By Dee Cruce
Originally from North Dakota, the late Chelsea Berler decided to take a chance and spontaneously move to Florida. She was in her early 20s and looking for a fresh start. Her family still in North Dakota, she was feeling extra lonely one afternoon and decided to call home for some comfort and to whine about her love life. Thankfully, her mom was able to convince Chelsea to get on with her life and it wasn’t long before she met her future husband at Bud & Alley’s. They were married there on the beach and, in June 2018, the pair celebrated 10 years together.
As Chelsea’s love life came together, her professional life took off as well. After years of working her way up in a marketing firm, she decided to venture out on her own. She was age 22 when The Solamar Agency was born. Today it’s a half-million-dollar boutique marketing firm.
As if owning a successful business with numerous employees in your 20s wasn’t enough, Chelsea became a best-selling author. She published her first book, The Curious One, in 2015. The book tells the story of her life from Food Stamps to CEO, how she left behind the heartache of her tumultuous childhood and found peace in her present. “It’s about the triumph that comes from living life with purpose, not only when it’s easy, but when it feels like your life is crumbling to pieces at your feet,” says her husband Mark.
Mark wanted to give Chelsea the opportunity to see what his life was like in Europe where he worked. The perfect opportunity popped up when the MotoGP event came to Le Mans, France in the summer of 2017. They were both big motor cross junkies. It was perfect – epic even – as far as trips go. The only downside was how tired Chelsea had been feeling. At times, it was hard for her to keep up with Mark. It wasn’t long after that, that she noticed a lump under her arm. The summer was epic, as she put it, but she came home to an extremely rare form of cancer.
By the time Chelsea went in for her exam, the lump was nearly the size of a tennis ball! She was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of triple negative breast cancer called Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis (LC). An extremely aggressive form affecting roughly one percent of the population, she was already at Stage 3 and it was in her lymph nodes. She would be starting chemo treatments immediately. Winter would be hell.
Each time Mark brought her in for a round of chemo, Chelsea was struck by how many people were there for treatment, completely unsupported, alone, and in some cases not even driven by a friend. This hurt her heart so much to see her new friends suffering alone. She was fortunate to be loved and supported by her husband, family and many loving friends. Each time she came, she brought a bag of goodies to keep her occupied and comfortable as she sat for hours of chemo rounds. More times than not, she gave her stuff away to the other patients getting treatment. She had always been a generous soul, and through this experience, she saw a need that could be filled.
It was through Chelsea’s regular chemo treatments that the Foye Belle Foundation (Foyebelle.org) and the ‘Blue Bag Movement’ was born, named after her grandmother, Foye Belle, who passed away from cancer when Chelsea was a child.
The Foye Belle Foundation is a non-profit, volunteer organization that packs blue bags and donates them to cancer patients who are actively seeking treatment.The bags are blue as Chelsea believed that if cancer were a color, it would be blue. Everything about cancer makes you feel blue. The blue bags are filled with goodies that are not only comforting, but help pass the time away during treatments.
Throughout the spring months, Chelsea further developed the foundation’s website, enlisted volunteers, which wasn’t hard, and started packing blue bags to send out. She wrote another book detailing her journey from pre-diagnosis to the end, The Yellow House on the Left, and all proceeds go to the foundation. Chelsea further documented her journey by writing several articles published by The Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/chelsea-930, about going through the “dying process.”
As spring wore on, Chelsea got her affairs in order and spent time with family and her dogs. Her sisters were flying down regularly, and her mom moved from North Dakota to live nearby. For months she and Mark held out hope for a cure, but eventually the day came when her doctor told her she was terminal.
She decided to stop treatment and live out the rest of her days on her own terms. There were many sunsets and many mornings when she couldn’t sleep while watching the sun rise. There was pizza, Oreo blizzards and long rides in her and Mark’s dream car. She spent time in her garden, her happy place that she would miss. There were many things that she would miss, and yet, she still felt that for her age, she had lived a full and, well, awesome life. She made peace with dying. In many ways she was looking forward to the next level family reunion of those gone before her and found solace that she wouldn’t be alone.
Chelsea passed away on July 7, 2018, in her home, surrounded by her dogs and Mark. She made Mark promise to keep the blue bag movement going. More than 700 bags that have been shipped throughout the U.S., England, Ireland, South Africa and Canada. Local volunteers pack the bags with love. Do you know someone who needs a blue bag? Visit the Foye Belle Foundation website and sign up someone you know, or even yourself, to receive a blue bag. You can also donate at www.foyebelle.org.