by Marci Narum | Submitted Photos | Cover Photo: Sidiqqi Soul Ray
Editors’ notes: We began planning this article in February. At that time, Chelsea was eager to share her story with Inspired Woman. She had received good news from her doctors and had a new reason to celebrate life. Since then, Chelsea’s circumstances have changed, and in May, she published a book detailing the last nine months of her life and what dying young has taught her about living. The italicized lines in this article are excerpts from her book, “The Yellow House on the Left.”
The face of breast cancer is often presented in the media by models with beautiful bodies and fake scars. Well, I know what breast cancer really looks like. It’s CTs, surgeries, amputations, biopsies, MRIs, X-rays, radiation, chemo, IVs, blood tests, medications, check-ups, fear, worry, hate, anger, confusion, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, depression, insomnia and pain. Breast cancer is not pretty. And it’s no pink ribbon. No offense to the pink ribbons people wear for breast cancer and all the money that’s been raised because of them. But if breast cancer is a color, I’m pretty sure it’s blue. Because it makes you feel blue to the very core.
Chelsea Berler was determined to beat breast cancer, despite the scary news she received in October 2017. The Bowman, North Dakota native was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer—a very aggressive form of the disease. Chelsea could admit that cancer made her feel blue, but it was not going to break her.
The 34-year old lives Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, where she met her husband, Mark, and started her boutique marketing agency 12 years ago. Chelsea and her team help businesses and nonprofit organizations with branding, design, and marketing. Solomar Agency has been wildly successful because Chelsea has a passion and a knack for helping people leave their mark on the world. Her experience with cancer inspired her to do something that will mostly like leave a mark for generations to come.
Cancer is ugly. But Chelsea chose to embrace her cancer journey and share it with others in a way that can only be described as beautiful.
FOYE BELLE FOUNDATION
Chelsea has two older sisters—Jessica Petrick and Alicia Kulseth—who both live in Mandan, North Dakota. Jessica says her sister is one of the most selfless people she knows.
“When Chelsea was first diagnosed with breast cancer and was sitting getting chemo in the chemo rooms, she was getting gifts from so many people from all over the country,” Jessica shares. “She would take this stuff to the chemo room and give it all away because there were so many people that didn’t have anything or were there by themselves or didn’t have the simple things that made chemo more comfortable.”
I knew, even though I was miserable as hell, I had so much to be thankful for. I had Mark and was surrounded by so much love and support from friends and family. A lot of the time, they’d pack me a bag of goodies to take to chemo that brightened my day—stuff to help keep me comfortable and pass the time during the six hours I spent getting poison pumped into my body. Just basic stuff like really nice hand lotion and lip balm for when my skin felt dry and adult coloring books and crayons for when I got bored and herbal tea to sip and hard candy to suck on to help fight the nausea. So, I’d come in with my bag full of all this cool stuff, stuff that really helped. And I’d look around the room and see so many people suffering alone, with nothing. So I ended up giving most of my stuff away.
And that’s when Chelsea found a way to turn the ugliest thing she had experienced into something beautiful for anyone else facing the same fate. She established the Foye Belle Foundation.
“Our grandma Foye Belle died of breast cancer in her early 60s,” Jessica explains. “She always had bright red lipstick on and high heels and always dressed like the fanciest lady in Baker, Montana. And she loved her grandkids.”
From the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought about my grandma and the suffering and pain she endured. Did she have the support she needed? When I realized that I could actually do something to help provide support to other people who were suffering, naming the foundation after her was a no-brainer.
And don’t forget—Chelsea is the CEO of a marketing agency. She knows the strategies and has the skills and tools to help a brand take off.
“Alicia, Chelsea, and I talked about starting this nonprofit where we’ll raise money to come up with these blue bags and anyone going through chemo can receive a free blue bag. We send them a blue bag that has Queasy pops, crossword puzzles, hats, blankets, books; just stuff to make a horrible situation a little better.”
BLUE BAG MOVEMENT BEGINS
The idea became the Blue Bag Movement, and Jessica says in three short months, the foundation raised nearly $50,000 and gifted 150 people with Blue Bags. Jessica says Chelsea would raise enough to assemble 50 bags at a time.
“It’s called a blue bag because it’s a blue time of your life, but it’s hopefully something that can make your experience a little better.”
Sadly, Chelsea’s condition took a turn for the worse. In February, doctors told her the treatments had worked—her cancer was not gone, but it had shrunk enough that surgeons could remove the tumors. Chelsea thought she had indeed beat cancer. Everyone celebrated. But in March, Chelsea began having severe headaches. The cancer had spread. After doing multiple tests on Chelsea, her doctors told her she had terminal brain cancer.
I never thought I wouldn’t beat cancer. I thought I had it and I was good to kick its ass. NEVER did I think it would win. But cancer is kicking my ass, not the other way around.
“As much as she was going through, she wanted to make sure everybody else was okay. She never really complained, never really cared that she lost her hair or didn’t have eyebrows. It was always a funny joke. She’d joke about how she looked like Mr. Clean. She took it all by stride and in the most graceful way possible,” Jessica says.
“She didn’t lose her spirit in this entire process. It’s amazing. There are days we get really mad and upset, and we’re not sure why we’re losing her. But she’s made peace with it.”
MARK OF BEAUTY
Jessica says losing her younger sister means she will have to find a new “normal.” She is the owner of BREA, a clothing boutique in Mandan. She says the best part of her work is helping people find a reason to smile and feel confident.
“Beauty to me is not the outside appearance at all. It’s more who you are as a person. It’s what you give to others; the difference you make in other people’s lives and seeing the lives that are affected in my volunteer work, and seeing the lives Chelsea has affected through her life. Making people truly feel you’ve impacted their life is the true definition of beauty.
“I didn’t realize the depth of the people she has affected until I read the posts daily on her Facebook page, of how she’s affected so many people nationwide. It brings comfort to me because I know she’s made such a huge impact.”
Chelsea will continue to leave her mark of beauty on the world after she’s gone. Jessica says she and her sister Alicia and Chelsea’s husband, Mark, will help run the Foye Belle Foundation. The work Chelsea started caught attention in the nation’s capital, and it was officially recognized by Congress in February.
The Blue Bag Movement has only begun.
Chelsea’s book, “The Yellow House on the Left” can be purchased on Amazon. All proceeds from her book support the Foye Belle Foundation.
Join the Blue Bag Movement:
Visit FoyeBelle.org — watch and listen to Chelsea share her story and her inspiration for the Blue Bag Movement
Send a message via Facebook: The Foye Belle Foundation
Contact Jessica: email@example.com
Jessica carries a charity line of retail items at BREA called “Be REAL.” She also sells Foye Belle Foundation T-shirts.
All proceeds go to The Foye Belle Foundation.