photo by Kimberly Swanson Photography

I was diagnosed with melanoma while I was 5 months pregnant with twins.

It was on my stomach, in my belly button, to be precise. People think of sun and skin cancer, and I have an innie – so I’m like how did that happen!? Had I not been pregnant, I wouldn’t have seen it. I had surgery to have the melanoma removed, still pregnant. We found it early, so I felt lucky, and I didn’t ever fully panic.

A year later I went in for an annual appointment and was really, really tired. I thought, do you tell your doctor that you are really, really tired when you have 1-year-old twins?! I remember debating whether to tell her or not, but I did, and she found lumps on my thyroid. More tests went on from there, and they found cancer. My thyroid was removed and radiation treatment done.

I couldn’t recover from that surgery – I was having a really hard time. My doctors and a nutritionist both told me that thyroid issues are related to Celiac Disease, which is a autoimmune disorder where gluten causes damage to the small intestine. Other auto-immune issues can improve without gluten, too, so they said, let’s just try knocking gluten out of your diet. In two weeks I was a different person. A year after, other things cleared up like seasonal allergies and skin stuff and other things that I didn’t even realize were related. There were probably sensitivities my whole life  I wasn’t aware of. So I’ve been gluten free for 6 years.

A year later I had a third cancer diagnosis and with that one I thought “I’m going to die.”

It turned out to be false; they thought I had Hodgkins Lymphoma, but they were wrong. At that point I was just of the mindset that every doctor appointment was just going to go horribly wrong. We hit a couple of really difficult years. The baby thing alone is hard, then top it off with twins, top it off with being sick… it was really hard. We got through with grandmas and grandpas help. People just chipped in, they came and lived with us for months at a time. And my husband was really helpful and supportive. I was trying to recover from a major organ being removed from my body with 1 year old twins… it was ugly. But we made it, and we stuck together. Having that support system was the only way we got through it all.

Honestly, dealing with my mortality pushed me into a place where I was willing to take risks and challenge myself.

I worked at Coors for a long time, in distribution. When I had the babies, I had a good part-time job, I had a great family and all these friends… I felt like there were pieces of my life that were complete but one that was missing. I felt like I could do more with my career, like I had more to offer. I thought, where could I make a difference and do something kind of crazy? I wasn’t scared of much anymore. Opening my own brewery wasn’t as scary as getting that cancer diagnosis. So I decided, shoot, I have to do it.

I knew I didn’t want to work a job that I didn’t love and that wasn’t flexible, when I could do something that I love, that let me decide when I’m going to a soccer game or helping with the carpool, versus someone else telling me, “Nope, sorry, we need you here.” I get to guide my schedule. I certainly work a lot of hours but if it’s not at 4pm on a Tuesday when I need to drive them to soccer, then I can get behind a computer at 8pm and work if I need to.

The whole premise behind Holidaily Brewing is that we want to get beer to people that haven’t had it in a very long time because they’ve been sick. People are gluten free for a reason, because it doesn’t make them feel good, and they want to feel better. They haven’t had a really good craft beer because there hasn’t been a really good gluten-free craft beer. I want to get our beers out to people, so distribution is a huge part of my business plan. Today we had a canning run, and the girls helped put 4-packs together.

The biggest thing for me is having 9-year-old girls and wanting to be a role model.

You know, I could do some job that I don’t really love and hang in there, but I want to show them they can do anything. Encouraging my girls to be brave and go chase dreams was a big part of my decision to start my own business.

Holidaily Brewing is the passion project of Karen Hertz, a craft beer enthusiast and lover of living life to the fullest. Along with beating cancer came the desire to focus on health, happiness and a commitment to celebrate life every single day. 

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Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.