The hardest thing about loving…

Is that one day you have to say goodbye forever.  We practice little goodbyes everyday in small interactions with people we may never see again.  

Our heart learns how to do it throughout our lives, we say goodbye to friends, jobs, homes, and places we love.  But if we’re lucky, we only have to say sob out loud goodbyes a handful of times. 

Today was one of mine.  This afternoon I put to rest my sweet, hyper, eleven year-old golden retriever Ellie.  

When we were 23, my best friend from home and I bought a house together. The morning after our housewarming party, another friend brought 3 golden retriever puppies to cure our hangovers. 10 minutes later I had a new love of my life. 

Her puppy breath and little sharp teeth won me over after her sisters fell asleep.  I knew immediately that she was smart.  She needed a sophisticated name, so I named her Eleanor Charlotte and we called her Ellie. 

She was destructive and hilarious and loud and perfect.  She made my life full of joy and frustration and so much love.

I’m grieving her more than I thought I would.  I think because saying goodbye to her is saying goodbye to a happy being that represents so many firsts in my life.  

Ellie was the first to show me what it is to be a mother–to put someone else’s needs ahead of my wants.  She taught me what it feels like to be unconditionally loved by someone besides my mother.  

When I moved to Chicago, she was in the car seated next to me staring up at the huge buildings for the first time.  And when I left my ex, she slept beside me on the tiny couch that was the only piece of furniture I owned. 

She was there as I started GiveForward, met my husband, and welcomed my two boys home.  She was the first face I saw every day coming home from work and the last face peering out the window to say goodbye each morning as I left.

Ellie, when I found out that cancer would be the reason I had to say goodbye, I knew it would be hard.  But thank you for showing me for the first time how to celebrate life until the very last minute.  I will miss you, more than I can write. 

Thank you Fred Wilson

There are two people I read every day.  One is Seth Godin, who consistently delivers wisdom and inspiration in digestible, actionable bites.  The other is Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.  

Initially, I began reading his blog because we pitched one of his partners.  But now, I read his blog (delivered to me as an email) because so frequently he provides me with a macro sense of what is happening within the part of the economy I operate. 

But today, I read with simple appreciation for helping me and so many others feel like we’re not alone in this life that has become too busy, too full.  

I knew that this year would be hard.  Starting Pearachute, teaching at Kellogg, having to move houses, and being maid of honor in my sister’s wedding is a lot to have happen in the first six months of the year. Little did I know that my nearly 11 year old furry best friend would get cancer, my company would compete locally with four other businesses, my husband’s job would become more intense, and crazy opportunities would come to Pearachute (more on that another time). 

At first I got a rush out of my ability to manage it all. I was seamlessly Instacarting, Chiming, and Luxe Valeting my way through weeks.  I made it to activities with my boys. I worked out.  I planned 3 hour classes for students. I beat aggressive goals with the company.  Somehow it was all getting done.  

And then, something changed.  It wasn’t sudden, it was like a slow storm that takes all day, starting first with cold winds, then a darkening sky, and finally an oppressive downpour.  

It’s not that it all came crashing down.  It’s just that I did.  I gained weight.  I was tired all of the time. My fuse was short with everyone I love.  And the world began to…dull.  It’s hard to explain.  I’m sure a therapist would call it depression, but I’d rather compare it to wearing literal, not metaphorical, blinders.  The edges were dark but whatever was in front of me was in focus.  

I was like that for weeks, telling myself that it’s just a few more months until it gets easier. But it took the third morning in a row of my son asking me “Am I having a babysitter tonight?” before I realized that it and I have to change.  
I can’t not do any of the things on my plate, but I can stop adding to it, and I can do them in the right order.  Last week I was feeling guilty about saying no to requests for mentoring and judging pitch competitions. I cringed when I left work early to sneak in a workout.  This week, I’m not going to feel guilty.  I’m going to do what is best for my family and friends first, me second, Pearachute and my team third, and everything else will come after.  

Thank you, Fred, for inspiring me to put it in writing.



I’m thrilled to say that the results of my biopsy came back benign!  Thank you all so much for the prayers and thoughtful notes of encouragement.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that I 100% believe in the power of positive thoughts, and knowing I had so many people were sending them to me gave me confidence this would be the outcome all along. 

If I can ever return the positive vibes to your or a loved one, please let me know!

Now, back to work and life…with more gratitude and less stress. 

Biopsies are not “mammograms with a needle”

As it turns out, it’s not as easy as I thought to be open about everything that goes on after you find out you have a cancer gene.  Naively, I thought that since I am young and healthy that the Chek2 positive test result was just some great information that will allow me to be proactive about my health. While that’s true, I’m realizing that anything unexpected is way more emotional than I thought it would be.   I think that’s why it’s taken me a few weeks to post that the radiologist found some calcifications that he thought should get a deeper look. 

I had my first mammogram and breast MRI earlier this month. Both were awkward and uncomfortable and I’m honestly not sure which one I disliked more.  The mammogram’s compression on my small B’s was a little painful, but the maneuvering it took for the tech to get a good image was painful in a different way. After having two children, you lose a lot of embarrassment about people seeing and touching you naked.  But the difference in pregnancy is that you’re creating a life.  You have this energy and power running through you that blocks most self-consciousness.  

With a mammogram, the experience is very different.  Suddenly one of your most beloved body parts is being handled roughly and photographed for flaws and irregularities.  It’s psychologically numbing in a place that has been so physically and emotionally charged before. Perhaps my reaction is stronger than most women’s because I’m pretty confident I’m going to do preventive surgery.  

After the mammogram, the tech took me to the waiting room while the doctor looked at my images.  She told me that I needed to go back in and do three more shots…which I knew wasn’t exactly great news.  So, basically, I got to have two mammograms in one day.  And then the radiologist came in for 90 seconds and told me that I had some calcifications that normally we would just watch, but given my genetic results, he suggested a biopsy. 

I followed the mammograms with an MRI.  I thought this would be the easy part, but as it turns out, lying on a hard table with your arms above your head while a loud machine scans your body at a glacially slow pace is less fun than the smashing of a mammogram.  I was really grateful that I had practiced hypnobirthing with my first labor because I used a lot of those tactics to shut out the throbbing pain in my shoulders as my arms went numb and the noise that sounds like you’re in a car manufacturer.  

So basically, September 15th was pretty miserable and stressful.  I firmly believed that I had nothing to worry about, but it’s hard not to leave such a physically invasive experience feeling a little low that there is more to come. 

And the more to come was not awesome.  The breast specialist said “a biopsy is a lot like a mammogram but with novocaine and a needle.”  I can tell you that is not true…not even a little.  A biopsy is way more like a mammogram mixed with an MRI mixed with a speargun…followed by spiking waves of pain.  

I would not consider myself a wimp about pain.  I’ve endured 30 hours of back labor, recovered from two c-sections, and experienced a surgery in college that should have been done under full anesthesia but was given only local.  I’m not going to say a biopsy is as bad as any of those…but I will say that it is not something to take lightly.

If I were to do it again, here’s what I would do differently.  First, I would not listen to the person who said you don’t need to bring anyone with you.  It’s emotional…and painful enough that it makes driving hard. Second, if they let you, I’d bring headphones and some music.  I think finding a way to enjoy moments of the experience would be great.  Third, I would work out that morning if possible…or have sex 🙂  Do something that makes you feel good and burns off nervous energy.  Finally, I wouldn’t schedule anything else that day and would try to get someone to take care of your kids for the night.  Not being able to hold or pick up your kids for a day is hard, guilt-inducing, and tiring.   

Now, begins the two day wait until I get my results.  If you think of it, please send good thoughts of cancer-free results for me.  

Good Vibes Please!

Today, I’m headed to Advocate Masonic for my first mammogram and MRI.  I almost didn’t write anything about, because there’s really no reason to be worried.  I have no symptoms or indication that anything is wrong. 

Image from

Image from

But in an effort to be honest with myself, I decided to post something…because I want something.  I want your positive vibes and good energy. 

As a tireless optimist, I know I’m fine.  But there’s still that little scary voice in my head asking me “What if you’re not? What if today begins a journey you never expected to travel?” 

I know how powerful fear is…but I know that positive thoughts, optimism, love, and support are so much stronger. 

So, if you have time today between 1pm and 5pm CT, will you send a little thought into the universe of healthy, happy boobs for me 🙂

Desiree vs. Cancer Gene

A couple of months ago, I lost a high school friend to cancer.  She left behind a 3 year-old little boy which, needless to say, broke my heart as the mother of two young boys.  But her passing did something unexpected for me–it inspired me to be more proactive about my own health.  Having had several of our family members go through cancer, most of them breast cancer, I decided to ask my doctor about screening. 

Given our family background, I qualified for a screening of several cancer genes, including BRCA, which we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency on GiveForward.   

Yesterday I found out that I do not have BRCA, but I do have a cancer gene called Chek2 with a 48% chance of getting breast cancer.

This doesn’t mean I have cancer…it just means I could get it.  

I haven’t decided exactly how aggressive I want to be about prevention yet, but I have decided to make my journey public.  As a 33 year-old woman with a microphone, I think it’s important to help bring awareness about testing and options for prevention to as many people as possible. 

At the same time, I realize that it will probably be emotional and somewhat alienating to be public about this.  So, I have a couple of requests: 

1) Please don’t treat me like I’m sick…I’m super healthy.  My blood work is awesome, I feel great.  I do need to get screened in the next few weeks to makes sure there’s nothing there, but in the meantime, send me healthy vibes!

2) If you’ve gone through this and you have any advice, will you please email me: desiree (at) giveforward (dot) com

And one more…

3) Get tested!  if you’re at risk, please talk to your doctor. 

Most importantly, I want you all to know what a blessing I think this information is.  I have the power to be able to get in front of something most people never do.  I truly believe that this news has added years if not decades to my life, and I am grateful that the work we do at GiveForward gave me the information I needed to be this proactive. 

Thank you all for being such an important part of my life, and thanks in advance for supporting me through this journey.  

My New Role at GiveForward

I am very pleased to announce that last week, GiveForward named Josh Chapman as our new CEO.  Josh  possesses the perfect blend of operational expertise, a proven track record of execution, entrepreneurial spirit, and humble leadership.  I could not be more excited nor could I be prouder that such a quality person will be taking over the reins of the company Ethan Austin and I started nearly seven years ago.

Whenever a company seeks new leadership, the question “Why?” comes up from investors, friends, and family, especially if a company is doing well.   For us, the answer is pretty simple.  We’ve accomplished a lot, but we believe we can do so much more.

Ethan and I are both immensely proud of what we’ve built. GiveForward has helped people raise nearly $160M for loved ones’ out-of-pocket medical expenses, memorial funds and more. As one of the first crowdfunding platforms in the world, we pioneered an industry and have helped redefine the way people give.  Not many are lucky enough to have seen such impact from their work.

But about 18 months ago, Ethan and I started to wonder what would happen if we had a really experienced leader at the helm to take us into the next phase– someone who has seen the movie, knows the plot turns, and has a pathway to greatness.  We imagined the possibilities of what we, first time founders, could learn from a more seasoned leader and what he or she could bring to the future of GiveForward.  We ultimately decided that hiring a new CEO was the best decision for the company’s future, for our shareholders, and, most importantly, for the impact we could have on the world.

Of course, there are other, more personal, aspects to the story, as well.  At the time, I, like many founder CEO’s, was struggling with feelings of inadequacy as I led a senior team where there was a mutual lack of trust and confidence.  I was allowing every peak and valley of GiveForward to invade my personal life, bringing stress and anxiety home with me daily.  I knew that I wanted to have more children, but I was afraid that I couldn’t manage the level of responsibility that CEO, mother of two, stepmother of one, and wife of a Chicago police officer requires.

Fortunately for me, the search took a very long time.  During that period, I had the room to expand on my own leadership skills.  I started working with a coach, read a lot about conscious leadership, built a senior team of A players, joined an amazing CEO group, and got pregnant with my second son, Aedan.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve actually been able to overcome most of the insecurities that had me wishing for a new CEO in the first place.  In fact, I would say I’m the most confident I’ve been at GiveForward in our history.  I’ve led our team through a new and more inspired vision (which you will experience soon!) and helped close the biggest partnership we’ve ever pursued.

I now know that I could continue to be a very solid CEO of GiveForward for years to come.  But GiveForward deserves more than solid–it deserves phenomenal.

And we did meet several phenomenal leaders in our search. Until Josh, though, we hadn’t found anyone that complemented Ethan and me in the ways we needed.  We met many impressive CEO’s from fantastic companies and were flattered when people with big exits considered leading our small business.  But at the end of the day, we craved an operator–someone with a desire to create structure and help execute at a level we’ve never seen before.  We wanted someone willing to get their hands dirty.  Someone who could recognize the magic that we’ve built among the team that we have and preserve that culture and passion as we transition into the next stage of our business.

josh chapman

Josh is that person.  As VP of Operations at, he has seen a consumer-facing company achieve scale.  He has launched new products and increased the efficacy of teams and processes.  In his previous roles, he built new lines of business from the ground up, including a project with Xerox that he started with 30 employees and built over three years into a division with 2,000 employees and $65 million in revenue.

Josh is so accomplished at such a young age, yet he has no ego and instantly commands the respect and appreciation of those around him.  And most importantly, he gets us.  He is compassionate and empathetic.  He listens and asks great questions.  He brings value to every conversation and opens our eyes to new possibilities.

As GiveForward embarks on an exciting new chapter of our business, Ethan and I feel grateful that such a positive and strategic leader is joining our team. 

Please help us in welcoming Josh Chapman to GiveForward and to Chicago’s amazing and vibrant startup community.     

So what will I be doing? I’m excited to say that my new title is pretty awesome.  As Chief Strategy Officer, I’ll be able to focus on the areas of our business that I love–product, business development, and representing GiveForward in the healthcare and startup communities.