Hey there friends - I have a very special person to introduce you to that I've had the pleasure of getting to know since launching ModaBaby last year: the awe-inspiring Nikki Fitzgerald Wood. Aside from owning Charleston-based company Templeton Silver, which makes timeless pacifier clips that convert into a bracelet for mom once baby outgrows the pacifier stage, Nikki is a TWO-time survivor of uterine cancer, and she has been nominated as the Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). To celebrate her nomination and to help raise awareness of the cause of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I sat down with Nikki recently and asked her to share her story with us. Inspirational, heart-breaking and full of humor, I guarantee her story is one you won't forget.
To donate to the LLS on Nikki's behalf, or to learn more about her story and the organization, click here.
So give us the Nikki 101 – A few basics about yourself: where are you from originally and where did you grow up? Was entrepreneurship a part of your life as a child?
I was actually born and raised right here in Charleston, SC. My dad grew up downtown and never left. After my parents met, they moved to Mt. Pleasant (back in the day when it was tiny). You can say I’m just “slightly” obsessed with all things Charleston. It’s in my blood. We are so lucky to live somewhere that truly is amazing.
How did you and your husband come to live in Charleston, South Carolina?
Funny enough, we both went to the same high school and didn’t know each other. Well, he knew who I was, but he was a couple of years younger so I had no clue who he was lol! After the night we “met” again, we were pretty much inseparable and got engaged before we had even been dating 8 months and married about 6 ½ months later. We both already lived in Charleston (he moved here when he was 8), never left (except when I attended USC – Go Cocks!) and don’t plan on going anywhere.
What led you to Templeton Silver?
I owned my own jewelry company for years. It was called It Fitz Jewelry (a play on my maiden name Fitzgerald) and I was in boutiques all over the southeast. I loved it and had a blast doing it but there were so many amazing and talented artists in the Charleston area already making jewelry. A childhood friend, Rhett Templeton (also from Charleston) had started a little pacifier clip company called Templeton Silver. She had kids and couldn’t give the time she wanted to both her kids and the business, so she approached me about taking it over. At first I was extremely hesitant because I thought, what am I going to do with a pacifier clip company since I’d already built up my own business? But, she thought of a genius concept (that was patent pending) that after the baby outgrows the pacifier stage, the pacifier clip would become a keepsake bracelet for mom. I thought it was so awesome and like nothing else on the market. They had a few designs with pearls and a few with crosses. I took their idea and expanded it to what it is today. I came up with all new styles and had them CPSC AND CPSCIA tested which is basically just a fancy way to say that I had them all child safety tested. And, since the clips are sterling silver, they have 85% less bacteria than the cloth or plastic ones that are on the market today. Such a great concept and I’m so thankful they thought of me.
You’re very open about your struggles with Uterine Cancer – can you give us a glance into what led to your diagnosis?
My husband and I had major trouble trying to have a baby. When we finally went to see a fertility doctor, they found a fibroid blocking 90% off my uterus. When they went in to cut the fibroid out, they found cancer on my uterus. After cutting out the cancer, they thought they got it all. I still had some pre-cancerous cells so they put me on some meds for about a year and all of the cancer finally went away! We were pumped. We were about to start the IVF treatments and then they came back and said I needed a donor egg because my eggs were bad. After I finally wrapped my mind around that, we were good to go to start everything. I’ve never ever been one that is super “in tune” with my body or anything like that. But it was weird… I felt like I needed one more biopsy before we did anything because it had been about three months since my last one. My fertility nurse was actually not very nice about me asking for another one since I had just had a biopsy three months beforehand. She was kind of rude and told me to take it up with my OBGYN. And, you better believe I did. I’ll never be happier that I listened to myself and did because unfortunately the cancer had come back and it came back more aggressively and very fast. So, I had to get a full hysterectomy (ovaries and all) about three weeks later which sent me into surgical menopause. Gotta love some hot flashes at a young age and gaining 50 pounds because of it! But, I’ll be a little chubby to not have cancer. I’m so VERY fortunate that they got all of the cancer and that nothing spread. It’s a miracle. Wherever this little baby is, he or she has saved my life. Had we not been trying to have a baby, I would never had known that I had cancer. I know how lucky I am, I really do, but some days can suck (as you can imagine)!
Based on your experiences, are there any signs and symptoms that other women who might be reading this should be aware of?
I always tell everyone to, of course, go to your yearly exams. I know they aren’t that much fun and we’d all probably rather claw our eyes out, but they are a must. Early detection is key. If you notice bloating, or very (I’m talking VERY) heavy bleeding, let your doctor know. I look back now and know that the fibroid blocking my uterus was causing a lot of the heavy bleeding but it was also probably the cancer. Even if you feel like you are going to get on your doctor’s nerves (which I know no one wants to do) let them know your concerns. It’s your body and only you know if something just doesn’t feel right. Had I not done that before we were about to start our second round of fertility treatment, I honestly don’t want to think about what would be today.
How has your diagnosis and recovery changed your life? And how has it impacted the way you do business?
Such a great question! I’ve always been a very happy and positive person. The couple of years struggling with infertility and dealing with a uterine cancer diagnosis was a sad and depressing time, but I truly tried to roll with it, trust my doctors, and remain very positive knowing that I would NOT let cancer win. I’m lucky to have such an amazing husband, supportive friends and faith in God…. and let’s not forget every girl’s best friend – wine! I never gave up hope that I would beat cancer and still have a baby. Unfortunately, the cancer did return resulting in a full hysterectomy and no biological baby, but that’s okay. There are many other ways for us to become parents and I am cancer free. There are the days I catch myself being negative or complaining about something super trivial and I always try and check myself and remember how lucky I am. Not everyone gets my outcome.
As you well know, running a small business can be brutal at times. But, there are so many upsides to it as well, like meeting other small businesses and the amazing people that run them…. like Moda Baby and YOU! If I feel myself getting discouraged about something in business or it’s not turning out the way I thought it would or would have liked it to, I try and regroup and figure out a different solution. There is a solution to everything…like having a baby…. I still want one, it’s just going to be in a different way.
This may be too personal, but do you and your husband still hope for a child?
Oh my gosh yes! I love kids and always have! I was a nanny for a while and have three God kids and own a baby based business…so, yes, absolutely!
What are your hopes for the future? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’d love to have a couple of children with a successful business in ten years. But, most importantly, I want my entire family to be healthy and know that we are all very lucky. My husband always tells me that he loves me and he’s happy I’m here and alive, and that a child would just be the gravy on top. He is fine with it just being us.
I would definitely like to have a little more free time on my hands, though. I work all the time and would love to be able to really enjoy other things besides work.
What have you found to be your “tools” in balancing work, friends, family and personal time? Do you find it difficult to find balance it all?
Oh yes! The struggle is definitely real! I am EXTREMELY social and owning your own business can be very very lonely at times. It’s been a little tougher lately bc I also became a Beautycounter consultant (I'm obsessed with their products because they are screened for safety and harsh chemicals) and started waiting tables. That goes back to my “there is a solution for everything”. Do I want to wait tables? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! But, I know I want a child and unfortunately adoption is crazy expensive. I have to do what I have to do and I’m lucky enough to work for an awesome place on Shem Creek called The Wreck. I try and use the time I do have in my car to call a friend and catch up. My husband and I are very cognizant of the time we do have, and make a point in spending time together and talking. Even if I’m so freaking tired and just want to go to bed, we make it a point to sit on the couch and catch up. I have to make a point to set aside and do these things bc they are the most important. And, my trusty to-do notebook and Evernote (which is an awesome app) help keep me on track.
Describe what would be a typical day for you:
Everyone looks at me like I have ten heads when I tell them this but I get up every day at 4am. I’m not saying it’s any fun but I know I have to do it to give everything the attention it needs. I start out trying to do as much as I can with Templeton Silver whether that’s answering emails, filling orders, social media, etc. If I have a Beautycounter basket drop off or need to touch base with a customer I usually do that next. Now that the Leukemia Lymphoma Society campaign is in the fold, it has become more about doing what needs to be done for that as well. The few days I have to work at the restaurant, I have to be there at 4:30 so it makes me extremely purposeful with my time. I find I get more done on those days bc I know I have to. I try and get in bed around 9:00pm because I definitely need my sleep. It’s been a lot of work work work lately. If anyone finds a money tree, will you let me know and share?
What are some of your other personal interests and hobbies?
I love anything outdoors, being with Jay and spending time with my friends. Being from here, it’s tough to not look around and want to enjoy and soak up Charleston. Every corner is filled with something inspirational and there’s always something fun to do. Have always loved the beach and any water activity. Once I can shed a few of these menopausal pounds, I really would love to learn how to Stand Up Paddleboard and would love to give kiteboarding a whirl. Something tells me that the kiteboarding thing might need more than just a whirl, though. And, if I ever have any kind of spare time, there nothing like diving into a book. I can get lost in one. But, I don’t think I’ve had the chance to crack one open in at least two years.
What do you like to do when you have a day to yourself?
Honestly, I haven’t had one to myself in so long I’m not sure I would even know what to do!!! But, something tells me I could figure it out. It would be awesome to start a day with a massage, find an awesome book, and head to Sullivan’s and enjoy the beach. Then head somewhere downtown for an awesome dinner. Couldn’t imagine anything better!
What are the top five things that you cannot live without?
Phone (I know I know….sad)
My two cats
Oooh…can I make it six? Wine!
Where are your favorite places to eat, drink, and shop in Charleston?
Can we just say anywhere in Charleston is a great place to eat lol? I love The Wreck on Shem Creek, Obstinate Daughter, Page's Okra Grill, High Cotton and Home Team Barbeque has never done me wrong!
If I want to have a few drinks out, Shem Creek is by far my fave. You can’t beat the view of water and sun, happy people and dolphins just doing their thing. Growing up it was definitely a working creek full of shrimp boats. I remember having to weave in and out of all of the boats to get to the harbor for a fun day out on the boat. For some reason, Shem Creek has always been very special to me.
Since I haven’t felt the greatest in a while about my weight, I’ve not been on a fun shopping spree, but, if I was feeling a little skinnier, favorite places are definitely Gwynn’s and Copper Penny. A girl can dream, right?
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is thinking about starting their own business, what would that be?
Don’t let fear hold you back. Fear can be so crippling at times that I think it keeps us from going for something and just staying in our comfort zone because that feels safest. And, you have to try and remain positive. It’s so freaking cliché, but it does help to try and be positive (not Pollyanna living in la-la-land positive, but just having some faith can go a long way)! My favorite quote is, “She believed she could, so she did”. I think that sums it up right there.
Photo courtesy of Emily Meeks Photo of Charleston, SC.