Sarah Kelly started chemotherapy when she was 32 weeks pregnant with her second child. As she faced this crisis, her tight support network included her younger sister Leah Robert, an oncology nurse who works at New England Cancer Specialists in Scarborough. Now they’re business partners in Salty Girl Beauty, a cosmetics company with a sustainability mission that came straight out of that dark time. Source talked to the Kennebunk resident about the impact breast cancer had on her desire to start a sustainable cosmetics business.

SELF-EXAMINATION: Kelly felt the lump in March 2015. She was living and working in Boston. Her first call was to her sister in Maine. “I called her and said, ‘Do you think my breast is just getting ready for breast feeding?’ ” Her sister was reassuring – maybe that was the case – but told her to ask her doctor, who she was seeing the very next day. Four days later, Kelly knew she had a cancerous tumor that was so big – 5 centimeters – that surgery wasn’t possible. She had two chemotherapy treatments (pregnant women can undergo AC chemotherapy, i.e. adriamycin plus cyclophosphamide), was induced at 38 weeks, and shortly after her daughter was born, was being treated with more aggressive chemicals. That reduced the tumor to the point where she could have a lumpectomy to remove all the affected tissue.

SUSTAINABLE MBA: In the midst of this, Kelly convinced her husband it was time to move to Maine. They’d been living in Boston for some dozen years and she was working at a high-tech security firm in the Boston area. But she could work remotely. Her parents were in Maine, and the first job she’d had out of college was in Kennebunk, on the sales team at Tom’s of Maine. That job, and one at the Dancing Deer Baking Co. in Boston, which like Tom’s, incorporated philanthropy into its business model, served as building blocks for the career she wanted to have. Kelly went on get an MBA from Simmons College, with a dual focus on marketing and sustainability in business. “I had always wanted to start my own business.”

MEDICAL MYSTERY: She lost all her red hair because of chemotherapy. “I hate to say this because it sounds so vain, but when you lose your eyelashes and your eyebrows and look at yourself, you think, ‘I am one of the sick ones now.’ You can’t trick anybody.” But the one thing that helped a little? Putting on a really bright lipstick. The two sisters started thinking about how Kelly had ended up with cancer. There wasn’t a family history of cancer. She took good care of herself. “Our family eats very clean.” Her skin care routine skewed heavily toward the natural and organic as a result of working at Tom’s. But makeup? She hadn’t given that much thought, simply buying drug store and department store cosmetics as needed. “So we started really doing some research there.”

ROLE MODEL: The two sisters might not have come up with an answer to what caused Kelly’s cancer, but that research led to them looking into making their own cosmetics. The goal was to come up with a lipstick that wasn’t just bright and cheery, but was as nurturing as, say, her clean diet and all-natural toothpaste. Tom’s was the role model. “That whole company basically inspired what Leah and I are doing.” It also gave her connections. “I reached out to an old chemist friend from Tom’s that no longer works there, and he pointed me in the direction of people we should be working with.”

MINIMAL MAKEUP: They had one false start before finding a company in the New York area that would make what they wanted. “Everything is non-GMO, 100 percent natural and made with organic ingredients.” The cosmetics aren’t 100 percent organic – only 85 to 90 percent – she explained, because they include minerals for color and minerals can’t be certified organic. But the lipsticks (in 11 shades) fulfilled what she’d wanted in her own recovery from cancer and hair loss. “Something that was nourishing and had bright, beautiful colors that not only did its purpose and was effective, but also healing.” They opted to put aloe in the foundation as an ingredient for the same reason. “We are trying to heal from within.” The sisters ran a storefront in Kennebunk for a year, stocking other green beauty products, but recently gave that up in favor of an online shop for Salty Girl Beauty, run out of an old mill in Biddeford. “I was hoping we could do both, but it is a lot trying to carry inventory as well as be a brand.”

RALLY ROUND: The name, by the way, comes from brainstorming sessions over wine and is intended to reference both coastal Maine and “having a little bit of attitude.” The sisters also created a nonprofit arm, called Foundation4Love, directed at helping other cancer patients the way friends and family had helped Kelly and her husband. “We had a 15-month old, we were newlyweds and about to have a newborn, and they all just really rallied around us to give us that time we needed.” Foundation4Love aims to give experiences, like fine dining and spa days and even Red Sox tickets in one instance, to families in the middle or a few months out of cancer treatments.

HAPPY NEWS: In August, Kelly hopes to celebrate her third year, cancer free. She’ll be doing it with another newborn; her third child, a son, was born in April. She’s 39 and didn’t expect to be able to have another. “I thought I was going into early menopause. Four months later, I was pregnant.” This time, she kept her hair and when she put on lipstick, it was her own, all natural, mostly organic product.

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