of the age where you would typically be like, “Yeah, let’s just go ahead and you know, cut everything out. Let’s have a hysterectomy.” But luckily, I found a doctor who was willing to do it with me. And she was like, “You know, I’m listening to you, I hear you.” They could not figure out why. They just assumed that I had what’s called pelvic organ prolapse, I had two very gigantic babies so basically what happens when all of the ligaments and things that are holding your pelvic organs together have just stretched out completely so that’s what they thought was happening. And so when I went in and I had my hysterectomy, they realized that I actually had advanced cervical cancer. So I found out when I woke up from surgery, my doctor was sitting in the room with me and I was like, “This is probably not the best sight. I don’t think doctors usually hang out in the recovery room. This was probably not gonna be a good time.” And so she told me what she had found and she’s like, “I can’t say for sure until we get pathology back but this is what I think is happening and I just want you to be prepared.” I’m pretty straightforward, she’s super straightforward. I’m like, “Don’t sugarcoat, just tell them what’s happening”, whatever. So I dealt with that, got home, recovered and of course two days later, she called me back in pathology and confirmed it. But then the crazy part and what was probably the hardest part of the entire journey, which is crazy, once I look back, and I look at everything that I’ve done, and all of the treatment that I’ve gone through, the hardest part was truly waiting. I had to wait a month before I could even have a PET scan because I had just had surgery, and they wanted you to heal completely from surgery to be able to get an accurate scan. So I had to wait four to six weeks, from surgery to my pet scan to figure out how bad things actually were.

Megan: Oh my god, I can imagine your mind must have been racing.

Ciera: As a control freak, that was the hardest part of everything because I love being in control. As I’m sure most type A women do, we do not like waiting. We’re not very patient. I’m not very patient. I don’t like waiting. I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control. So, I waited about a month before I had my PET scan then when I got my results, my cancer had spread into my lymphatic system. So it was stage 3C, which is basically as bad as it gets without you having to spread too far to distant places like the brain and other organs and things like that. So they were still treatable. That was what they threw out there, they didn’t necessarily give me curable as a hope, they gave me treatable as a hope so that’s what we were going for.

Megan: Meaning that you live with it and it’s just managed?

Ciera: Yes, I mean, what was basically given to me as being a best case scenario was just, “We’re gonna fight it as hard as we can and you know, we’ll see what happens.” But again, my oncologist is super direct and straightforward to you, which I also appreciate. And it’s just like, “This isn’t going to be a fun time. Here’s our plan.” And so, I immediately started radiation and chemo. So, my first round was six rounds of chemo, once a week, and then I had 33 radiation treatments, five days a week for over a month. So I was at the doctor’s, I mean, every single day, Monday through Friday for about two months. Then I had internal radiation after that, which was not a great time, either.

Megan: How do they administer that?

Ciera: You actually don’t want to Google it. So just don’t google it and if you’re watching this, don’t google it either. You don’t want to know, I was a patient at UAB. They actually insert a lot of needles into your body that stay there for three or four days then you’re immobilized in a hospital bed so that they don’t shift and then they administer radiation through these needles that are about this long. You can imagine it looks like- somebody described it as looking like a scene from a Saw movie and that’s probably the most accurate description that I’ve ever heard of it. My oncologist was like, “It’s barbaric. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to do it. But of course, I’m like, “Give it to me. Like whatever treatment you’ve got, we’re going to take it.” So, I had that and then had another scan and they were like, “It’s bigger, not any smaller.”

Megan: After all of that

Ciera: After all of that, they were like “It’s a little bit bigger. It’s not any smaller. So let’s try the next thing.” So I moved into a really strong chemotherapy treatment, which is what I’m currently on and immunotherapy which I was really blessed with. So Keytruda is actually originally developed for small cell lung cancer and it’s immunotherapy and basically what it does is it takes your own immune system and enables it to specifically target and fight your type of cancer cells, which is…

Megan: kind of tailored

Ciera: …super unique, amazing, newer technology. I was blessed enough that it was approved to be used for cervical cancer recently, so I got to start Keytruda a few months ago. My last scan that I had a couple of weeks ago actually showed no evidence of active cancer, which is just like the best news you could hope for.

Megan: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.

Ciera: Yes, the best news that I could hope for, I still, of course, have about a year of Keytruda treatments to finish up, and then I’ll have scans every single three months for that timeframe just to like, make sure things aren’t coming back because of the chemo that I am on is extremely toxic and really aggressive. So our hope is that Keytruda only will keep it away for as long as possible.

Megan: That is amazing. That is insane. This was not sponsored by Keytruda.

Ciera: No, not sponsored by Keytruda but it should be.

Megan: It should be

Ciera: Do you want to sponsor this podcast? You should, at this point.

Megan: Obviously there are a lot of variables associated with what happened but to think that you were able to try something like that and see such a drastic shift in the results is crazy.

Ciera: I struggled, that’s for sure I definitely almost gave up on Keytruda after my first dose. I have a really bad track record with first chemo treatments. My very first chemo treatment of my first round of chemo, a couple days later, I had a stroke and ended up in the hospital and found out that I have a rare brain disease.

Megan: Is that the moyamoya? I was curious about that.

Ciera: So it’s a rare brain disease that I’ve had for a while and really no one in Huntsville has dealt with it so being diagnosed was really hard. I’ve had strokes previously but my dehydration from chemo actually triggered another stroke and I just so happened to be treated by a doctor in town who I love and respect at the hospital who had seen my condition before. It’s extremely rare, there aren’t really doctors here in town that deal with it so I actually have to go to Stanford once my treatment is over for my brain surgery at Stanford because the doctor who can actually treat it is in California.

Then my first chemo that I had with Keytruda and [inaudible 00:32:37] which is what I’m currently on. Keytruda completely killed my fibroid in my adrenal glands because it amplifies your immune system so it causes your immune system to attack the cancer cells but if you have any underlying immune system issues or anything like that, it amplifies those as well. [inaudible 00:33:01] and it completely tanked my entire fibroid and my internal system too so I don’t have functioning adrenal glands, thanks to my first dose of Keytruda. So I was like I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do this but my doctor told me about this amazing story of this lady who- had helped her so much and he was like, “ If you just want to try one more dose and if something else bad happens…”. He’s like, “All the things that have happened are irreversible so it can’t get any worse so keep going, if you want to.”

Megan: That’s amazing.

Ciera: Luckily, I did and I didn’t give up so here we are.

Megan: That is so crazy. And to think that you’ve gone through all of this and you’re 33 years old. So I mean, I’m a mom, you’re a mom, I’d be curious, I mean, your kids are little so to to see their superhero go through this journey and see the strength and unity that comes with the family component of that, so talk a little bit about that and how they’ve been.

Ciera: Honestly, we have done our best. That’s been the hardest thing, making sure their lives haven’t been impacted. So I still made it to every single out of town competition with all of them.

Megan: And you were a big cheerleader

Ciera: Yes, even walking around Indianapolis and hopping up on painkillers, I was just like, “I’m going to make it”, rescheduling chemo treatments just to make sure we didn’t miss our family beach trip. They helped me shave my head.

Megan: Love that

Ciera: But they thought it was because I dyed my air blue and I wanted to have my red hair back. They are eight and five so that’s not the age where you want to explain this.

Megan: That’s hard to comprehend at that age.

Ciera: But they do know that mummy is really fun and really impulsive so when I dyed my hair navy blue, they were like, “Oh that’s so cool.” Then my son was like, “Mommy, I really miss your red hair” and I was like, “I really miss my red hair too but there’s only one way to get it back. We’ve got to cut all of this off and then when I grow it back it’ll be red.” I’m sure my daughter who’s eight does not fully believe that.

Megan: I would say for what it’s worth that you have the best hair.

Ciera: I am ready for it to be back. I have these little baby springs. In the chemo world, we call them chicken feathers because when your hair grows back it looks like baby chicks’ feathers like that fluffy little hair but doesn’t look like hair in the beginning so I have chicken feathers right now but I can at least tell that it is going to possibly come back and still be red so I’m really excited about that.

Megan: That’s good. Do you have to keep shaving it throughout chemo?

Ciera: No, I only shaved it twice. What a lot of people don’t know is that shaving it is a choice. I did not have to shave it but losing your hair is very painful. Your scalp hurts so that’s the reason people shave their head. You don’t really have to shave your head; your hair will fall out. My hair fell out but I shaved it to relieve the pain because the follicles of your hair actually physically hurt so the weight of your hair is really painful and then sleeping on it and when it’s falling out, it hurts because of the friction. So yes, I don’t have to continue to shave it, there’s just nothing there so I don’t have anything. I haven’t shaved it in a couple of months. It just doesn’t grow back right now because of the chemo treatment that I’m on.

Megan: I did not know that. I just thought it was because your hair fell out.

Ciera: For a lot of people, it starts to fall out in chunks and they want to do a bit of [inaudible 00:37:37] For me, it was like a pain thing. I have thick hair so I have a ton of hair so even as it was falling out, I still looked like I had hair but it was really uncomfortable and I was just like, “This is the last thing I want to deal with right now.’ Also I was just like, “Let’s just go ahead and shave it all off.” So John and the kids thought it was hilarious, they got to hack away my hair with scissors.

Megan: Sure, they will forever remember that too.

Ciera: They had the best time. We took tons of pictures. They thought it was hilarious so that was one of the ways we were able to turn it into something fun. It could be something that will be like, “Is that really a fun time.”

Megan: And again, your kids are going to remember that moment. When they get older, they’ll know what that moment represented but I think during a time that could have been devastating for you was joyful for them.

Ciera: It was a really good time.

Megan: So this journey has obviously taught you a ton. You’ve been through a lot, you’ve been to hell and back. I would say that is a pretty fair statement.

Ciera: Yes it’s fair.

Megan: I mean, it’s been pretty hard. The whole needle sore thing, I’m like that’s what I recall.

Ciera: Don’t google it.

Megan: Oh I’m not going to. But I think out of this journey, you’ve been able to turn this into something that will leave a lasting legacy, hopefully well beyond the journey you have had. So talk to us just a bit about the next initiative as it relates to your fight against cervical cancer.

Ciera: Of course. During this process, one of the things that has always been so important to me is making sure there is awareness, making sure that I’m supporting other people, making sure other people feel comfortable talking to me about things. So again, I was super transparent with my entire cancer journey; the good, the bad and the ugly, very open and vocal about it. So during that process, my husband and I decided that we wanted to start a nonprofit specifically for cervical and gynecological cancers because there really is not a lot of that here locally. So in Alabama, there’s the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation but they are based out of Birmingham and they typically are very focused on ovarian cancer. A lot of GYN foundations are ovarian cancer based more than cervical cancer based. We can all work together because we have the same mission and the same goals but we wanted to start one of the first ones that was truly about cervical cancer. So we started Her Fight Foundation, our main thing is that we are going to be putting together chemo care kits for women who are going to be starting  chemotherapy. Because I had no idea what I was walking into.

Megan: Megan: You probably felt like you were the only one during that moment.

Ciera: Luckily, I had some really great friends who had gone through something similar or who knew somebody who had gone through something similar, they were like, “Hey I’ll send you this.” And it was all these Amazon things that you’ll probably get and of course I was like, “I’ll buy them all, sure.” And it was blankets, icy hands, I don’t know what I’ll need this icy hands or this icy kit for but I’ll figure it out and certain types of lotions, certain types of chapsticks. There are so many things that they can use that they don’t even think about and you are not prepared whatsoever. And I’m lucky that I have the means to make those purchases but not everybody has that. So we will be putting chemo care kits in the local gynecological and oncologist office so that when women are facing their first treatments, they’ll be there, getting this beautiful gift and the other things that we are going to be helping with are transportation grants.

When I first got started with radiation, I lived 25 minutes from where I was receiving radiation treatments and I was driving 25 minutes there and 25 minutes back, five days a week. Luckily, we were able to do that but a lot of people cannot. And there’s really not a lot of availability for- there’s one place downtown that if you live outside of a certain amount of radius, you can stay there and receive your treatments but they don’t have very many beds and it’s truly for people who live really far away not the people who are like me who live 20 minutes but that’s still a lot of money when you talk about gas and transportation. I had to travel to UAB, I had to spend the night in a hotel, the night before, my husband had to eat while I was there so grants for things like that and to help with medication.

I’m super blessed to have insurance and I still had to pay $6500 out of pocket before everything would be covered by my insurance and I know that is the best insurance you could probably get and not everybody is that lucky; and also helping with ‘cope aids’ and prescriptions and things like that. So, we have got everything filed and now we are just hoping to catch a breath for a minute and I should be finishing treatment in a couple of weeks and have a lot of time to really kick off fundraising, throwing events and having fundraisers, getting everything started but we wanted to go ahead and get everything at least paper work wise taken care of so hopefully we are official in the next month or two, we will be able to truly kick off our fundraising effort so that we can bring those chemo care kits to the doctor’s office and make sure that if there’s anybody who is in need of financial assistance, there were there as an option.

Megan: You didn’t mention this and I don’t mean to put words in your mouth but of course I feel like there is a big community discussion on an issue that’s coming alongside that too where you’re pulling individuals together and families together who haven’t been through this experience before as a means of camaraderie and just discussion.

Ciera: They have, I think what is called a [inaudible 00:44:28] warriors program at my doctor’s office at [inaudible 00:44:31] Huntsville hospital, it’s basically for anybody who has had gynecological cancer and their families and they do a fantastic job of putting together events and getting patients to meet each other but there’s always room for more people in the community and getting connected. And maybe that’s not their scene, maybe getting together and going to a hair salon and having a party is not where they are mentally and that’s okay so, being able to connect people who have been through the process to people who are currently undergoing it. I’ve had lots of people reach out to me because either they’ve had scares and they want to know a little bit about my diagnosis story or they’ve had family members diagnosed and they just want to know how best to support them.

Megan: That is such a huge resource just to know that you have someone there to answer your questions.

Ciera: Yes, I mean I had somebody who was fantastic for me, a friend of mine with whom I have been friends with for a long time, she has ovarian cancer. It’s a little bit different but she’s been my person.

Megan: That’s amazing.

Ciera: It will be great to be that person for somebody else.

Megan: So, HerFight Foundation, can people get involved? Can they go to a website yet and just figure out how to get engaged when you are-

Ciera: Best place right now will probably be Facebook so Facebook page as far as website, we haven’t gotten there yet.

Megan: It’s ok, we’ll link everything in the notes added to the Facebook page. That’s exciting, we are definitely going to follow your journey and we’ll celebrate your success from over here, it’s just been amazing.

Can’t wait

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s been awesome.

Ciera: Of course

Megan: I think the biggest thing that I love again, we started this before we started filming but the least interesting thing about you is the fact that you’ve gone through cancer. What’s more interesting is your desire to inspire, motivate and be such a phenomenal resource to other people and open yourself up and be vulnerable because I think the team knows this, we’ve talked about it a million times but I think that’s when you truly continue to grow and people around you can really resonate with you and understand things in a totally different way when you were just kind of being yourself.

Ciera: Also, it’s a great opportunity to find other avenues of either branching out to other things and that’s something that I’ve found is like I’ve created these small pockets of communities but they all overlap in some way. So, the friends whom I’ve built from network marketing, now they follow along on a different journey and then the friends I made through sleeve surgery now come with me through this next journey too so I’ve just been able to accumulate friends and connections has just been fantastic. I think that’s something that people can do but businesses can do also but it really does take being transparent and putting your whole self out there even though sometimes it’s not the prettiest and we are the most fun.

Megan: And that’s okay and you know people are going to relate in every stage that you are you know what I mean? You’re not speaking to everybody, you’re speaking to certain people who relate on certain levels and you’ve done just that so kudos to you.

Ciera: Thanks

Megan: You should be very proud of everything that you’ve achieved. I know your kids are definitely in awe.

Ciera: So much more to come

Megan: Thank you guys so much for tuning in, we really appreciate your time.

Ciera: Thanks for having me.

Megan: I realized we didn’t do this over a cocktail.