When Shay Sharpe was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer at the age of 26, she felt isolated and alone, never having expected to battle cancer at such a young age. Realizing that there were few resources for breast cancer patients under the age of 40, Shay was inspired to create Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes. Today, her non-profit organization grants wishes to young women with a terminal breast cancer diagnoses between the ages of 18 and 40 and provides encouragement and support to patients around the world.
Name: Shay Sharpe
Occupation: President of Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes
Twitter Handle: @ShaysPinkWishes
Facebook Page: Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes
What are three words that best describe you? Incomparable, Amazing, Kind
Could you describe your business? Founded in 2011, Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that grants wishes to young women, age 40 and under, who have been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. We define terminal as having one year or less to live, per their physician. In addition to granting wishes, SSPW educates, mentors and shares resources with women globally, who have been affected by breast cancer.
What is your role, where are you based and what do you inspires you most about your work? I’m the President and Founder of Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes. We assist women all over the world, but we are based in Baltimore, Maryland. Being able to grant one last wish to a young woman who is facing her own mortality or being able to assist in her greatest time of need is my most heartfelt inspiration.
Was there anything in your past that pointed you in the direction you’ve taken? I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in 2004 at age 26. During my journey, I saw first hand the void in services for young women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and I hoped to change that. I didn’t know how, but I knew that I wanted to ensure that other young women didn’t have to face this disease alone. I wasn’t a part of any support groups, nor did I have a navigator, so I was left to figure out this complicated disease alone. I wasn’t the face of cancer. The women in the commercials or on the billboards didn’t look like me. They weren’t my age – nowhere near it! I needed age appropriate advice and support.
What experience in your career are you most proud of? I am most proud of my SCAR Project photo. Photographer David Jay photographed me topless for the SCAR Project, a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors. Prior to the project, I wouldn’t show my mastectomy scars. I was so uncomfortable and ashamed of the awful scars that extended across my chest and abdomen. I wouldn’t even show my boyfriend, so exposing them to the world was a huge personal accomplishment. I had no idea that I would receive hundreds of messages of encouragement! I am no longer embarrassed by my scars, now I embrace them. Because of this new confidence, I have started a new campaign, “Loving Yourself After Breast Cancer.”
What advice would you share with those still in school? Never stop learning!
Why is giving back is important to you? I’m a firm believer of paying it forward. You never know when you may need a helping hand. In the blink of an eye, the lender can become the borrower.
How has giving back helped you? Volunteering with the breast cancer community helps take my mind off of my own craziness and ailments. I am 9 years and 9 surgeries out of treatment, but I still take 20 pills a day, have numerous doctor appointments, tests, scans, and procedures. This routine will be my life, for the duration of my life.
How do you incorporate giving back into your life? My everyday life consists of giving back and volunteering. I receive calls, texts and messages from men and women everyday, who have been affected by breast cancer. Sometimes, people just need someone to listen to them vent, cry, or scream. I’m that person on the other end of the phone.
Which charities are near and dear to you and why? SSPW assists in the community whenever possible. This past winter we had both a coat and jean drive to assist the homeless in downtown Baltimore. We also purchased blankets for the mission kitchen at James Tabernacle Church.
When it comes to your own philanthropic efforts, what do you look back and feel made the largest impact on those that you set out to help? I feel like my biggest impact was made when SSPW granted our first wish. We sent Dana and her family to SeaWorld in San Diego. Dana was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, it had metastasized to other areas of her body. Dana’s family has been absolutely wonderful! Even though Dana has gained her wings, her family is ALWAYS supporting SSPW. They are genuinely grateful for what we have done for their family.
What is the most creative fundraising idea you’ve come across? I haven’t ran across it yet! I’m eagerly waiting. We are always open to suggestions.
What are some must-attend charity events for you? The must attend event of the year is the SSPW Black Tie Fundraiser. It’s held annually in early fall.
What brands do you wear most often? My mounting healthcare expenses don’t afford me the luxury to shop as often as I like, so I usually always have on the same thing. Black bottoms and my signature SSPW shirt.
What is your favorite beauty product? Hair. Lots of it!
How would you describe your home décor? Exotic
What is your secret for hosting a great party? Hire or delegate someone else to be in charge so that you can enjoy your party with your guests. I always want to be a guest at my parties. It never happens!
Favorite food: Crabs! If it wasn’t for my love of crabs, I would be vegetarian instead of pescetarian.
Favorite cocktail: Patron & Club soda
Favorite restaurant: Seaside Restaurant is the first that comes to mind.
If you could have a dinner party for 8, who would you invite living or dead? My grandmother Toots, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jay-Z, Folorunsho Alakija, and Beyoncé.
Favorite vacation spot: Las Vegas. I’m not a gambler, but I love the bright flashing lights, noise, shopping and the fact that I can do all of these things 24 hours a day in Vegas.
Do you have any tips for parents? Do the best that you can! Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Favorite TV show: Right now, Scandal.
Favorite movie: Purple Rain
Favorite song: “Darling Nikki” by Prince
Favorite book: The dictionary. I used to read it everyday when I was growing up. Chemo brain makes it a little harder to remember all of those words that I studied day in and day out. (This is the fine print of cancer that no one talks about…)
Favorite apps: Instagram
iPhone or Android: I love Android, but I own an iPhone and a Blackberry.
Favorite workout: Yoga
Where do you get your news? The Today Show. I watch it everyday.