Blustery Day

[This article is cross posted at Thescarprojectcincy blog.]

Posted by Joules Evans
When Cincinnati SCAR Project subject Vanessa Tiemeier was talking about her Blustery Day Design business on Fox 19’s June “Think Pink“segment, you might  have found yourself channeling a little Winnie the Pooh and humming along with this classic:

But then again maybe that’s just me. Anyway. I don’t know if Vanessa and her sisters, Jessica and Christina, were channeling Winnie the  Pooh when they began their Blustery Day Design business, after Vanessa was diagnosed with breast cancer, but they definitely weren’t channeling Eeyore.

Vanessa did not sitting around sulking, like Eeyore always did whenever Christopher Robin would put his tail back on, saying “No matter. Most likely lose it again anyway.”

Like she told Fox 19’s Katie Morgan, “I know for a lot of people, their world just empties out. But for me, I was always: Well, what can I do about it?”

Vanessa credits her positive outlook and upbeat perspective to the incredible support she receives from her family.

Not many lifetime marriages are tested on the “in sickness” vows like Billy and Vanessa have been ever since Vanessa was diagnosed with breast cancer nine months after they said “I do.” (Happy anniversary to Billy and Vanessa, btw, who celebrated their 5th anniversary last week! Cheers to you both, and to both of your health, and here’s to MANY more anniversaries!)

And then there are Vanessa’s sisters, Jessica Yeager and Christina Blust.

“My sisters mean the world to me. They are my best friends,” says Vanessa, the sister in the middle.

Like bookends, Vanessa’s sisters were by her side, supporting her.

“Besides the obvious actions that were now immediately needed, to learn about her cancer and treatment plan and how we could best support Vanessa in this new, crappy situation…” Jessica explained in a recent interview. “…we also found we all felt like we needed to act, immediately, in another way, too, to make our dream to start a future business together ‘real’.

“I think we were destined to have a business together. Our different strengths and preferences complement each other, and we are best friends who truly love working together. Despite the obvious desire we had to do this, we felt no rush towards action on it, since we were each still finishing our degrees, getting married, buying houses, and enjoying young adulthood.  Our business plans seemed like something we’d do ‘once we grew up’ still, and we meanwhile relished our casual chats as young twenty-somethings talking about this sister business we’d certainly have, one day, and just how great it will be.

“Until Vanessa was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 25. That just made us rethink our whole timeline.

“Finding out about her cancer was a major wake up call.  We realized that waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to start just resulted in lots of waiting…  and we no longer had the luxury of time in which to wait. The time, perfect or not, was now.

“While Vanessa had her first chemo treatments, we sat next to her in the visitor chairs and talked through our business plan.  We took trips to try on wigs together and then followed that up with visits to paper shops.  We’d google ‘Adriamycin side effects’ and then google ‘small business web hosting’.  It became a joint project, this cancer and this business.  Together they formed a strange partnership of slowing things down and speeding things up, all at once.

“The company name that we settled on for our business was Blustery Day Design.  This is something of a play on our maiden names of ‘Blust’, but we also saw including a ‘blustery day’ in our name as a fitting testimony to both the good and the bad parts of life, the ups and the downs, the happy and the sad.  We believe all parts, all days, and all moments, are worth celebrating, acknowledging and supporting.  Our business is founded in part on a desire to assist people in really being there for each other, in small but meaningful ways, through everything life contains.

“Once we got ‘real’, our cancer greeting cards were an obvious first product line for Blustery Day Design to develop.  Who better than Vanessa, with her insider perspective, to create authentic and heartfelt cards that said exactly what she wanted to have said to her, exactly what she knew would cheer up someone else who was in just her shoes.

“When she got overloaded by the many very supportive but very pink cards and gifts, Vanessa came up with the ‘no pink‘ card.  When she felt her most low from treatments and surgeries that left her bald, boobless, and puffy, she created the ‘still beautiful‘ card.  As she weathered the storm that is chemo and all its side effects, Vanessa made the ‘chemo brain‘ card. When we all joked about how many times we just wished there was an actual ‘cancer card’ you could pull out of your wallet to get special treatment at needed times, our wallet-sized ‘cancer card‘ was born.

“The creation of the different cancer cards is therapeutic for us, but the feedback we hear back from customers who have sent on our cards is truly the most rewarding part.  To hear how Vanessa’s insight and experiences have brightened the day of someone else dealing with cancer, or to know our simple and small card let someone know they were loved and supported, gives us such a sense of making a difference in the lives of others in the world wide community – and this is a key part of what our goals are for our business.

“Currently, when I think of my sisters and our business, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude and hope.  Seems rather odd to feel or say, seeing as Vanessa is now more recently diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, which means her cancer has spread throughout her body, will never be gone, and she will never be ‘cured’.  She has cancer as a terminal disease now, and the stats that go along with it are both sobering and horrible.  We have sister cry sessions over the fact that cancer has taken from us what we each imagined our futures containing –  different paths that still end with the three of us, with our own families, old and wrinkly and getting together for ice cream and marathon gab sessions at the ripe age of 96.  Life, it’s clear, is not fair, and the privilege of a limitless future is too often taken for granted.

“I’d rather go back to the boring, normal life where our business dreams were slow moving and Vanessa didn’t have cancer, any day.  But she has cancer, and we had the business in us all along, and now we’re running with them both – and we have resolved to use the business to defy the cancer.

“We have already made a difference in the lives of people around the world, and have so many ideas to do even more.  We are able to make a real contribution towards stopping this awful thing that is cancer, by choosing a promising local cancer research foundation to donate a portion of our cancer cards’ proceeds to.

“We have taken something ugly, and found the beauty there still.  We love, and live, sincerely.  Life is good.”

Not too shabby a mantra.

Vanessa’s younger sister, Christina adds, “I am so grateful, every day, that I get to be part of this with two of my favorite people in the world. Stationery makes sense for us — it’s all about reaching out in a meaningful way to the people in each of our lives, creating true communication and strengthening relationships no matter if the circumstance is a joyous event or a tough bit of news.”

“Being able to reach people with our cards has been amazing,” Vanessa sums up, harmonizing with the gratitude her sisters have so eloquently articulated. “I am grateful to be able to share my talent in a positive way and spread peace. Receiving feedback from our customers who give our cards to a friend is the best part. It reaffirms that what we are doing is really touching others. And isn’t that what our purpose in life is? — To spread hope?

“Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I have come to realize that me creating cancer cards for others to share has been my way of dealing with and expressing myself after my diagnosis. Some people write in a journal, or paint a picture, but for me, it was to use my graphic design talent to outwardly express my thoughts and emotions. And for Christina, it was through her music. She coped by writing songs. She is so gifted with words and melodies, and in way, paints pictures with her songs. I’ll never forget the first time I heard ‘Tumor‘ which she wrote after finding out that our Mom had a brain tumor and I had breast cancer all in the same week. She writes eloquently, ‘Tumor, you are mistaken: you are actually a small, frenzied moth. I will watch you from the front door. You will kiss the light on my porch, find in its brilliance fatal joy — you will not spread. You will die for love instead.’

“And in the song ‘Sudden Amaryllis‘ she writes ‘Sudden amaryllis! In dead fields reach lilies to the sky, to the sky. Hope is dancing in the sky. (Hope is staring right at you.)’. Christina was stricken with the fact that these flowers survive and thrive in the most barren places…in a gravel lot with otherwise no signs of life, these amaryllis flowers stand tall. I think this is a great analogy to my life now,” explains Vanessa. “Although there is all this ugliness an misfortune around me, I keep my head up and live sincerely.”

Live Sincerely. Now those are two words that’ll turn “The End” upside down. It’s never too early to start.

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