Inspiring Women: This Survivor Is Helping Other Women with Cancer Feel Strong and Beautiful

Kara Skaflestad started Fighting Pretty, a non-profit that sends care packages to women battling cancer.

Inspiring Women: This Survivor Is Helping Other Women with Cancer Feel Strong and Beautiful
Courtesy Kara Skaflestad

Kara Skaflestad was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 26 — a whopping 14 years before women are supposed to get their first mammogram. Let that sink in for a second. The good news is that she beat the cancer, after a double mastectomy, eight rounds of chemo, four weeks of radiation — the works.

And after that, Kara decided to turn the things that put a smile on her face during her battle into something bigger. She started Fighting Pretty, a non-profit that sends care packages (Pretty Packages) full of beauty products and inspirational items — including the most awesome pair of tiny boxing gloves — to other women fighting cancer to help them feel beautiful and strong. It's her way of passing on her strength, positive attitude, and love of bright pink lipstick.

Kara's tiny apartment in Brooklyn was the first Fighting Pretty headquarters (can you imagine?!) and she's since moved to Portland, Oregon and has sent over 5,000+ Pretty Packages to women all over the world. Fighting Pretty is now recognized by the American Cancer Society and there's even an O.P.I nail polish named after it ("Fighting Pretty," of course). And Kara has big plans for the Fighting Pretty future too.

Here's what Kara had to say about her own cancer battle, how she came up with Fighting Pretty, and why it's so important to advocate for your own health.

Livingly: Why did you start Fighting Pretty?

Kara Skaflestad: Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 26 years old turned my world upside down – as it would for anyone. It was hard; it felt like breast cancer was taking away everything that made me feel like a woman – my hair, my eyelashes, my breasts and even my confidence. I surrounded myself with great friends and got strength from my family. I wore bright pink lipstick to chemo and put on my high heels during radiation treatments. I wasn’t going to let cancer get me down. People started to notice.

In the waiting room, women would ask how I looked so healthy and happy – I told them I added lipstick, blush, a bright headscarf and a smile. Plus, my best friend’s mom sent me a pair of mini pink boxing gloves as a reminder to stay strong…those were my symbol to never give up and keep on fighting! It was about 3 years when my treatment was over that a family friend was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew my fight was over, and hers was beginning. I sent her my strength along with my boxing gloves and some lipstick and that was the first Pretty Package.

Fighting Pretty was born to help women like my family friend Jenn, and women like me to feel strong and beautiful through their journey. Not everyone has friends and family like I do, not everyone has the inner strength to stay strong. Fighting Pretty is an organization that I started to really instill confidence in women to remind them how strong, beautiful, fierce and amazing they are with or without cancer!

Inspiring Women: This Survivor Is Helping Other Women with Cancer Feel Strong and Beautiful
Fighting Pretty

How do you curate the Pretty Packages?

The items included each Pretty Package have been thought through carefully. The box is designed to empower women battling cancer to feel strong and beautiful – not to remind them that they have cancer. We rely on companies to help donate several of the products for our Pretty Packages such as the lipstick, nail polish and socks. Right now, we’re working with many brands including Happy Socks, Julep, Thrive Causemetics and more. We also include other items with inspirational messaging on them such as notebooks and magnets, but the most significant item in our Pretty Packages are a pair of mini pink boxing gloves that are a reminder to never give up and to keep on “Fighting Pretty!”

What's the story behind the tiny pink boxing gloves?

Right when I started chemotherapy, I received a package in the mail with a pair of mini pink boxing gloves, sent to me by my best friend’s mom, also a breast cancer survivor. There was a note that said: “stay strong and keep fighting!” I hung them on my bedpost so I would see them every day. Then moved them to my closet. Then in my car. These boxing gloves were a reminder every day – even after treatment – that I had to stay strong. About three years after treatment, a family friend, Jenn, was diagnosed with breast cancer and having a tough time. I knew I wanted to help her. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew my fight was really over, and hers was just beginning. I wanted to send her my strength – so I packed up those magical pink boxing gloves along with some makeup, a scarf and socks, and sent her the first Pretty Package. Those original pair of gloves went on to five women battling cancer in an effort to pass on our strength! So we include this story in each Pretty Package to provide hope to the recipients of the Pretty Packages and encourage them to pass on their gloves when they too are ready to pass on their strength.

Inspiring Women: This Survivor Is Helping Other Women with Cancer Feel Strong and Beautiful
Fighting Pretty

What's next for Fighting Pretty?

I hope to see Fighting Pretty truly become a movement. When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, it is incredibly scary. My hope is Fighting Pretty will be an immediate resource for all women as they are diagnosed – to be reminded that they are not defined by cancer, that they are strong women who are beautiful, fierce and amazing. In addition, we have started to work directly with hospitals all around the country to deliver Pretty Packages right to women as they get their diagnosis or start treatment. Fighting Pretty has only sent 5,000 Pretty Packages to date, and there is so much opportunity to get out there to help all women battling cancer to feel strong and beautiful.

What are three things that got you to where you are today?

Perspective – I had an experience in my life that I never asked for. I never wanted cancer. Who does? But something came over me during my journey that said: Life is short – appreciate every moment. My perspective changed and everything became magical. I started to appreciate my life more, my relationships more, and myself more. I started to love myself and realize that I am amazing just as am – hair or no hair, breasts or no breasts, I’m a good person and I am strong and beautiful! And I want other women to feel this way too!

Determination – Let’s be honest. I started Fighting Pretty with a Facebook page and a logo to see if anyone would want to send a pink package of beautiful items to their friends or family members battling cancer. Suddenly I had more requests than I could handle. Did I know how to start a non-profit? Nope. But I started researching, asking questions, and people came out of the woodwork to help me. I was determined to create a mission to help women battling cancer to feel strong and beautiful, and I was going to figure out how to do it!

Family & Friends Support – Without my family and friends, I would have never been able to start Fighting Pretty. Everyone has pitched in to help – even my mom was making Pretty Packages from New Jersey in her living room and I was making them in Oregon in mine. We were sending them out from all over! Friends would come over to help after work to help build Pretty Packages, run fundraisers, help design logos, and so much more!

Inspiring Women: This Survivor Is Helping Other Women with Cancer Feel Strong and Beautiful
Courtesy Kara Skaflestad

Could you share your favorite story about a Fighting Pretty box and how it impacted a recipient?

One story that really sticks out to me, immediately brings me to tears. There was a woman who was battling cancer for quite some time, and her daughters requested a Pretty Package for her. We sent it, and she loved it. But she was very, very sick and unfortunately, passed away about a year after she received her Pretty Package. Her daughters were incredibly sad and reached out to me after the funeral. They told me the Pretty Package that was sent to their mom was something she truly loved. She was truly “Fighting Pretty” the entire time until she passed, and those mini pink boxing gloves really resonated with their mom. The daughters told me they ended up leaving one pink glove with their mom, and kept one pink glove for them so they would always have their mom’s strength. They too were Fighting Pretty.

The hard part about helping those battling cancer is that death is something that is real. Sometimes cancer is too angry, and it takes the ones we love. Fighting Pretty doesn’t cure cancer. But it helps women remember they are beautiful, strong, amazing, fierce and incredible – even until the very end of their life.

What is your favorite part of your day?

My favorite part of every day is checking our social media comments on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and checking our hashtag: #fightingpretty. There are women all over the world posting about how they are “Fighting Pretty” – even in different languages that I can’t read! It’s amazing to see that the feeling of Fighting Pretty is truly resonating with women battling all types of cancer, at all stages, all over the world. I probably cry once a day from thank you notes and photos posted of women with their mini pink boxing gloves!

Could you tell us about a time you wanted to throw in the towel and share how you overcame it?

Hmm…that’s a tough one. I’ve never wanted to give up on Fighting Pretty because I know that people now rely on us to give them inspiration and strength. Personally, there are days when I don’t feel strong. And maybe those are the days that I throw in the towel and say to myself – “you deserve to feel sad today.” So, I make some tea, watch a movie and just relax. I try and get myself out a funk and I normally do. But I’m human. Sometimes you get sad. It’s healthy.

Inspiring Women: This Survivor Is Helping Other Women with Cancer Feel Strong and Beautiful
Courtesy Kara Skaflestad

What is the best advice you have for women in regards to advocating for their own health, as you had to press doctors for a closer exam when you discovered a suspicious lump?

At only 26 years old, I found a lump in my left breast. I went to the doctor and she said “you’re much too young to worry. Come back in a month and if it’s still there, we’ll check it out.” So we waited. Sure enough, after a biopsy and ultrasound – only a month later, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer – 14 years before I was supposed to get my first mammogram. What would have happened if I never did a self-breast exam? I try not to think about it. But God had a plan, and I found it, beat it and live to talk about it.

So my advice to all women and men out there is if you feel something in your body that just doesn’t feel “right” – get it checked, and don’t wait. There is something about a gut feeling, and you have to go with it. You have to be your own advocate, because only you know your body. Doctors rely on research and statistics, but sometimes that’s just not enough.

At Livingly, our motto is Live Life Beautifully. What does that mean to you?

Live Life Beautifully is something that resonates with me very much on a personal level. Something happened to me after my cancer journey. I started looking at the world differently and appreciating the little things. It might sound crazy, but living in NYC can be stressful right? Well, I started loving when the subway would appear just as I walked down the stairs; I would get excited when I could hear the birds chirping in the early morning in Brooklyn; I would look at the snow in the trees and see the sparkles; I started to love the loud energy that the city gave off – the bright lights, the honking horns, everything.

And when I moved to Portland, Oregon, I would actually cry walking my dog thinking of how beautiful life was. I started surrounding myself with people that made me feel good, and started paying attention to how lucky I am every day to be healthy and happy. There is something beautiful in every moment. It’s just having the perspective to find it. And please, don’t wait until you have cancer to get it!

The Director of Editorial Operations at Livingly Media and lover of all things sprinkles.