Sometimes life throws you a curve ball just when you feel like you’ve hit your stride. Unexpected challenges can either make you or break you. With a healthy dose of perspective and faith in yourself and whatever you might believe in though, you can often come out the other side unscathed, perhaps even better off than you were before. When we think of Latina entrepreneur and breast cancer survivor, Marcella Gomez, it’s clear she was well aware of those choices and chose to thrive not just survive. Marcella was working as a full-time nurse when she decided to launched Oh Comadre Candles as a passion project to help improve her mental health. The company took off and then the pandemic hit in early 2020 and that October, Marcella learned she had breast cancer.
As a jefa, mom, and wife, she was dedicated to the hustle and ignored the lump she felt in her breast thinking it was a benign cyst like she’d had before. But when she continued feeling worse and her weight fluctuated drastically, she finally got checked and when the diagnosis came she immediately put everything on hold to prioritize her health. Now she proudly calls herself a “breast cancer thriver”.
“Once they say, you have cancer it feels like a death sentence. You start to mourn yourself. I felt this darkness. I do not ever want to live in darkness,” Marcella tells HipLatina. “I work hard not to be in that place. I’m just grateful for another day.”
While Marcella has been able to recognize and accept the fear and anxiety she experienced after her diagnosis, she didn’t let it paralyze her. She went through chemotherapy and has been in remission for the past couple of years. Now her perspective on life has changed for the better and she’s truly learned to value what is most important to her.
Oh Comadre Candles is now more than just a business, it’s a community of comadres that has grown to more than 75K on Instagram and it all started with $100. The 50-year-old entrepreneur turned to candle making as an escape from the day-to-day stresses of work. A proud Latina from California, she began selling her homemade candles celebrating her culture in 2016 after 16 months of researching the perfect formula. Organic veggie soy wax was the winning recipe for her candles, which are hand poured, and authentic Latinx representation made for the perfect combo.
She shares that Oh Comadre started as a form of therapy from her nursing job, a creative outlet that she never intended to launch as a full-fledged business. “I like to joke and say the business found me” she shares. The therapy the candle making provided extended to the scents designed to bring comfort and nostalgia including champurrado, pan dulce, Mazapán, and flan.
“When I started to make candles I realized there were no Latino inspired candles besides the traditional veladora,” she says. “The idea came from Spanglish. I wanted to make candles that represent my culture and myself.” She says that people initially laughed at her Abuelita and Vivaporu-inspired candles but now, with more than 100 candles to her name, she’s truly built a candle mercado.
Within a few years, Gomez was able to leave her job as a nurse to focus on Oh Comadre full-time with a storefront in Downey, California, about 13 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. While she still sometimes misses caring for patients, she’s now able to live the kind of life that once she found out she had breast cancer, became a priority to her.
“I no longer work countless hours. I take time to smell the flowers. I make memories with family and friends [as opposed] to making just work memories,” she says. “I don’t take anything for granted including, each day.”
Not only that, but she’s committed to using her voice and her platform to spread awareness and help empower other women to take steps to protect themselves from succumbing to breast cancer.
“I am lucky to have this platform and I decided to share my cancer journey in hopes fellow comadres examine their breast,” she says. “Early detection in any illness saves lives.” Gomez promotes breast cancer awareness on her social media accounts, and she’s even created a melon-scented “F*!k Cancer,” candle to further her mission to inform and empower.
Through it all she’s embraced the idea of being a “breast cancer thriver” sharing that she’s not letting the diagnosis deter her from enjoying life. She says she’s done nothing different than others diagnosed with cancer so she prefers thriver over survivor. Being an entrepreneur has allowed her to live a life on her terms — something cancer momentarily put on hold in her journey toward remission though she didn’t let it kill her spirit. Now she’s happy to help other aspiring jefas looking to turn their passion into a sustainable business.
“Be prepared to wear multiple hats,” she says. “Be original and don’t be afraid to take chances. Most importantly be prepared to work insane hours. If you love what you do, you won’t notice the time pass,” Gomez encourages all the budding Latina entrepreneurs out there.
Perhaps even more importantly though, she wants to remind all of us to prioritize our health, so that we’ll actually be around to enjoy the fruits of our labor. She wants all women to feel empowered to be proactive when it comes to their own well-being, and do what they can to conquer what sometimes feels like the ever-looming thought of breast cancer.
“If you have cancer in hour family, please ask for BRCA test. This test checks for the breast cancer gene. Check your boobs once a week. Look at your breast. Any discharge, nipple change, lumps, any odd change get it checked out,” Gomez urges. “Don’t be afraid; my oncologist told me 95 percent of lumps are benign. The odds are in your favor.”
To learn more about preventative measures for breast cancer, visit Breast Cancer Research Foundation.