Brian Schultz was in his young twenties when his aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her passing at just 57 prompted his mother, Laurene (Coppola) Schultz, to get a mammogram, which led to an immediate diagnosis of breast cancer at 52. Brian himself had just graduated college and delayed his trip out west to begin his job to stay and support his mother through her single mastectomy and recovery. A successful surgery meant his mother was cancer free and “the next 15 years were pretty normal in the world of someone living with cancer- the will it come back? was certainly there- but she was otherwise healthy.”
In 2016, a mammogram revealed the breast cancer had returned in her other breast. It meant another single mastectomy, which led to remission for 6 months before doctors found the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Doctors worked to remove as many lymph nodes as possible and their efforts were successful in allowing remission for another year. Unfortunately, a year later, follow up tests revealed the cancer had spread to her bones, halfway through her femur and she developed a heart block: “it started to impact her medically in many ways, but she persevered.”
Over time, Brian and his family noticed his mother declining in health: “we started to notice things like fatigue and sloppier handwriting.” These symptoms prompted a scan in November 2019, which revealed brain cancer. 1 in 8 women who have breast cancer will develop brain cancer, but despite the intensely grueling full brain radiation, Brian’s mother was able to enjoy her lifelong dream trip of Disney World with her grandchildren. Upon arriving home, the side effects set in and while hospitalization worried the family, his mother was released to a rehab facility. Assuming her arrival home would happen shortly, the family was shocked when she passed away 8 days later.
Brian notes that for years every member of the family stepped up to support his mother during her cancer journey. His older sister Kathy, and younger sister Alison both lived near their mother and were able to provide the in person support for both their mother and father: “when you have a caretaker like my dad who takes on that role- the mental/physical/emotional exhaustion is real- so my sisters would go for support and to listen to doctors, so my dad wouldn’t have to.” For his part, Brian, located in California, provided the steady support of listening: “my role was really the emotional and moral support of my mom. I talked on the phone with her a lot, just to be there to listen to her and the journey she was going through.”
His mother’s death occurred right before the worldwide COVID-19 shutdown and he notes the impact it had on him saying, “going through what I did with my mom made me realize there are bigger things going on.” He followed through on his plans to quit his corporate job in an effort to start a business that had the purpose of giving back. Thus, https://thefreshwaterpearlcompany.com/ was born: “I created this company to honor the legacy of my mom to give back to women and families affected by breast cancer.” Indeed, 2% of Fresh Water Pearl Company’s proceeds benefit breast cancer organizations.
In small ways too, Brian continues to honor his mother with handwritten thank-you notes- a nod to a tradition his mother maintained for every donation made in her honor to the American Cancer Society. He is excited however, to more publicly honor her legacy by hitting the runway in Southern California with his wife and children: “my kids never got to spend a lot of time with their grandmother because we lived on the west coast, so I think this is really special for my kids so they get to see something like this and reinforce that we are going to give back to those who need it most.”