New business plays major role in lives of
breast cancer survivors
When Virginia Carnesale was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43, she was stunned, confused and even a little ashamed. Had she done something to bring this upon herself?
“It was 2018, and I had settled into a break from a big-city corporate career. After a friendly nudge from my ob-gyn, I scheduled the mammogram I’d been putting off, figuring it would be routine and no big deal.
“Well, it wasn’t routine, and it was a big deal. After a few more tests and a biopsy, it was confirmed: I had Stage 0 breast cancer,” said Ms. Carnesale, a Santa Barbara native and 1983 graduate of Dos Pueblos High School.
She spent the next several weeks reading books about battling breast cancer, adopting a new cancer-fighting diet and seeking support from her inner circle of family and friends.
“I researched my options for reconstruction, selected my medical team and froze my eggs,” Ms. Carnesale told the News-Press. “My doctors reassured me that as long as I had surgery within two months, I’d be fine. But by the time I had surgery, the cancer spread. It was in two lymph nodes, and I was now Stage 2.
“Before I knew it, I was doing four rounds of chemo and 28 sessions of radiation. I did scalp cooling therapy to try and keep my hair. Fortunately, the chemo worked, but I still lost my hair. Between my balding scalp and my new chemo-induced wrinkles, I didn’t recognize myself.
“I felt ugly and robbed of my femininity. I tried to put vanity aside. I told myself that it was ‘just hair’ that would grow back. In the meantime, I searched incessantly for stylish hair accessories, scarves, hats and wigs to get me by.”
As her treatment progressed, Ms. Carnesale read up on prevention tactics and factors that heighten women’s risks, like sustained stress, certain chemicals in beauty products, lack of sleep — the list went on.
“I grew frustrated. Why was I just learning about this now? I didn’t need a pink ribbon. I needed to know how to make a wig look natural enough to wear with confidence, how to adjust my diet for the best odds of beating cancer, which non-toxic household products would make my home safer and most importantly, I needed support, information and advice so that I could take on this journey with courage, grace and style.”
So she created Stage to empower women with everything they need to take on breast cancer with confidence, style and support. It’s a “one-stop shop” featuring everything from cool hair accessories, cozy loungewear, and luxe self-care, to home goods and gifts.
“While conventional medicine treats the disease, additional support is essential to promote a woman’s overall wellness, both physically and mentally,” said Ms. Carnesale. “Stage offers a stylish collection of fashion, clean beauty, home goods and gifts curated to empower, inspire and help her navigate this phase of life with dignity.”
Launch partners include established brands such as Alexa Leigh, Cosabella, Faherty, Solid & Striped, State Bags, Supergoop and Terez. Patients will also be able to create their own registry of products to send to family and friends in the near future.
Besides curating a wide assortment of survivor-tested products, Stage amplifies the voices of survivors through its blog and social media content, bringing their stories to life and fostering community through shared knowledge vetted by medical experts.
“Stage’s goal is to ensure that the conversation around breast cancer does not just happen in October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month),” Ms. Carnesale said. “Stage was created to empower and inspire women to take initiative over the lifestyle factors they can control. It’s a singular destination to support their needs and help them feel less overwhelmed by endless information, internet black holes and burning questions.”
“Stage gives back a portion of proceeds on every sale to support nonprofits that offer financial assistance, fertility preservation and integrative therapies and support to breast and ovarian cancer patients,” said Ms. Carnesale, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Notre Dame and her MBA at USC.
For 20 years, she worked in marketing and merchandising for companies such as Gap, Niki, Bebe and Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles and New York City.
“I came back to Santa Barbara in 2017 to be with my family,” said Ms. Carnesale, the daughter of Lucie Carnesale and the late Louis Carnesale of Goleta.
She launched her business in February and chose to name it Stage because “cancer is really a journey, a stage of life just like others, a moment in time that is challenging, but it won’t last forever.
“With Stage, it’s my passion to arm women with inspiring stories, treatment tips, lifestyle hacks and a community to connect with. I take endless information, Internet black holes, burning questions and shopping lists and curate exactly what you need on your journey so that you can focus on what really matters — beating this thing — with love, kindness and a bit of sass.”