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Exploring Life & Business with Beth Wilmes of Faith Through Fire

Today we’d like to introduce you to Beth Wilmes.

Hi Beth, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I thought I’d always have a career in sales. My dad was a successful salesman and in college, I realized it was a viable option when I was able to outsell all my classmates in a magazine design class, the ads needed to pay for production. I was ambitious and loved to help others succeed so my goal was to climb the ranks until I was the VP of Sales for a large corporation. However, the sales jobs I found myself in were rift with politics and often in conflict with my values and preference to collaborate vs compete with others.

It was while I was in a sales role I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 35 with a 6, 4, and one year old. My husband and I were devastated. Ultimately my journey involved a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and two unexpected surgeries from a complication with reconstruction and the development of lymphedema, a chronic incurable disease as a result of treatment. I was a very independent person so it was a shock to realize cancer is not something you should do alone.

Fortunately, after being diagnosed an acquaintance offered to put me in touch with another young survivor to encourage me during the treatment process. The relationship was so beneficial that when I was done with treatment, I started to mentor other newly diagnosed women to pay it forward. When my oncologist found out what I was doing she suggested I start a program and she’d refer to it. At first, I dismissed the idea, the last thing I wanted to do was immerse myself in the worst thing to ever happen to me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what it was that allowed me to not just survive the experience but thrive despite it and I realized it was all the supports and resources I had been wise enough to put in place. Studies continue to demonstrate that patients who have access to additional support during and after treatment do better, have a higher quality of life, and cost the healthcare system less.

This was the catalyst for my nonprofit Faith Through Fire (faiththroughfire.org). Our mission is to reduce the fear and anxiety that breast cancer patients feel and replace it with hope and a path toward thriving. It began in St. Louis with our Fortify Peer Mentorship program. Oncology providers would refer newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and we would pair them with a survivor mentor to guide them during treatment as well as provide referrals to other nonprofits that could provide services that best fit their individualized needs.

Our programs grew to include a partnership with Build A Bear to provide teddy bears to children impacted by breast cancer as well as a podcast hosted by myself and another young breast cancer survivor called Besties with Breasties to reduce isolation. We use humor (we have a Boobs in the News Segment) and information to point women to resources that help them have a higher quality of life. Finally, after discovering only 19% of women felt equipped to transition into survivorship we created the Survivorship Support Network, a private online platform patients join to help them make healthier choices in survivorship. The network helps women feel empowered to be active participants in their own care while having community with other motivated survivors. Now we have women across the country (and even the world) who are in our mentor program, subscribe to our podcast and have become members of our network.

Women who have been impacted by breast cancer know it is just as much an emotional battle as it is a physical battle. Most people think the anxiety ends when treatment does but fear of recurrence and long-term side effects is something survivors deal with for the rest of their lives.

Having breast cancer changed the trajectory of my life forever but I can’t ignore that it’s given me what I always wanted- meaningful work and the opportunity to help others be successful.

My breast cancer journey and Faith Through Fire is a living example of hope and how with obstacles come opportunities. If you would like to support women during and after breast cancer treatment please make a donation at faiththroughfire.org.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I once read 63 nonprofits are started a day, leaving 188 people to support each one. It is not an easy road. We launched Faith Through Fire in October 2019 and Covid19 hit just five months later. Despite patient anxiety being at an all-time high and restrictions on having support in the clinical setting, our referrals from oncology providers shrunk considerably. It was then I realized we couldn’t depend on the medical community to ensure their breast cancer patients received access to emotional support. As a result, our business model has changed. We still partner with forward-thinking and compassionate hospitals or providers who want to develop a referral program to Faith Through Fire but now our focus is on approaching the patient directly. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. We want every woman to know if they get that news Faith Through Fire is here for them from the day of diagnosis through survivorship.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Faith Through Fire is a registered 501(c) nonprofit. EIN: 83-3232519. Our mission is to reduce the fear and anxiety that breast cancer patients feel and replace it with hope and a path toward thriving. We focus on the emotional component of breast cancer and providing women access to supports that can improve their quality of life in survivorship. Brand-wise, I’m proud that we’ve retained our Christian roots. Many people advised me if I wanted financial support, I shouldn’t be outwardly Christian. We help women in active treatment with our mentor program, partnership with Build A Bear for impacted children, the podcast Besties with Breasties (please subscribe!), and our private Survivorship support network to help women transition to survivorship and make healthier choices.

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
Growing up, I was stubborn, independent, and very introverted although no one I know now thinks of me as an introvert!

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