My name is Suzanne Sinatra. I am a woman, a friend, a sister, a daughter and I am the CEO and Founder of Private Packs. I fought breast cancer, and I won. October is breast cancer month, and before this year I never paid attention to this type of cancer or any other cancer ribbon, month, or drive. Why? The disease did not affect me or anyone in my family, yet.
Now I know breast cancer. It is a killer and it's savage. According to Breastcancer.org about 1 in 8 women in the United States (about 12.4%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States, along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
My name is Suzanne Sinatra, and I am the founder of Private Packs. I design ergonomic cool and heat personal packs for the privates - yes those privates. I selfishly created this product because I went for my usual Brazilian wax, and this time the esthetician ripped off all my hair and skin. When I got home, I opened my freezer, and it was as if my vagina said: “You're not putting peas on me!" I shared this with my friends and to my surprise, they shared with me their painful vagina stories and instances they could have used a personal pack.
Either after a Soulcycle sweat session, after childbirth, first lesbian sex, during their recurring UTI's or during their period or more. What shocked me was not that they had these experiences, but that I've known some of these women for over ten years and they never shared with me their intimate pain until I shared with them mine. Just as menstruation was at one time considered taboo (Thanks Thinx!), vaginal pain is sub taboo - we don't talk about it even to our fellow tribe members.
In 2015, I had my annual mammogram, and the Radiologist saw something that concerned them. They called me, wrote me letters begging me to come back in for more tests. I remember thinking “I don't have time for this, I'm building a startup." I decided to ignore them.
Fast forward to 2017. I was exhausted, more than usual. I was working on my startup before and after work until the wee hours of the morning and on the weekends. I wore my tiredness as a badge of honor. Yeah! I'm a great entrepreneur because I'm super tired and I have bags under my eyes that are the size of Casper mattresses.
In hindsight, that sounds so wrong. I can't even fathom today what made me think that living like that was actually living. But this is what many in the startup community consider as skin in the game. Investors want to see founders work this hard, and other entrepreneurs admire it. I felt that I had to go even harder than everyone else because I'm a first-time entrepreneur, I'm female, and I'm black. I purposefully did not take care of myself because I felt that being seen as a serious entrepreneur was more critical than my wellbeing.
Two months away from launching my Indiegogo campaign and still working full-time, a guy I was into broke up with me over text. Think Carrie Bradshaw and Burger 2.0. Pissed off and disappointed I hugged myself, and as my right hand swiped my left breast I felt it.
WTF! I ran to the mirror, and I saw that my left breast had a divet. I instantly knew what it was. Over the next few weeks, I had a mammogram and biopsy that left my body and spirit black and blue, but I couldn't dwell in that too long because I was simultaneously getting ready for a product launch, auditioning for a TV show, and I had a 9-5 job. It was too much, but I still kept going.
August 11th at 2:47 pm, my doctor called me and said the three words no one wants to hear, “Suzanne, you have cancer." The Mohammed Ali level of beating I gave my spirit commenced on that day; "You did this to yourself, you deserve cancer because you didn't take care of yourself, you're dumb, you were warned and being accepted by others meant more to you that your health." I was sad, alone and directionless. I had to find an oncologist. I now have a recurring disease, but I only had two months of savings, I didn't even have food in the fridge. How was I going to take care of myself with cancer? What was going to happen to Private Packs? Am I still going to feel like a woman? Was this the end of my dating life? Was I going to die? Was I going to die alone?
My doctor forced me to postpone my product launch. I am happy that for once I listened to them because the body changes came so swiftly that I didn't have the physical strength to launch a product.
The worst symptom of chemotherapy for me was losing my libido. My sex drive, sexuality, and sensuality – poof it was gone. I can only assume because I was single that my doctors didn't warn me or help me understand the effects of early menopause and the relationship between cancer treatment and sexuality. I became a shell of a person.
My last chemo was scheduled the day after my birthday. The end of this ordeal was near! However, I got another phone call that nobody wants to get from their doctor "Suzanne, we're stopping your chemo. Your cancer has spread and the tumors have grown. You're going to need surgery in a few weeks. Also, you will have to get a mastectomy instead of the planned lumpectomy and remove all of the lymph nodes in your left arm." I loved my breasts, They were beautiful 38D, identical twins. With removing my breast they also took what I felt at the time was my identity as a woman.
"I couldn't go to the women's march and risk getting sick but I made signs for the ladies to march with."
Suzanne Sinatra at the Yayoi Kusama art exhibit.
Throughout treatment and before surgery, I worked on Private Packs even though I didn't formally launch it there was a lot of work to be done. I carried my laptop to chemo, I attended essential networking events. I pushed my body, and I listened to it. If I needed to stay home, I did. If my body required rest, I rested. At 44, I finally started to respect my body and my wellbeing.
After my mastectomy, I had an identity crisis as a founder of a personal healthcare brand. Private Packs' mission is to create personal wellness products and educate consumers that their genital health and personal wellness is important to their overall health. Being a founder of a personal wellness brand made me feel like a fraud because I'm doing the complete opposite of what I created our mission to be. I did not look after my genital health, but I'm telling other people to do so? I felt like a phony, a bullshitter, a fake. Private Packs is a compassionate company. A difference maker. How was I going to do that if I did not walk the walk and talk the talk?
Five months after treatment I can proudly say that I have evolved as a woman and a founder because of breast cancer. I have stopped beating myself up, I am more confident because I live in MY truth. And that, yes, I neglected my health, but I woke up to what I was doing before it was too late. I love myself. I'm still a woman with one breast. I don't have my libido, and now I have vaginal atrophy because if you don't use it, you really do lose it. My doctor still has not spoken to me about sex and cancer, so I took the initiative to learn about it on my own. I referred to http://www.cancersexnetwork.org/ for information. Additionally, instead of watching Pornhub for a quickie I watch Make Love Not Porn because it is not a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of experience. Toilet paper is too rough because of the vaginal dryness, so I use Unbound Booshie wipes that I store in the fridge and bathroom, and I use Womanizer's InsideOut because I need vibration 3-5 times a week to stimulate the pelvic blood flow and restart my vaginal moisture. I'm a woman.
Today, Private Packs is still on its mission, and my voice as its leader is from a place of experience and authenticity. I have persevered, I'm strong and I have overcome my own self-imposed roadblock because of cancer.
If you are a woman, a person of color or LGBTIA+ identified and are a part of a start-up company, this is the competition for you. The SoGal Global Pitch Competition is being hosted in over 25 cities and will culminate in a final contest in Silicon Valley as well as a "3-day immersive educational bootcamp." This could be an unprecedented opportunity for you, your business and for the future of entrepreneurial diversification.
We all know how important diversity is for the world and for any business entity. But the statistics need to catch up with these ideals, because diversity isn't just a moral imperative it can also have an impact on the success and efficiency of a business. So if the ethics isn't enough to get you interested, maybe these statistics will.
- Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns
- Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have above-average financial returns
- Bottom quartile companies (in both gender and racial diversity) are less likely to achieve even average returns
- In senior executive teams in the US for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) rose 0.8%
Despite the fact that diversity is good for business, funding as a woman or a minority is incredibly challenging, but this competition could be someone's game-changing opportunity.
SoGal is a global education and empowerment platform focused on diverse investors and entrepreneurs. Their mission is "to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship and venture capital." A tall order, given that 2.2% of VC funding went to women in 2018. Compounding the gender gap with race shows an even poorer picture: in the past decade only 0.1% (yes, that is a decimal) of funding was allocated to black women.
It is a straight up fact that companies with higher levels of diversity perform better, so why is it so hard for diverse start-ups to get funded? Oh right, racism, sexism, homophobia, implicit biases, inequality, classism... the list goes on, but thankfully that's where SoGal comes in! According to Kelley Elizabeth Henry, director of SoGal, "We're done waiting for these statistics to change; we're taking action to point investment capital toward these diverse-led startups. [...] We will change the future of entrepreneurship."
To enter this competition all you have to do is be a part of a pre-Series A startup (raised less than $3M) and have at least one "woman or diverse" founder. After you apply to pitch, you'll have to be able to make it to one of the "regional round location," which range from the more typical options of New York and Los Angeles to global locations such as Nairobi or Bangalore. And, if you're really playing to win, you better earmark February 28 to March 1 of next year, because that's when the top teams will be in San Francisco duking it out to the very end. And by "duking it out," I mean participating in "curated educational programming," talking to press and getting "facetime in front of top-tier investors." Though not everyone can win, the experience in itself looks to be well-worth the time it takes to fill out an application form and huff it to the nearest large city for the first round.