It was 1996. I had been working as an Assistant District Attorney in Dane County, Wisconsin, for 10 years. I enjoyed my job as an ADA, but it was stressful. Then, at the age of 46, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
At first, I thought the diagnosis was a mistake. I was in denial. I dropped down to part-time employment at the district attorney’s office. I went through radiation (and luckily, no chemotherapy). My treatment made me think about what caused my breast cancer. I devoured information to help me understand and prevent this from ever happening again. I changed my diet, paying attention to nutrition, and I meditated.
While going through treatment, I began to ponder how limited my time on this planet might be. I wanted to do something different. Somewhere deep inside me I had always wanted my own business, but I never knew what that business would look like. My idea of a perfect job was to deliver flowers. Unlike being a prosecutor, where one sees a very disturbing side of life every day, delivering flowers brings joy to the recipients. But I wasn’t sure if that was the business idea for which I was waiting. I also thought about opening my own law practice. However, that just didn’t seem bold and different enough.
I started attending National Association of Women Business Organization (NAWBO) meetings. At these meetings, I learned that 80% of successful women entrepreneurs had fathers who were entrepreneurs. I became involved in “success groups” through the Wisconsin Chapter of NAWBO. It didn’t matter that I did not have a business yet. These meetings welcomed “future entrepreneurs” as well.
It was through attending these meetings and brainstorming with other women that my business idea arose. It now was 1998, Wisconsin’s sesquicentennial year. I learned that Governor Tommy Thompson was planning to ride his motorcycle across the country and thought that during his travels, it would be nice for him to promote Wisconsin-made products. At the time, there was no one-stop shopping place on the Internet for Wisconsin-made products like brats and cheese. Ecommerce was in its infancy, and I was discovering a fondness for information technology. So, I decided to create a website entitled www.wisconsinmade.com, which would become an internet specialty food and gift store.
My husband and I wandered around the State of Wisconsin for a year, attending fairs and events to meet Wisconsin artisans. Ninety percent of the artisans we met were thrilled with the idea of me selling and promoting their products through the Wisconsinmade website. The website would open new markets for their products. The website launched in 1999 and it has now grown to include a variety of products such as gourmet food, woodwork, paintings, music, gift baskets, books, art and clothing. People who vacation in, went to school or once lived in Wisconsin comprise a large portion of customers of the website. The website allows them to get a little taste of “home,” even while they are away. The website also attracts those customers who are committed to buying local products for themselves or to share with friends and family outside the state.
Throughout its decade long existence, Wisconsinmade has hit a few bumps with the website, but nothing I have been unable to manage. Looking back, I can say that receiving that breast cancer diagnosis was a gift (although I never would have thought that at the time). I am more content with my life now than I ever had been before. Even though I work long hours, perhaps even longer than when I was a prosecutor, I see the benefits of my work immediately.
Cancer forced me to take a chance on something I had wanted to do ever since I can remember. When one faces a lemon like cancer, risk-taking doesn’t seem so daunting. My cancer told me to move on and to find a way to put smiles on the faces of people, like flower deliverers do. That’s exactly what Wisconsinmade does for people. I couldn’t be happier.