PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Kara Skaflestad was 26, living in Brooklyn and just began a career in marketing when life went sideways.
She faced a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, fertility treatments and hormone therapy.
During treatment, someone gave her a pair of pink boxing gloves. “It was really my symbol to keep fighting and to never give up,” she told KOIN 6 News.
She got through her treatment and when she heard of a family friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she passed on those boxing gloves, along with a gift of some makeup.
“It was kind of the first pretty package that I ever sent,” Kara said, and “then she went on to pass on her boxing gloves and they went on to 5 people.”
That’s when the idea for Fighting Pretty took shape.
Fighting Pretty is a non-profit organization she began in 2013 in her Brooklyn apartment. To date she’s sent out more than 4500 packages in the US and around the world.
“Fighting Pretty really encourages and empowers women to remember how strong and beautiful and amazing they are,” Kara, now 35, said. “Whether they have hair or no hair, breasts or no breasts, they are still an incredible, amazing woman.”
Each care package includes inspirational and beauty items like scarves, makeup and a personal note to help empower women battling cancer. And every pretty package includes a pair of mini boxing gloves.
The package always arrives in a bright pink box and most of the time, the women don’t know it’s coming. The boxes, funded through $30 donations to the non-profit, are “normally gifted from someone that they know or love,” she said. “And each item might re-ignite them in a different way. It’s a private moment for them.”
Each box also comes with the same greeting: Hello, Beautiful!
People handle a cancer diagnosis and treatment differently, she said. “But there are little pieces and moments that happen throughout your process that forever change your life.”
Now based in Northwest Portland, Fighting Pretty once again has the original pair of pink boxing gloves.
“Last Thanksgiving,” she said, “unfortunately the woman that I had passed them onto had passed away and her sister ended up sending me the original pink boxing gloves back. So we have them in our Fighting Pretty office.”
When her life changed
Kara Skaflestad got the call from her doctor on December 12, 2008.
“I actually told the doctor on the phone, ‘No way! Shut up!’ I couldn’t believe it because I was only 26 years old.”
She said her first thought was about her mother — “I knew my mom would be so heartbroken” — but her second thought now makes her laugh.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know how I have time for this. I’m so busy.'”
She said she did her best to take control of the treatment and had a great support group. Her mom’s friend gave her the pink boxing gloves.
“Meg was a breast cancer survivor and she wrote a little note that said, ‘Keep these in sight so that you can always be reminded how strong you are and to never give up.'”
The boxing gloves, she said, were amazing. “I hung them on my bed post and I looked at them every single day through chemotherapy and beyond.”
‘I feel inspired’
Everyday, women are diagnosed with breast cancer and then face a journey that saps confidence and strength. She noted Emmy-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss just revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Fighting Pretty is something I truly created to pass along the strength that I used during my treatment to remind these women that they can get through it, they can fight, that they are beautiful, that they are amazing even when they lose the things that make them feel like less of a woman.”
She admitted she also felt that way at times.
“I lost my hair, my eye lashes and had a double mastectomy. I lost my breasts. That was really hard. I mean, at first looking at myself in the mirror coming out of the shower, it was shocking.”
But her journey made her stronger.
“I feel inspired to be able to celebrate women, to support women, to empower women to feel strong and beautiful.”