Everviolet Chats: Stage Founder & Breast Cancer Survivor, Virginia Carnesale

Today, we're honored to shine a light on one of our favorite retail partners and breast cancer sisters, Virginia Carnesale, the founder of StageIn a heartfelt conversation, we explore her personal journey and the mission behind her business – a company dedicated to empowering and supporting women throughout their breast cancer journeys. From providing survivor-approved products and treatment tips to fostering a sense of community, Stage takes a holistic approach to guiding women through the physical and emotional challenges of treatment and recovery.

Virginia's candid reflections offer a powerful reminder of the strength, resilience and beauty that can emerge from even the most daunting of life's challenges. As she passionately expresses, "Our objective is to take the guesswork out of treatment and recovery for the patient and supporters so she can focus on what matters most—the healing."

Join us as we discuss Virginia's inspiring journey and the transformative impact of Stage on the breast cancer community. Her story is a testament to the difference one person can make in uplifting and empowering others during their most vulnerable moments.

What inspired you to create Stage, and what gap in breast cancer support were you aiming to address with its inception? 

Navigating breast cancer treatment and recovery was a transformative experience for me. I found comfort during each step of the journey in reading about the disease, listening to podcasts and speaking with friends of friends/other patients for tips and advice. Things like treatment tips, lifestyle changes I could make to better my odds of beating the disease and frankly, some straight talk on what to expect from a patient’s perspective that you just don’t get in the doctor’s office.

It was a lot! However, I was grateful to have the time, resources and access to people who could guide me through what to shop for and expect at every turn. I know, most women aren’t in this situation.

Because I underwent multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation, I found myself constantly shopping for clothing, hair accessories, swimwear and beauty solutions to address what I was going through – from hair loss/regrowth, to dry skin, to scar coverage, sun protection, to new boobs and more. I had functional needs, but I also wanted to feel like myself in a time when cancer felt like it was stripping me of my identity. I was the girl with the big earrings, bright lipstick and the cute turbans to match my outfits - I just didn’t want to stand out in public as a patient, I wanted to look stylish and put together.

With Stage, I wanted to create a place where anyone could access the type of advice you’d get from a best friend, so others can advocate for themselves with their care team like I did. There’s so much to know at every single stage of treatment – from integrated wellness therapies that can help with side effects, to navigating insurance claims, to fertility preservation options, to financial aid and more. And because survivorship is a lifelong journey, it continues on – your needs just evolve over time.

Our objective is to take the guesswork out of treatment and recovery for the patient and supporters so she can focus on what matters most – the healing.

Can you share a pivotal moment from your own breast cancer journey that motivated you to establish Stage?

A few weeks after my first chemo, my hair had really started to shed. I was doing cold capping, but it didn’t seem to be working. I knew the ‘big shed’ was inevitably coming soon and I wanted to be prepared. So I spent 4 hours one afternoon scouring my favorite shopping sites for options that I thought might work for coverage. Everything from $5 turbans to more pricey headwraps, headbands, bucket hats, baseball caps and beautiful head scarves up to $250! I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was stressful, and expensive and I ended up returning most of it.

Because I come from a fashion/retail background, it felt natural to me to put together a site with a range of chic options all in one place. This was my way of paying it forward for other women walking this road.

Also, I was fortunate to receive many gifts from well-intended friends, but oftentimes found they gave me things that weren’t useful or contained ingredients I was avoiding (like antioxidant supplements, sugary treats and toxins in beauty products). People want to help, but awareness is low, so I was inspired to create a selection of gifts that would be helpful and make her feel special – like anti-nausea bracelets, empowerment jewelry, luxe pajamas, etc.

This was the inspiration behind our gift registry feature – to make it easier for her to communicate the types of items that are most helpful to her experience whether practically or emotionally!

How does Stage differentiate itself from other platforms or resources available to women navigating breast cancer?

At Stage, the focus of our curation is to equip her with solutions for a complete cancer-fighting lifestyle. We’re not just focused on one category, or those in active treatment – we think about her needs in survivorship too - activewear, clean beauty, swimwear, empowerment jewelry, and non-toxic kitchen supplies are good examples of this.

We also give back to our non-profit partners 365 days a year, not just in October, and not just on certain products. We’ve also intentionally partnered with organizations offering services to patients in the areas of fertility preservation, free integrative wellness therapies and financial aid – because the out-of-pocket costs of treatment and recovery are steep and ongoing. Yes, we also donate to research with sales of selected items, but we feel deeply motivated to support the patient experience - this is personal to us.

Lastly, we work hard to ensure our blog content is actionable and inspirational. I want readers to walk away having learned something about self-care, advocacy or ways to support a friend.

In what ways does Stage foster a sense of community and support for women going through similar experiences?

At Stage, we know how isolating a breast cancer journey can feel. And what a difference it makes to find connection in other patients and survivors. 

That’s why all of our writers (for the blog and product copy) are survivors – contributing their experience and must-have products and advice for the journey to help readers to feel less alone. So far, we’ve teamed up with 40+ survivor contributors across our blog and social media to bring our audience inspiring stories, helpful resources and straight talk on what to expect.

Our customer care team is also staffed by survivors – so customers can take comfort in knowing the person on the other end of their inquiry is coming from a place of experience and understanding.

Customers (both patients and supporters) can feel good about their purchases on Stage, knowing that a portion of their purchase goes back to serve the needs of women in the breast cancer community.

Could you elaborate on the significance of offering survivor-approved and stylish products within the Stage marketplace?

Offering a selection of merchandise that’s vetted by survivors, is our way to helping her take the guesswork out of treatment. Because she’s got bigger things to think about - like getting better!

Supporters can also take comfort in knowing the items on our site have been hand-picked by people who’ve gone through this, so they can feel confident in their gift.

There’s no denying that when you look stylish, you just feel better! Playing a small role in building her confidence in this time of uncertainty is what keeps us motivated. 

How do you ensure that Stage provides comprehensive and reliable information to its audience? 

In addition to lending our own personal experience, we research each medically focused article and credit reliable sources to substantiate what we’re saying. To take it a step further, we team up with medical professionals (physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, registered dieticians, etc.) from leading institutions (e.g. Cedars Sinai, Memorial Sloan Kettering and more) to review and confirm the accuracy of our content before any article is published.

Can you discuss the importance of normalizing discussions around breast cancer beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

904 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every single day in the US. While the attention that’s given to breast cancer in October is hugely important for spreading awareness surrounding early detection and mammograms – it's not enough.

We need to be doing more to educate women about prevention and the role that lifestyle, stress, sleep, diet, toxins in beauty products, pesticides and more can play in raising one’s risk for breast cancer. I remember feeling frustrated after my diagnosis to learn about simple lifestyle decisions I’d been making that had reduced my body’s ability to fight off cancer naturally. No one should have to feel that way.

What role do you see Stage playing in empowering women to feel confident and empowered throughout their breast cancer journey?

Our goal is to equip her with information to advocate for herself at every stage of the treatment journey with our blog content. As patients, there is so much we can learn from one another. I was incredibly fortunate to have access to other women who’d gone through it and who were willing to share their experience with me, and lend treatment tips and hacks for managing side effects. Those conversations were everything, but I know many women suffer through this alone.

When it comes to merchandise, having a flattering turban, a pair of eyebrow wigs or a swimsuit that accommodates the needs of your new body can mean the difference between leaving the house or not. The side effects of breast cancer treatments can challenge your self-esteem to its very core. We want to be a source of confidence for women so they can feel comfortable in any situation. Life doesn’t have to stop when she’s in treatment.

Could you share some success stories or memorable experiences from women who have been part of the Stage community?

We received the most lovely letter from an ovarian cancer patient thanking us for our content on cold caps and letting us know that reading tips from ‘articulate, stylish and badass women’ who’d gone through this before really resonated with her – and she felt connected to us.

I’ve also received many notes from breast cancer survivors and supporters telling me they had a family member who’d gone through this (or them personally) and they’d wished this resource and shopping destination had been around at the time.

Lastly, I receive feedback pretty regularly from supporters and patients alike on how helpful our articles have been as they navigate the diagnosis and treatment. This feedback makes it all worth it.

As a breast cancer survivor yourself, what advice would you give to women who are newly diagnosed or currently undergoing treatment?

1. Take it one day at a time. Navigating a new diagnosis is a lot to take in. Focus on the phase of treatment you’re in, don’t get ahead of yourself.

2. Confide in a friend! It's really helpful to have someone that you can open up to about what’s going on. For important appointments, bring a loved one or friend/colleague along to help you keep track of what’s being said.

3. Surround yourself with positivity. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from negative people or influences. Listen to motivational podcasts and positive, uplifting sermons if you’re religious. Protect your mental state. Do things to help take your mind off your diagnosis.

4. Be ok with doing less. Listen to your body and go easy on yourself. Surgeries and treatment take a lot out of you. When you need to lie down – do it! Even in the middle of the day.

5. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Humor goes a long way to lighten the load for you and those around you.

6. Seek support. People want to help you during this time, but you need to show them how. Whether it's rides to/from appointments, help with meals/grocery shopping, company for wig shopping, words of encouragement, going for walks or simply being a distraction - support can come in many forms. Your cancer center will have services and social workers standing by to assist you – take advantage of the outside support.

How does Stage approach the intersection of wellness and breast cancer, and what resources does it offer in this regard?

Wellness is about body, mind and spirit. We aim to inspire others to take charge of the lifestyle influences they can control in order to create an ideal climate for healing. We do this through our content on fitness, nutrition, mental health, finances and integrated wellness therapies. We also offer clean beauty and non-toxic kitchen essentials that are free of the most important ingredients to avoid – like sulfates, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde and more. We plan to expand in these areas over time.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of Stage and its impact on women affected by breast cancer?

Our goal is to expand our content and curation to other female cancers. We want to help take some of the fear out of treatment and reassure her that it won’t last forever — that this ‘Stage’ in life is a moment in time, and although challenging, life can still be beautiful. We’re here to support her along the way.

What does Everviolet’s mantra “Beauty of Change” mean to you?

There is a beautiful evolution in a person that can transpire as a result of a breast cancer journey.

Breast cancer puts life in perspective, and teaches you that you truly never know what’s going on with other people – they could be silently battling a life-threatening disease or dealing with the fear of a recurrence.

In my case, I became a more empathetic person, stopped worrying about the small stuff and became more thoughtful of how/where I put my energy and time. And, my experience inspired me to pay it forward for others walking this road with Stage. Now that’s a positive change in my book.