Young entrepreneur takes on cancer
More than a year and a half ago, 11-year-old Cheyenne Dyess was diagnosed with a blood cancer called T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. She has since undergone rounds of chemotherapy and multiple spinal tap procedures at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s outpatient specialty clinic in Colorado Springs.
In January 2015, a week shy of Cheyenne’s 10th birthday, a fast-growing tumor formed over her trachea, making it difficult to breathe, and she was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver.
As the days, weeks and months progressed, Cheyenne lost her hair, underwent hours of invasive weekly treatments and endured unpleasant side effects from medication.
But it was a charming old skill her grandmother taught her two years prior that gave her something positive to focus on and awakened her entrepreneurial spirit, prompting the creation of her business, Crafts by Cheyenne, last fall.
“When I was first diagnosed, I spent a lot of time in the hospital and [wood burning] was something I looked forward to,” she said. “I like that it helps me with my drawing skills, because I have to sketch first to get my idea and then burn it into the wood.”
Woodburning, or pyrography, is the art of burning a design on wood with a heated tool. It’s existed for centuries and is a craft that motivates Cheyenne.
“It’s fun,” she said. “Whenever I’m sick or bored, it gives me something to do and gives me a sense of purpose.”
DOWN TO BUSINESS
Cheyenne started her business last November when she needed to raise money for a show llama.
Cheyenne’s mom, Amy, helped her print business cards and order sheets and assisted in setting up at craft fairs and fundraisers.
“I told her she needed to figure out things such as profit, overhead and prices for her business,” said Amy, who works as a financial advisor.
Cheyenne’s prices range from $30 to $50 depending on the size of the project. She spends anywhere between 1 and 3 hours on each order, sanding and steaming the wood before carving out a design.
“When I do shading, sometimes it’s hard to know where the lines are, so I have to maneuver the burner to where I want and then make the lines,” she said. “The burner is pretty safe when you use it correctly and I use pliers to take off the tips because they get really hot.”
She gets her wood from craft stores including Michaels and Hobby Lobby, and primarily designs clocks and plaques with scenic landscapes, names and motivational sayings.
And she’s invested some of her revenue toward the future.
“I bought three shares of Apple stock and a mutual fund that has 100 different companies including Google and Disney World,” she said.
Cheyenne’s dad taught her how to use a ledger to track her finances. She attended a networking group with her mom to market her business.
“What’s been really cool is that she’s set goals for herself on her own,” Amy said. “She recently got her ears pierced with a second hole and paid for it with money from her crafts.”
Outgoing with a contagious smile, Cheyenne serves as an ambassador for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that raises funds to help find cures for children with cancer.
Amy also created a Facebook page, Prayers & Happy Thoughts for Cheyenne, to share her daughter’s story and post updates.
“I’m passionate about sharing my story and not keeping it secret,” Cheyenne said.
She said her next business goal is to receive at least three orders at the next event she attends.
“It’s important to keep up with how your business is moving and keep a budget,” Cheyenne said. “And track your work so that you remember your designs.”
Throughout her childhood, Cheyenne entertained one business idea after another, always pondering unique ways to earn money, according to Amy.
“She’s always had something. Last summer she wanted to have a business picking up dog poop and pulling weeds,” she said. “We told her, if you have a business, you have to market it and figure out how you’re going to advertise and get customers.”
So Cheyenne crafted bright posters and flyers to distribute throughout the neighborhood.
“She got clients that way,” Amy said. “She did several lemonade stands until one day she said, ‘Everyone does that, what else can I do?’”
Cheyenne was at school when she first experienced a bad cough and discovered a lump on her throat while in the girls’ bathroom.
“When my mom picked me up after school and I showed her, she said, ‘That’s not right,’ and took me to the doctor.”
Dr. Lisa Reaves, who works in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, was the first oncologist to treat Cheyenne. She said some of the tumors treated at the center can double in size within 24 hours -— Cheyenne’s was expanding at about that rate.
“That’s a pretty scary situation -— it’s terrifying when you can’t breathe but, even then, she was chipper, perky, and upbeat,” Reaves said. “She hung in there through some tricky hours and her bright personality shined through.”
Cheyenne is in a maintenance phase now, receiving treatment once a month. Her last treatment will be in June 2017, but Cheyenne will continue to visit the hospital for monthly checkups for several more years.
Her advice for other sick kids? Look at the bright side and keep fighting.
“I was 9 years old and didn’t know much about cancer,” Cheyenne said. “When I found out how tough it was, I was like, ‘I’m going to get through this and just keep telling myself that.’”
Kids who have aggressive lymphoma leukemia like Cheyenne are the toughest kids in the world, Reaves said.
“Even with sedation, it is a lot to get through,” she said. “We also make them go to school and be normal kids — but we don’t make them start a business. Cheyenne managed to do that on her own.
“She’s that kind of awesome.”