How My Battle With Cancer Inspired Me To Make Changes In The Beauty Industry

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
It all started when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. I was a 16-year-old girl, playing on the volleyball team. Then, all of a sudden, I found a lump in my collarbone on my left-hand side. No one suspected it was anything, but then it started to grow bigger, and I was having night sweats and itchy skin with no apparent rash.

My Diagnosis
Finally, I drove myself to the doctor. He did a biopsy, and then called my mom and said, "Your daughter has either Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma." My mom asked, "What is that?" And, he said, "Cancer." He didn't want to take any chances, so I was staged and got the tumor removed soon after. It turned out I had Hodgkin's, but we needed to start treatments right away, and the doctor said I would have about a year of chemo and some radiation. In the end, though, I only had to have five months. All I wanted to do was feel better to play volleyball. I wanted to be okay to go to the mall, dance, and be with my friends. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to understand what was going on, and that oddly worked in favor for me, because ignorance can be bliss. I believe the power of my thoughts affected the healing process — your body listens. My doctor couldn't believe I went into remission after just five months.

My Father's Struggle
Many years later, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He was a man who impacted the world just by being who he was. He was driven and successful in his finance job. He came from a lot of adversity — he picked up all 24 members of my family in Mexico City and brought us to Vancouver, Canada, all because he felt we weren't living the life we deserved. He was my best friend. 
When he was diagnosed, he told the doctors, "You do the physical part, and I'll do the mental part." Never once did he entertain the thought of death — it was so inspiring to watch him. He was in management, and he had many sales reps beneath him, and he was the top producer on his team. He would say, "How am I producing more than you, and I have cancer? What's your excuse?" A lot of my work ethic and drive comes from him — sometimes, we learn by watching.

He went through his battle with the illness for eight years, and we had a particularly special bond because I had my own experience with cancer. I felt like nobody understood certain things except he and I. He taught me a lot, because each time he went into remission, he was incredible — his strength and courage were inspiring. My cancer side effects were not that bad, but his were just devastating. Doctors do an amazing job creating cocktails, and prescribing chemo and radiation to keep us alive, but sometimes they have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, or they don't understand how it all can impact a person day to day.

For example, my dad thrived on being social. When he was administered this one drug, its side effects included an acneic rash on his cheeks and neck. The doctors told him that's how they knew the drug was working. I remember he didn't want to leave his room or the house, and I asked why, and he said, "Look at my face!" And, I thought, This man who is so courageous and strong will not get out of bed because of acne. That was an awakening for me.

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Photo: Courtesy of CV SkinLabs.
During the years he battled cancer, I became a makeup artist, so he would ask me to find him things. I wanted the best for him, so I went to a department store and bought all the most expensive products for delicate, sensitive skin. I brought them home, put them on him, and it made everything worse! That was the first time I turned the jar around and started to read. I went on the Internet and started to research every ingredient, and there were all sorts of allergens and plasticizers, and other things that have been linked to potential hormone disruption, or even cancer. Eventually, I became the label police in my parents' home, monitoring everything from cleaning products to food. 

Eventually, my father passed away on August 7, 2007, after being in remission five times. The cancer spread into the lungs and liver, and a secondary cancer in the brain, and then in the bones. When he passed, I thought: These experiences I've gone through are a gift. Now, what am I going to do with it? 
Creating My Skin-Care Line
One of the things I've learned from all this is that you never know why you’re going through something. But, if life is about helping others, the experience becomes your curriculum. My own cancer experience was my curriculum to be of service: I made a promise that I would write a book about getting through cancer treatments by focusing on detoxing and natural alternatives for at-home care and side effects. I also made a promise that I would create a line of products that would soothe, calm inflammation, repair the skin, and bring a healthy glow.

My book came out in September 2011, and it's called When Cancer Hits. Meanwhile, I went on this journey of creating my line. I hired a Chinese medicine doctor and a chemist from the U.K., and we spent a year researching ingredients that would calm inflammation — I wanted everything to have data or a clinical study to prove that it was effective. We gathered three to make up our TriRescue Complex — turmeric, reishi mushroom, and bisabolol, which comes from chamomile. I hired an advisory panel of three dermatologists to help me create the formulas, working with a chemist here in the States. 

I never compromised on the safety of my products. I wanted a lotion that had the right consistency and was a silicone-free formula. I had our chemist try 87 different formulas before he finally got it right. I knew it was possible, and I never gave up — this line is the way I grieved and honored my father. I wasn't going to cut corners, simply because he wouldn't have!

Photo: Courtesy of CV SkinLabs.
Our Products
I named the line CV Skinlabs, with an accompanying blog called Cinco Vidas, five lives — after the five recurrences of cancer my father went through. Today, the line has four products:

The Body Repair Lotion is a powerful moisturizer. It contains beta glucan, which has healing properties. It's fragrance- and scent-free, and there are no silicones, dimethicones, or polymers. It reduces inflammation, but also moisturizes without leaving a film. It has a silky texture.

Our Rescue + Relief Spray is a fast-acting product that works immediately to quell redness and itchy skin with cucumber and St. John's Wort. It's oil-free, so you can use it as a toner. Plus, there's a bit of vegetable glycerin for hydration. 

Calming Moisture — a hydrator for face, neck, and scalp — is beloved by many celebrity makeup artists (and even Michelle Williams!) It hydrates without being greasy, and it leaves a nice glow. It works well under makeup, but it's mainly designed for people with redness or flushed skin, or anyone who's had laser treatments or microdermabrasion.

Finally, there's our Restorative Skin Balm, which I created to replace the petrolatum-based do-it-all salves of the world. You can use it on anything from lips to cuticles to cuts, it's great for breastfeeding mothers, and even for eczema patches or psoriasis. It's made of natural ingredients like sea-buckthorn oil, calendula, and arnica. 

Our Philosophy
Safety is our number-one pillar. We are 100% free of many things, and we've hired a toxicologist to screen everything that's put in our formulas to make sure it isn't linked to any health issues. All of our products can be used on babies, pregnant moms, and everybody else.
So far, the response has been phenomenal. We've never once read a negative review. We've only had three returns in three years. And, now we're all across the United States, and have opened in Canada and in the U.K. We've gone to the Emmys and Grammys, and we've been in plenty of blogs and magazines. People with eczema, psoriasis, and allergies have written to me, praising the products. I still take calls and emails for customer service, because I want to speak one-on-one with people about their experiences.

My dad wanted to give back to the cancer community, but he was too sick toward the end. He passed this baton to me, and I started to put into motion what he so badly wanted to do, which was give back to the community that gave so much to him. I use him as my driving force. I talked to my friend Lisa Price one day, who's the founder of Carol's Daughter, and she told me she felt her brand had fairy dust sprinkled all over it. I told her I feel the same way about mine. 

I feel closer to my dad today than I did when he was alive. I dedicate my work to his legacy, and it has everything to do with who he was. He didn't give up, and that means I don't, and I won't. Both of us had this thing we went through to use — which I call a gift — and our experiences are a gift we get to give away.
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