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York College alumna, breast cancer survivor, inspired to fight cancer by ‘Fighting Pretty’ with care package movement

April 03, 2019
Kara Skaflestad poses during breakfast event.

Many students look for ways they can make a difference in the world or get involved to give back to their community.

For Kara Skaflestad ’04, fate gave birth to a truly inspirational movement that now makes a difference in the lives of women worldwide.

After finding a mass from doing a self-breast exam, Kara went to get it checked out. After her doctors told her she was too young to worry about diseases like cancer, something told her not to let it go. She persisted. And, just two short months after her “Mema” passed away from a long battle with breast cancer, Kara received the news she had stage three breast cancer, an advanced and highly-invasive stage.

“Losing her [Mema] was really really hard. It really triggered me to do a self-breast exam,” said Kara.

The news was hard to believe at first, but Kara didn’t let that stop her from living her life. She was determined to stay strong and do everything possible to get rid of the disease.

Before the ‘Big C’

Kara grew up in Pompton Plains, a small town in New Jersey. When deciding on where to go for college, she knew she wanted to attend a small liberal arts school and major in a business field. She found her home with York College of Pennsylvania as it was close enough and had everything she was looking for.

She quickly became involved on campus, joining women’s rugby and making lifelong best friends. Time invested in her studies also helped her to find the perfect fit in a major. A course with Mark Blake, Assistant Professor of Marketing, inspired her to find the creative side of business and pursue a career in marketing.

Kara was also one of the founding members of the club, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE, known today as Enactus), on York’s campus.

Mini pink boxing gloves

After receiving the news of her diagnosis, a special gift arrived in the mail.

A pair of mini pink boxing gloves, sent by Meg O’Hanlon, another breast cancer survivor and the mother of her York College best friend, Colleen (O’Hanlon) McKee ’04 gave her the strength she needed to keep fighting and served as a reminder to “never give up and stay strong.”

“These boxing gloves meant so much to me coming from another woman who had gone through a similar fight. I hung them on my bedpost and looked at them every day. Truly, it was a reminder to stay strong and keep on fighting,” said Kara.

A fight she wanted to continue by sharing her strength with other women.

The first ‘Pretty Package’

About three years after Kara finished her extensive cancer treatment (including eight rounds of chemotherapy, double mastectomy, a year of Herceptin treatments, fertility treatments, and four weeks of radiation), she heard a family friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was having a very rough time.

Kara looked at her gloves and thought: “I need to send her my strength.”

“So, I sent her my mini pink boxing gloves with some lipstick and a scarf. And, that was the first Pretty Package ever sent. That woman used those gloves and brought them to every chemo appointment, and when she was done with her treatment, she passed them on – and they went on to a total of five women battling cancer,” explained Kara.

Kara quickly realized she could not only share her attitude and strength with women she knew, but also share this power with women all over the world, even those she didn’t know.

The birth of Fighting Pretty

Kara was inspired to continue the movement of sharing strength and helping women battling cancer to feel strong and beautiful. But Kara didn’t know where to start.

At first, she took it upon herself to send care packages from her 500 square-foot apartment in Brooklyn, New York, with an assembly line of materials in her bedroom.

She created a Facebook page to start getting the word out and news spread fast. Soon, not only was she receiving high demands in requests, she had other women stepping up to help her create an organization.

“Before I knew it, I had about 500 requests, and Fighting Pretty was born,” said Kara.

With help from friends, family, and colleagues, a name and brand was created for the organization and it took off with a website, business cards, and so much more.

“A movement, not just an organization”

Now, each Pretty Package is carefully packed by a volunteer or Kara herself. Each one includes: an inspirational notebook, a small bag of donated makeup, socks, a scarf, and—of course—a pair of the iconic mini pink boxing gloves.

“Every Pretty Package that we send out is truly personalized for that person, because everyone’s journey is so different,” said Kara.

Fighting Pretty is “a movement, not just an organization,” says Kara.  It’s truly a movement that is growing with the support of women and men worldwide.

Her goal is to keep building upon the mission of helping women battling cancer feel strong and beautiful, and expand ways to help women every day fighting cancer. There are chapters being created in communities and on college campuses including The Ohio State University and the University of Missouri.

These chapters help Fighting Pretty by raising funds to send their own Pretty Packages to local cancer patients.

Kara wants to help her alma mater to start a chapter right here on the College’s campus. “Our hope is to collaborate with York to work with students and to empower women ‘Fight Pretty’ in this community,” she said.

How Fighting Pretty makes a world of difference

Pretty Packages certainly make a difference in the lives of their recipients. Kara and her team receive thank-you notes from women they’ve reached worldwide on a daily basis.

“Every week we get thank-you notes that ‘say this Pretty Package arrived at the most perfect moment,’ or it arrived at a time they either needed a pick-me-up or a time where it was a celebratory moment,” said Kara.

Today, Fighting Pretty has headquarters based in Portland, Oregon, where Kara works full-time as the marketing manager for Oregon Health and Science University, Knight Cancer Institute while operating the organization on a part-time basis.

This year, 2019, marks the 10-year anniversary for Kara being free of cancer and the 5-year anniversary for Fighting Pretty.

Want to get involved in the Fighting Pretty movement? You, too, can participate whether it be donating lipstick to include in the Pretty Package, sending colored sheets, hosting a fundraiser, or getting involved with starting a chapter in your community.

Or do you know someone batting cancer that needs to feel strong and beautiful? Send them a Pretty Package. There are many opportunities available to make a difference. Visit www.fightingpretty.org for more information.

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