“Helping others through our work at Stage has helped me heal,” says Virginia Carnesale, founder of Stage. Stage is an online platform offering beauty and wellness tips; interviews with cancer survivors and experts; treatment advice; and products for cancer thrivers, warriors and supporters, ranging from clothing and accessories to clean beauty and home goods.
When Carnesale was diagnosed with hormone-driven breast cancer at 43 years old, she was shocked. She had zero symptoms prior to her diagnosis and no family history of the disease. But after undergoing a routine mammogram, it was determined there was a suspicious pattern of calcifications in her right breast. After more testing, her diagnosis came back as extensive ductal carcinoma in situ (or DCIS), or stage 0 breast cancer.
Carnesale had a mastectomy following her breast surgeons’ recommendations. “After completing that process, I went in for a second biopsy and unfortunately learned my cancer had spread to two lymph nodes,” says Carnesale. “At that point, I opted for a double mastectomy with implant reconstruction.”
While the surgery was successful, the pathology confirmed she was now stage IIB and at a high risk for recurrence within 10 years. Carnesale underwent four rounds of preventive chemotherapy, and 28 radiation sessions to bring her percentage down to single digits. She had her final reconstruction surgery just before the pandemic severely reduced the number of surgeries and procedures hospitals could complete.
Before cancer came into her life, Carnesale had worked in the fashion industry for 20 years as a senior marketing and e-commerce executive. She was on a break from her career when she received her diagnosis, and was able to immediately focus all her time and resources on recovery. However, she recognizes that many women must balance a cancer diagnosis with work and other obligations. “I know that most women aren’t in that situation, which is why I felt inspired to pay it forward by creating a one-stop shop for women with breast cancer and their supporters to find the knowledge, community and confidence they need for the toughest battle of their lives,” says Carnesale.
The inspiration behind founding Stage came from Carnesale’s own experience gathering knowledge during her cancer journey. From prevention tips to treatment and surgical options, to beauty and lifestyle changes, there was so much information, and it didn’t feel right to let it all go to waste, Carnesale explains. “I wanted to find a way to share this information in a digestible way to women everywhere in the hopes of making the experience just a little easier for others — and to help educate loved ones on what the patient is going through and how to best support them.”
Carnesale explains how it wasn’t easy to find items she needed to support her recovery, including her changing body and hair loss. “I shopped from so many websites and returned a lot of products because there simply was no one-stop shop that I could find for fashionable solutions to my needs,” she says.
Because of this, Carnesale resolved to create her own platform that would support breast cancer warriors and thrivers with anything they may need, and Stage was born. In addition to offering hundreds of products vetted by Carnesale, Stage’s website includes a database of articles written by cancer survivors and validated by medical experts. The platform also gives back 5% of net proceeds to nonprofit organizations such as The Chick Mission, Unite for Her and Expect Miracles.
Carnesale’s advice to current cancer warriors and thrivers is to “go easy on yourself,” she says. “Recovery takes time and you’re doing better than you think. If you’re tired at 2 p.m. and need to lie down, do it and don’t feel guilty — it’s time to baby yourself.” She also urges everyone to surround themselves with positivity and to celebrate the small wins and milestones, whether that’s a clear scan, completing chemo or radiation, or an anniversary of being cancer-free.
As Stage heads into its one-year anniversary this February, Carnesale looks forward to continuing her mission of helping more women and spreading awareness among supporters.
To learn more about Stage and Virginia Carnesale, visit shopstage.co