What could have been the worst day of eco-chic champion Indie Lee’s life turned out to have quite the silver lining...
I believe you always live in choice. Go left or go right, joy or sorrow, the glass half empty or full; you get the picture. I’ve always chosen joy and the glass is always full with pink champagne (as for left or right, I still mix them up, don’t ask me for directions). One would think a diagnosis of a potentially fatal brain tumor might shatter this way of living. The truth is that it was the one of the best days of my life.
I had been experiencing peripheral vision loss out of my left eye and I just knew. I went to the doctor on November 4th 2008 and said, “I think I need an MRI, something isn’t right and I have a suspicion I have a tumour.” My doctor knew me to be a pretty positive gal who never complained and immediately booked me for an MRI that day; 45 minutes after returning home from the scan I got a call back. He needed to see me. I politely told him I wasn’t coming in until he told me what the results were. He confirmed my diagnosis: brain tumour. It was in that moment that my entire life changed.
Up until then, I was just a gal going about her life. I had left my career in corporate finance to spend more time with my kids. I built a greenhouse in my backyard to grow plants and teach the farm-to-table movement at local schools. The truth was that I was going through my life, checking off the boxes of things to “accomplish”, but I wasn’t REALLY living.
As I was driving back to the doctor’s office everything changed. The best way to describe it was I started seeing in Technicolor. The trees were more colorful, the sky bluer; things came into sharp focus for me. Was I truly present and living this gift called life full out? The answer was a clear NO, but as I say, you live in choice. The stakes were raised and I chose to live from that point on passionately and present. I knew this was happening for a reason.
I consulted with some of the finest specialists up and down the east coast to find out what this thing in my head (I affectionately called it ‘Herman’) was and how to deal with it. Many said there wasn’t much they could do and weren’t too sure what it was; that I should get my affairs in order and spend time with my kids. When I spoke with my neuro endocrinologist, I asked how did this happen? Is it genetic? The answer was another life changing moment. He believed it to be environmentally derived. Wait! What? I ate organic, I was in incredible shape. He simply told me that we can’t know what it was definitively, but it could be something as simple as something I was putting on my skin, our largest organ. After all, your skin can absorb up to 60% of what is applied. We know babies are born with a toxic load, we know what mothers put on their body is transdermally transferred to the baby in utero. That was the Oprah “ah ha” moment...or kick in the head. Here I was a self-professed lotions and potions junky and I never stopped to consider that what I was putting on my body was just as important as what I was putting in my body. I started to do research and learned that the beauty industry is largely unregulated and laws here in the US haven’t changed since 1938. I was in shock at the ingredient list on the products I coveted. It was then that the business was born.
I knew this whole experience was to lead me on this path. To create a line of uber chic, nontoxic natural products that were every bit as effective as non natural products on the market, while empowering others to make healthier choices in their life. Like I said I’m a lemons to limoncello kinda gal.
I ended up finding a surgeon in NYC who agreed to do surgery. I told him I didn’t care about the odds, the tumour was growing, time was running out and I had some living to do. He scheduled the surgery for April 22, 2009 “Earth Day” (completely serendipitous).
I will never forget when the doctor came into recovery just after I woke up (with my vision completely restored). He smiled and explained that the tumor was partially fluid filled and that they were able to drain it and remove the rest of the mass. Then paused and looked at me with the biggest grin and said: “welcome to the rest of your life.”
I have not stopped since. I know my purpose is to leave a legacy of change. To help others make healthier choices for themselves. I launched the Indie Lee skincare collection out of that passion.
The lesson I learned from this experience is to make every day count. Life is not a dress rehearsal.