From Tears to Laughter: Julie Fry's Epic Tale of Business, Resilience, and Beating Cancer!
The Perfect Holiday
This Thanksgiving, we had a perfect holiday weekend. My brother-in-law rented an amazing house in Stowe, Vermont so we could live out our real-life Hallmark Christmas movie dreams. Was it really perfect? Of course not, but you need to decide that it was perfect. For me, it’s all about focusing on the good.
Stowe, VT may actually be the closest town I’ve ever seen to a real-life movie set. From the quaint little grocery store (read adorable but three times the prices at home) to the tiny town hall covered in lights, it was a dream come true. One of my favorite movies is the Sound of Music, which was based on the true story of the Von Trapp family. After immigrating to America, they eventually settled in Stowe and opened a beautiful hotel. We wandered in to visit and live our movie-set dreams. Talk about a happy accident—it just so happened to be their tree lighting ceremony where they brought out an elaborate hot chocolate and Christmas cookie station. We celebrated with a toast from one of the Von Trapp grandchildren in front of a roaring fire and joined others for a Christmas sing-along. The kids loved the hot chocolate as they played chess in the library.
It was the perfect substitute for my grand plan to find my perfect Hallmark husband. I thought I had a sure-fire way to find a perfect ending. First, I went to the dollar store and bought light up Christmas headbands, necklaces, and accessories. Next, I got a box of mini candy canes to hand out as we walked about the town center randomly breaking out into carols convincing all the other tourists to join us. Then, when I had their attention, I was going to “Love Actually” them and hold up cue cards that said: “I’m hoping for my perfect holiday romance.” “I’m willing to date Veterinarians, First-Aid Workers, Veterans, Single Fathers Who Need To Teach Their Children About The Spirit Of Christmas.” “Just a warning, I do not have Botox, fillers, a wig, nor a Canadian accent.” Surprisingly, no one else would join me in my quest. But, the Von Trapp Lodge was a pretty close second.
Life is damn-near perfect if you concentrate on what went right. Did I feel exhausted from cancer treatments the whole weekend? Yes. Did my car’s electronics go haywire which is going to cost a pretty penny; why yes, it did. Did I accidentally fall asleep while watching football, one of my favorite things to do? Yes. Did we need to work an entire day until after 1 in the morning instead of spreading holiday cheer? Happy Thanksgiving, pass me the power cord, yes we did.
One of my friends once asked me how I can remain so doggedly optimistic in the face of everything we go through. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of hard work no matter if you’re celebrating the holidays with your family or back at the office the next day. But, we’re really fortunate because we sell a product that we are wildly passionate about that we really believe could help change people’s lives. Estate planning is something that isn’t fun and sexy to sell. It’s something everyone knows that they need, but need to be reminded to do. Do we concentrate on those that haven’t done their estate plan? No, we look forward to building a solution that makes protecting your family something that’s easy, affordable, and attainable for everyone.
Designer Purse Bingo
Last weekend, we helped host one of my favorite events of the year. This isn’t your grandma’s bingo – it’s designer purse bingo, and it’s a hoot! The best part? It’s all for a good cause, supporting our church’s work with the homeless and the community. Hosting this event is like planning a wedding but on an annual basis. Without the marriage part, of course.
During chemo, when I didn’t feel well, I would shop online from my bed for designer purses. I’d spend hours poring over different purses, coupons, discounts, and super sales. It was a great distraction, especially because I knew that I’d be using them for on our purse bingo events. We started planning three months ago and started off with a nice collection of purses that our family was going to donate – which helped with the amount of donations we would have to get later.
Now, planning designer purse bingo is a bit like planning a wedding every year.. The event prep includes months of chasing down great purses, gathering donations for raffles, games, and, my personal favorite, the live auction. This year, we hosted it at a new church, which meant fewer helping hands, but we still managed to snag donations worth hundreds of dollars like L’Occitaine goodies, top-shelf booze, sports-themed baskets, and even high-end candles and soaps. My mom and aunt even chipped in, shipping us a chocolate basket and gluten-free cookies. Family love, am I right?
The fun didn’t stop at planning and donations. We went all out with signs, games, and even little chocolate origami purses. I love a busy placemat, so I designed one to keep players entertained for two hours. And what’s a wedding without wedding favors, right? Well, our bingo guests got Lindt chocolates, L’Occitaine samples, coupons for Gentreo (our company), markers for playing, and cute little chocolate purses. Plus, I hand made adorable center pieces complete with balls that spelled out B-I-N-G-O and held table and reserved seat cards. It’s all about those thoughtful touches.
My superhero friend, Julie, flew in from Illinois, and boy, did we put her to work. She crafted 200 origami purses and pitched in with setting up the hall, running the registration table, and handling the money. She probably thought she was in for a relaxing weekend with friends, but little did she know she’d be working her butt off. That’s what friends are for, right?
Typically, my brother-in-law Ryan and I are the event hosts, but he was out of town, so my sister Renee and nephew Liam stepped up to the plate. By the end of the night, I’m usually pretty drained from my ongoing cancer treatments so as usual, Renee stepped in. Renee was a real MVP, juggling multiple roles, managing volunteers, and solving problems (like when the microphone decided to take a break). As for Liam, that kid’s got courage! He dressed in Ryan’s sparkly coat and top hat, called out bingo numbers, modeled purses, ran games, and even helped host the event. Not many kids his age can say they’ve hosted an event in front of 175 adults.
Our friends also rallied to the cause. Vic, our buddy, ended up calling bingo numbers with Liam and helping out with card checks. But we also drafted him to sell extra bingo cards and work the crowd. Fr. Joe, another friend of ours whose church it is, might be one of the best hosts and public speakers you’ll ever come across, both on and off the altar. He and some church volunteers jumped in to make the event nothing short of spectacular.
Now, the bingo is just part of the fun. In addition to the ten bingo games where people could win designer purses, we had raffle baskets, a wine pull, a nail polish pull, a live auction, and three intermission games. The intermission games were not only fantastic for breaking up the evening but also for getting the crowd involved, with everyone shouting out prices like a bunch of Price Is Right contestants. My favorite game of the night was “Share or Steal,” which was created and managed by Liam. Two people were called up and given the chance to either share two gift cards or have one of them steal and take both. Thankfully, it all went according to plan, and the gentleman decided to steal (there was a priest nearby to offer confession later). But the real winner was the lady who passed up the offer as we gave her a Michael Kors purse as a prize.
We received fantastic feedback after the event, with people asking how long I’ve been a professional bingo host. Umm, I’m not, but do you have a will? Even better, many folks offered to help in the future. The church raised a tidy sum of money, and we shared a night of fun with all those who attended. Most importantly, all the funds will go to support the church in its mission to help the community. It’s a win-win.
Now, it’s time for me to recover. It was a long day, and I ended up feeling under the weather, but things are looking up. It’s been two years since I had a cold or was sick, and thankfully, they think this is just viral. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. But hey, it was totally worth it!
New England Patriots Crucial Catch
Thank God for Life Perspective
Sometimes, life throws you a curveball, and in my case, it was a football-sized one! Last week, I won the jackpot – I got picked by my medical team and the New England Patriots to be part of the NFL’s Crucial Catch program.
I am a diehard Penn State football fan. I love NFL teams, but never can truly root for one exclusively because then I’d be rooting against other Penn Staters. That being said, I moved out to New England over ten years ago and it was easy to root for the Patriots with the likes of Tom Brady, Gronk and Julian Edelman. It was great watching them for the eye candy alone. I was really excited when they brought Bill O’Brien back from the college ranks to return as their offensive coordinator. However, this season felt like a comedy of errors. It might not be as bad as their 1990 season (1-15, yikes!), but it’s been a real punchline. Still, life has taught me that even when the jokes are bad, things can get better. Did I ask for cancer? Definitely not. But have there been some silver linings? You bet!
The adventure began when I got a call from the New England Patriots’ foundation office. Imagine that, a call from the Patriots, right? On the other end was Andre Tippett, one of the Patriot’s best players of all time. He played in the 80’s when the Patriots weren’t great, but he was. He was inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame and is a favorite of any long-time diehard Patriot’s fan. He invited me to a day of pampering, and it was awesome hearing this tough guy talking about making candles, jewelry, and getting manicures.
Turns out, my remarkable medical team at Mass General Hospital Dana Farber Cancer Center nominated me for the NFL’s Crucial Catch program. As a diehard football fan, this was the touchdown of a lifetime. Plus, it felt like a great honor to represent all the patients they see. I was also thrilled to bring my nephew, who’s a budding football star, along for the fun. He’s my number one fan, and I knew he’d be as excited as I was.
The day was all about me, but it was a chance to share the fun with my family, who’ve been with me from day one. Since we’re all football fans, it was a fantastic way to say thanks.
I had such a wonderful time that my checks actually hurt from smiling all day long. Talk about first class all the way, I was picked up by a car service and had a chance to meet another cancer warrior and Sean, our driver. I love what I do, so I had the chance to interview our driver, Sean, about his estate planning. Trust me, I’m living through why estate planning is so incredibly important, and I take every opportunity to help others prepare. OK, almost everyone. Not even I would talk about estate planning with stage 4 cancer patients – staff and everyone else, yes.
When we got there, I got the opportunity to meet other women who are going through many of the same things I am. Instead of people looking at me with shock in their eyes, these women all had their own stories, and we could move on from the surprise and fear and start talking about what really matters. From families, funny stories, logistics, challenges, to celebrations, it was such a breath of fresh air to meet others who were going through the same battles, laugh alongside them, and find ways to help.
The Gifts Just Keep Coming
During the day of pampering, we got to meet not only the amazing staff of the Patriots, but dozens of volunteers whose entire goal for the day was to help make our day a huge success. These are my people. For me, helping others feeds my soul. When I ask, “what can I do to help you?” I mean it. While I was there, I found another woman whose child goes to the same school as my nephew.
She reached out to the school and didn’t get as much help as needed, so I was on it. When I got home, I enlisted Renee to help find a solution. Renee likes to say that I’m so generous that I’ll give you the shirt off of her back—which is true. Renee and I both knew we could find a way to help. The next day, Renee went to a coffee at the school for parents and met some of the administrators there. When she brought up the situation, they said they had heard about it, and were talking about it. Renee’s instant response was that “the time for talking is over. Now’s the time for doing. How are we going to help her?” Within a day, she sent out emails and connected the mother with help from the school. A week later, we got a wonderful note back from her saying that the school is going to help her and her son.
It’s amazing to be a part of something that turns a small conversation into someone getting actual help in a time of need.
The Day of Me
My day of pampering was so amazing, but it almost felt unreal. We started with a breakfast on the VIP level. When we sat down, we were treated to Patriots cookies and hand-blown glasses from Gather Glass. After breakfast, we got to meet Andre Tippett who shared how passionate the organization is about supporting the Crucial Catch. Then, he walked around and met with all of us with a huge hug and smile.
- Candles – Heather and Dave Chabot from Boston Wick Co had tables set up so we could make our own personalized candles. It was perfect because we could talk to people all while crafting. The apple cider donut candle I made is sitting here at my desk and smells amazing!
- Massages – some of the women enjoyed massages, but I passed. I hate when other people touch me (hugs are not my favorite). The only thing worse than someone else touching me is PAYING someone else to touch me. Hard to imagine that I’m still single…
- Manicures – That was amazing! While I passed on the hand massage, I did get the most amazing manicure that even came with little Patriots stickers on a couple of my nails. My cancer treatments cause anemia which causes my nails to be really brittle. I look at them and they seem to break. I’ve tried tons of nail strengthener and supplements, but not much worked. But the manicure made my nails look great.
- Facials – The Dream Spa Medical team gave me an incredible facial. It was called an oxygen facial and while I had no idea what it entailed; it made my face feel great.
- Jewelry making – Natalie Shay, who runs BeadCache, helped us all design our own tailor-made bracelets. It was perfect because I could use the Patriots colors as well as create a piece that fit my wrist perfectly.
I rarely sit down to relax so this was a day of pure joy. I felt good that day and it gelt great to be so cared for.
Guests and an Invitation
Next up, we had lunch with special guests joining us. First up were two of the current players who gave up time on their day off to come meet us. Sean Wade, who went to Ohio State, was such a gentleman. The poor guy, I’m pretty sure he was slightly afraid to talk to all of us. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by a room full of boisterous, laughing, middle aged women that you knew were all staring death in the face? Sean was so nice, going around, wishing all of us the best, and taking pictures with a huge smile on his face. He was so polite and gentle with all of us. I preferred the ‘hit him hard about Ohio State’ tact. I tried to joke with him, and it took a few minutes before he broke down his walls and started joking around with me. He shared stories about living in New England and how he was excited to share all the fun things to do with his wife and child.
David Andrews, one of the Patriots’ veteran captains, also came to share stories and laughs with us. It’s so great to get to talk to someone we see on the television and find out that they live the same lives we do. He was off to the YMCA with his son that day. We all were really touched that the players came in on their day off to help make the day even more special for us.
Bob Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, joined us and shared his commitment to end cancer in honor of his first wife, Mayra. It’s nice to see someone who puts their time, effort, and resources to support a cause that they are passionate about. He took time to take photos, he signed a ball for my nephew (a rare feat) and invited us all to Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. Then, his staff presented us all with the ultimate swag bags from the foundation. They gave me a personalized Patriots jersey with my name on the back. Plus, we got hats, a ball, magazines, another bracelet, mugs, and more. When I got home, Renee, Ryan, Liam, and I opened up the gym bag and shared the bounty.
I also donated some to my church’s Designer Purse Bingo that I am running, but that’s another story….
As a part of the celebration, the Patriots invited us to join them as their guests on gameday to see the Patriots take on the New Orleans Saints. I was thrilled because I was able to bring Liam, Renee, and Ryan. Best of all, Liam got to be my special guest and was able to join me in the Bud Light pre-tailgate party and get autographs, meet my new friends, and enjoy the buffet. He was REALLY excited that they had a full open bar, which to him meant one thing – Roy Rogers (diet coke, cherry juice, and cherries). It’s so hilarious to see a 12-year-old lined up in line with all the other middle-aged drinkers. Then, we found out that we were going to get to go on the field!
Liam and I joined the rest of the cancer warriors as we walked into the stadium as the players were warming up. It’s amazing how huge these guys are in person! After lots and lots of pictures, live skype videoing with our Mom, and finding Renee and Ryan in their seats, we were off to join the cheerleaders in the tunnel. Even though my pom poms were Notre Dame colors, it was amazing! We stood there waving away, with huge smiles on our faces. Talk about amazing!!
While the game wasn’t much fun as the Patriots got clobbered, we got to go back down on the field with even more cancer warriors during half time. It was amazing. By the time I got back to my seat, three of my friends sent me pictures of me on the field in my jersey when they saw me during the game. Even though it was just maybe 5 seconds, I think I might be famous now.
What an amazing week that was and something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Even better, it gave me the opportunity to help others – which really does make me happy to my core. Even though the Patriots are having a horrible year, life perspective has taught me that it’s more than just a game, it’s a memory I’ll cherish forever. Thank you to the New England Patriots team (Dani, Donna, and all who make it possible). Thank you Bob Kraft for your undying commitment to supporting a cause that’s dear to your heart. Thank you NFL for supporting the Crucial Catch program which helped save others from going through what the 15 of us are going through now. While it was an unforgettable day, it’s a day I hope nobody ever has to be a part of.
It's a Journey
I consider myself one lucky individual. I’ve got an incredible support system in the form of family and friends, founded a company that brings me boundless joy, and possess an attitude that can weather any storm—oh, and did I mention, I’ve got cancer? Yup, stage four endometrial cancer has been my uninvited companion for nearly two years now. But you know what? It doesn’t define me.
- A comedian at heart
- Smarter than a dictionary on steroids
- Devoted to the people I love
- So positive that I could convince a lemon it’s a lime
- Always ready to give a helping hand
- As driven as a squirrel on an energy drink
- A die-hard Penn Stater
- Humble (or maybe not, but I’m owning it)
Back in 2015, I visited my gynecologist because I was experiencing some rather heavy-duty bleeding. To everyone’s surprise, on one fateful Thanksgiving week, while I was visiting my folks in Pennsylvania, I received a call. It was the “You have endometrial cancer” kind of call. Within weeks, I found myself back in Boston, where they whisked me into surgery for a full hysterectomy. We thought we’d kicked cancer’s butt, and I charged forward. I helped launch Gentreo, an award-winning online estate planning company, volunteered at my nephew’s school (and even became the parent council president), led fundraisers, traveled, and spent quality time with family and friends. Oh, and I never skipped a check-up, always coming out with flying colors.
Our family at Penn State where Mom and Dad retired
Julie, Mom, Dad, and Blue
Family game night back in Quincy
The Dreadfully Long Goodbye
We might be one of the few families who can say they benefited from COVID. Right as the pandemic began, our father started showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, both the pandemic and his ailment ramped up at breakneck speed. Next thing we knew, the world was on lockdown. I live with my sister, her husband, and their son in Quincy, MA just outside Boston. Liam is the light of my life and I’ve been with him since he was born.
Thankfully, we found a great balance in our family. Just before the lockdown hit, Renee, Liam, and I packed our bags and headed from Boston to State College, PA, to help out Mom and Dad and lay low. Ryan, my brother-in-law, was a great sport and had to stay in Boston as a critical employee for his company, but he was able to visit often. The only way we could’ve helped mom and dad while founding a startup from home is if the entire world basically went on pause, which it did.
This gave me the golden opportunity to assist Mom while our Dad gradually declined. Luckily, I was in decent health (except for carrying extra pounds), so I could help ease Mom’s load of caring for Dad. I used to be a leader at the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, so even though I’d never been a caregiver before, it was a role I cherished. I felt incredibly blessed to spend those two years with Mom and Dad as we embarked on the Gentreo adventure.
Alzheimer’s is aptly called the “long goodbye,” and it’s heartbreakingly accurate. Our Dad, once a proud, brilliant man, never lost his spirit. But, he did lose the ability to do basic things like feeding, dressing, and using the restroom. It was an immense amount of work, but I wore the badge of caregiver with pride because he’d given our family a wonderful life. Unfortunately, after nearly two years of battling, he passed away. Our brother and his wife had started building a home for our parents as Dad’s health deteriorated. Sadly, he never got to see it finished, but it provided Mom with a perfect place to age gracefully. As she relocated to Illinois, I moved back to Boston to continue igniting Gentreo’s growth.
That’s when life got good. COVID was slowly becoming a thing of the past. I lived with my sister and her family, so I became an active participant in Liam’s escapades—school, church, and more activities than I can count. I became a crafting extraordinaire, helped my church host Designer Purse Bingo (which I adore and still do with our friends’ church), traveled, cooked, shopped, and cheered on my Penn State Nittany Lions. Life was one grand, glorious adventure.
Not Your Average Hernia
In 2021, we asked Mom where she wanted to go on vacation, and she picked Hawaii. What an incredible trip we had! We snorkeled, stayed at the most perfect hotel, crammed in two or three activities every day, and had an absolute blast. But the whole time, I had this nagging stomach pain that I assumed was a hernia. There was a lump, so when I returned, I dialed up my doctor. Well, turns out, it wasn’t a hernia after all. It was a tumor that decided to set up shop in my stomach, and there was another one hanging out in my back. And just like that, the fun began. Well, okay, more like the madness began.
I always say, if you’re going to get sick, Boston is the place to do it. I was blessed with an incredible surgeon the first time around, and her team joined the superhero lineup that is my medical crew. I decided to tackle this head-on with some aggressive chemotherapy, and why not? I’m young (only 48 when it all began), relatively healthy, and I’ve got an attitude that could make even the toughest challenges cry uncle.
I’m Basically a Superhero!
Right before my first chemo session, our great friend, Fr. Joe Mazzone, came by and gave me the sacrament of the blessing of the sick. He spoke about God’s power to guide us through the toughest of storms, quoting the words, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Little did I know how those words would become my mantra in the months to come.
The first treatment was a doozy—I had a nasty reaction to the drug that was supposed to boost my white blood cell count. I remember trembling in bed, drenched in sweat, wishing for a reprieve from the excruciating pain. But once that storm passed, I was almost back to my old self. In fact, after the second treatment, I started losing my hair, but even then, I felt like a superhero because I dodged most of the side effects I’d been warned about. Heck, even shaving my head didn’t faze me much.
Just before COVID reared its head, we attended a trade show for Gentreo, and I baked a whopping 75 dozen ginger snap cookies using my mom’s prized recipe. Those cookies were the stars of the show. Shortly after I started losing my hair, the organizers of the convention gave me a call, offering us a discount for our booth—as long as we provided those coveted cookies. Throughout my entire chemo journey, I kept working. So, I promised to whip up a batch. Unfortunately, it was right before I had to shave my head, and I didn’t want my locks making their way into the cookies. My sister attempted to help by providing me with a shower cap and a hairnet, but I’ve got a pretty big head. When she left to pick up Liam, there I was, with a trash bag taped to my head, baking and wrapping 80 dozen cookies. I even made enough to treat all my nurses and the chemo staff. Best part? Not a single strand of hair was found in any of them.
Throughout chemo, I kept a smile on my face
Attitude Is Everything
That story pretty much sums up who I am. It’s about putting in the hard work, taking care of business and others, giving it your all to get the job done, and doing it all with a smile. Chemo didn’t work all the way and neither did the hormone treatment after. In fact, the tumors grew back to their original size. But, I’m now on an experimental treatment at Mass General Hospital that I’m thrilled to say is working. There’s still a ton of side effects and it’s a daily fight, but it’s working. Throughout my rollercoaster ride with cancer—and oh boy, it’s been a wild ride—I’ve made it my mission to keep working, keep the faith, show gratitude to my friends, family, and medical squad, and keep moving forward. Here’s hoping that my tales can inspire others embarking on their own incredible journeys.