To quote John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
My love for music began at the age of 9 after witnessing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. A love for making jewelry began in 1972 at the age of 17, leaving the Philly area to study Art at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. A very independent soul, a few months after graduation, in the summer of ’76, my dreams were realized when I started my own custom jewelry business – “original jewelry by elisa” doing one-of-a-kind lost wax castings. It would take decades before my love for music and jewelry would intertwine.
Weekends consisted of traveling the East coast and the Midwest doing art shows and eventually opening a brick and mortar “La Petite Jeweler’s” in the fall of ’79. Music was also very important, traveling to see various concerts and forming lasting friendships with local musicians.
Marrying in the summer of ’94, we were hoping to start a family. This is where my life took its first detour. Nine months later, I was hoping to hear the words “you’re pregnant” and instead I heard the words “you have breast cancer,” which changed my life forever. How could that be? After all, I had no lump. After surgery and several radiation treatments, which left my right jewelry making arm numb for 9 ½ years, life went on. While healing and coming to terms with not having children, a new love for gardening developed. The jewelry business thrived and my husband, Ed, and I started traveling abroad to Italy. Life was good!
When it was time to celebrate my 10-year anniversary of being cancer free, we decided to go to Santa Fe, NM, a very spiritual place, to mark this milestone. Call it intuition; I knew my cancer was back. Again, no lump, but upon returning to have my annual mammogram, my suspicions were confirmed. Indeed the cancer was back. Choosing to have a mastectomy, my biggest decision would be whether or not to have reconstruction surgery. Doing massive research in this area for a week and finding out the pros and cons of having a radiated breast, appointments were set up to see my breast cancer surgeon again and a reconstructive plastic surgeon. After those appointments, a final decision was made.
A month before surgery, I visited a local prosthesis place. Knowing my life was going to change brought me to a decision that I wanted to see the prosthesis beforehand. This information is included on our Breast Cancer tip sheet available at www.StringsforaCURE.org.
My mastectomy without reconstruction took place on November 7, 2005. Mastectomy surgery was much easier than the lumpectomy and radiation therapy that took place 10 years prior. Treatment was not required the second time which put a big smile on my face!
During this time, I read the book “Beating Cancer with Nutrition” by Patrick Quillin and learned about the cancer/sugar connection. Healthy eating was always a part of my lifestyle and learning about prevention became quite intriguing. After my recurrence, I realized getting the word out about healthy living and making informative decisions when faced with a breast cancer diagnosis would became a mission of mine. It was always my belief that it was better to base your decisions on knowledge, rather than fear.
Inspired during a 2008 Bon Jovi concert, I thought “why not get famous musicians to recycle their used guitar strings and I would design jewelry out of the strings and help women with breast cancer.” That is when StringsforaCURE® was born! My love for making jewelry intersected with my love of music – a simple idea that is now changing lives.
The StringsforaCURE Foundation (2010-2020) became a non-profit corporation in August 2010, attaining 501(c)(3) status. My dream was to provide help directly to breast cancer patients. Our main program was the Gift Card Grant Program. SFAC gave out gas, grocery or pharmacy gift cards directly to cancer patients, primarily those with breast cancer. This was a national program. After all, it was the selling of the jewelry made out of famous musicians’ strings that put us on the map. Our supporters are all across the country along with some international supporters. How could SFAC turn down a woman battling breast cancer in another city who needed our help? Some programs stayed local. Our Medical Grants and Living Expense Grants helped women/men within a 60-mile radius of Erie. Informative books were shipped to cancer patients across the country. Comfort baskets were delivered to women in the Erie area, after their surgery or when they are having a rough time with their treatments. Having been through this twice, I knew what they were going through and I knew how important emotional and financial support was in regard to a patient’s recovery. Life does go on, but when you are in the throes of a breast cancer diagnosis, you do not ever think your life will go back to being normal.
Some of the famous musicians who have recycled their used guitar strings to StringsforaCURE include Joe Bonamassa, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Daughtry, Melissa Etheridge, Chris Cornell, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Paul Rodgers, Gregg Allman and Rick Springfield. Over 2,000 SFAC pieces have been made and are being worn by supporters all over the world.
Another challenge was for StringsforaCURE to become a registered trademark for charitable fundraising services and jewelry. That was achieved on December 24, 2013. It was a great Christmas present. We could not have done this without the help of the Knox Law Firm, Erie PA, who donated their time to this endeavor.
It was quite an honor to become one of the Dynamic Women in the Erie Community, receiving the Mercy Center for Women “Women Making History 2014” award. At year’s end, it was an honor to learn that I was recognized as a “Person of the Year” by the Erie Times News. Another thrill came in 2015 when I was chosen to receive the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from Mercyhurst University for Outstanding Service to the Community.
What the StringsforaCURE® Foundation did in ten years (2010-2020) far exceeded my expectations. *We helped over 2,068 breast cancer patients, distributing over $466,314 directly to these patients and their families through our Programs. SFAC has shipped over 2,277 gift cards to patients in 45 different states, approved 80 Medical Grants, 40 Living Expense Grants, and 29 HeartStrings Grants, awarded 30 Educational Scholarships. *(stats as of 9/30/20)
Life is about chapters and at the end of September 2020, we closed the StringsforaCURE® Foundation. Please visit theFACTS page for more information and to read how the StringsforaCURE® jewelry by elisa continues to “give back” to the cancer community.