Life was “fairly peachy” for Emily Somers. She was leading a typical mid-twenties life filled with friends, family, nights of dancing and travel, while working in advertising as an Art Director.
But just before her 27th birthday she noticed a lymph gland that popped up under her clavicle bone. She wasn’t too worried but her dad, a GP, urged her to get it checked out. That’s when Emily was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. For the first time.
Yep, Emily beat cancer not once but twice, with the disease returning shortly after she'd grown her hair back.
It was this experience of “chemo, cancer, naps, and turbans” that inspired her to create Bravery Co. – a range of stylish headscarves for scarf lovers and cancer haters.
Emily is crowdfunding to produce the debut designer collection with patterns created by some of Australia's (and the world's) most talented artists. These bold and bright designs to give cancer warriors a bit of extra confidence and fierceness in the face of this awful disease.
We to spoke Emily about how she battled cancer and built a business.
What was cancer treatment like?
During my first diagnosis I had a round of ABVD chemo. I had it once a fortnight and I was pretty stubborn that it wouldn’t change my life. I would spend 4 days after chemo staying with my parents and then go back to work and my life in the city for the rest of the time. I didn’t want to let the cancer ‘win’ and slow me down, or change my life. In hindsight this approach was probably quite silly.
I was completely exhausted most of the time but apart from the fatigue, I was lucky to avoid some of the more horrific side effects.
How would you describe the process of losing your hair?
It was terrifying. When you lose your hair, your disease is on display for the world to see and I so desperately didn’t want to be seen as a ‘cancer patient.’
I would wake up every day and be devastated at all the hair that had fallen out. Eventually I bit the bullet and shaved it off. I had all my friends around one afternoon for my head shaving party. One of my wonderful friends even shaved her head first. Once it was all gone it was actually such a relief. The build-up is much worse than when it’s actually gone. I could just get on with life and turns out having no hair wasn’t so bad – it’s just an extreme haircut and bad hair days ceased to exist for a while.
When were you diagnosed with cancer for the second time? How did you feel having to go through it all again?
I was absolutely shattered. When I was diagnosed the first time I had a really positive and practical attitude. I figured this happens to some people but I was lucky my cancer was curable and I just got on with the chemo and getting rid of it. When it relapsed I fell apart. I knew how hard it was the first time and I was devastated I had to do it again. My hair had just grown back, I was making leaps and bounds at work and I was the fittest I had ever been! It seemed completely unfair. I went through a bit of a dark patch but then I picked myself and dusted myself off and went straight back to chemo.
This time round my oncologist threw all the treatments at me. I had another 10 cycles of chemo, followed by a stem cell transplant and a month of radiotherapy. I had operations for biopsies, Portacath and Hickman’s and also my eggs harvested and frozen due to the chemo affecting my fertility. I had the whole shebang! This time the treatment was exactly the way the movies portray it. Nausea, shiny bald, pale, no energy, IV drips everywhere and lots of time in hospital. It was tough and I never ever want to do it again.
However, this time I did things differently. I wanted to be kinder to my body and take more control of my health and healing. I stopped working so I could concentrate 100% on beating this thing, I completely changed my diet, I got into yoga and mindfulness and even tried quite a few alternative healing therapies. Chakra cleansing, reiki, acupuncture and sound bowl healing to name a few. I had lost confidence in western medicine and my own body’s ability to do what it was told so I wanted to help it in every way I could.
What inspired you to start Bravery Co.?
During my second stint with cancer I got sick of wearing my wig and I was frustrated at the lack of cool cancer headwear out there – especially for younger cancer warriors. Everything is daggy and aimed at a much older lady. So I started playing around with scarves through online tutorials with amazing African women. Once I nailed tying the turban I suddenly felt more like myself. It was a look that didn’t scream ‘cancer patient.’ I stopped getting pity stares and started getting asked how I tied my scarf. Half the time people didn’t even know I was sick until I told them! It’s this sense of confidence that I want to pass onto other that are going through a similar ordeal.
How did you begin to build the business idea?
Very slowly! It was floating around my head since my first diagnosis however once I recovered and went back into work it got put on the backburner. During my second stint with cancer, I did Marie Forleo’s B-School. I started to map everything out and the business slowly started to take form. As soon as I designed my own logo, branding and website it felt a bit more real. I had something to direct people to – even if it was just a ‘coming soon’ landing page.
I’ve been working on our debut designer collection for almost a year now. It was really important to me to have scarves that have been designed specifically for cancer warriors and carry a story about kicking cancer’s ass. It finally feels like the business is starting to look like what I imagined 5 years ago when it first popped into my head.
How did you balance entrepreneurship with caring for your health?
Most of the time it’s great. Being my own boss means I can make time to exercise and eat lovely healthy foods. I get enough sleep and live a balanced life. However, this can completely flip when Bravery goes through a busy patch and being a one-woman show, all my time is sucked up with running the business, rather than looking after me. During those times I have to almost set alarms to take breaks, go for a walk outside or go to bed!
What has the response been like to your project?
I have been overwhelmed with how much love and support I’ve had for these scarves, from both cancer warriors, survivors and people who just love a scarf! These scarves carry so much meaning and I’m over the moon everyone – cancer or no cancer, is wanting to get behind Bravery Co, wear a scarf and help end cancer.
When you work from home, by yourself you can sometimes question whether it’s all worth it and the world needs something like Bravery Co. But this has given me all the encouragement I need.