To Kristy Greenwood, the equation is simple: love + cookies = victory. Since she was a little girl, Greenwood has loved to bake cookies and share them with family and friends. But it took a bout with breast cancer for her to decide that she would turn her passion into a full-time business.
Now her bakery, Victory Love + Cookies, is celebrating its fourth birthday, with plenty of sugar to go around. "Cookies have pretty much always been my own thing. They're kind of how I express love to anybody and everybody," she says.
Greenwood had worked at the Denver Bread Company for ten years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. After taking two years off, she wasn't sure she wanted to return to her previous routine. For a while, she thought about getting a different job, without success. "I applied all over the place, I have all this experience, no one would hire me," she remembers. "It was like the universe -- God, whatever you want to call it -- really wanted me to start my cookie business."
And during this two-year hiatus, it became clear to her that happiness didn't come from routine. "I would walk around my house and find all these lists -- I'm a real list maker -- of 'do the checkbook, clean the litterbox,' the same lists a hundred times," Greenwood recalls. "And once I got sick, I was like, 'Man, those things are bullshit, it doesn't even matter, it makes no difference.' And it just really put into very clear perspective what it was I wanted."
So she decided to do what she does best: bake cookies. She started Victory Love + Cookies within the Denver Bread Company, because she knew it was the only way she would be able to still spend time with boyfriend Greg Bortz, who owns Denver Bread.
The name for her bakery came from a fundraiser that Greenwood's friends held for her. She wasn't too sure about that at first, but she eventually agreed to the effort on the condition that the word not "cancer" not be included. So they called it the Kristy Greenwood Victory Fund. "They threw me this amazing party," she says. "You've never been to a party with more love. It was more than at a wedding; everybody there was practically vibrating.
"When it came time for me to name my business, I was like, 'I want some of that energy in my business, I want that great feeling that comes with that.'" And so Victory Love + Cookies was born.
Today cookies are on Greenwood's mind -- all the time. "I literally dream about cookies, think about cookies," she says. She can find inspiration anywhere, including when she's listening to a local band. That's how she comes up with her unique flavors. Of course, she also delivers the classics, like chocolate chip, oatmeal and ginger. "After that, I kind of take off on my own and do different kinds of cookies," Greenwood says. "I don't think you're going to find strawberry margarita or cornmeal with dried fig or bourbon ginger ale anywhere else."
But delicious cookies are just one half of the equation. It's important to Greenwood that her cookies bring smiles to her customer's faces, and that they feel the love she puts into them. "I always think cookies are like puppies and babies, they make everyone happy," she explains. "Even though I don't know all my customers, I feel like I can reach out to them and I always [sell] them in packages so people will share them."
Facing adversity not only inspired Greenwood to do what she loves, but also to help other women in similar situations. A year after her diagnosis, she created a series of videos to help women who are losing their hair to chemotherapy learn different ways to tie and wear headscarves. "Now, imagine if you suddenly find yourself bald, and it's not just your head hair, it's your eyebrows, your nose hair, all the little fuzz. And for some reason, that's nothing to [doctors]," she says. "But to you, it's a lot. It's like when you're walking down the street, everybody knows you're struggling."
Losing her hair was a big shock to Greenwood, who'd always had long locks. "Before I learned how to put a scarf on my head, I remember going to Safeway and feeling like I was a man in drag, like people must think that I was pretending to be a woman, because I just felt so stripped of my femininity," she says.
This year, she began another business within Victory Love + Cookies. Through Mission Mine, she sends head-scarf kits to women all over the world. The kit costs $30 and includes a skull cap, a scarf and pins to hold everything down. With this starter set, women can practice the techniques in the videos and become confident in scarf tying. Greenwood has sent them as far away as Spain, and says many of the buyers are purchasing them for a loved one going through cancer. "It's a real gift of validation and acknowledgement," she notes.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, Greenwood says, the information became overwhelming. Doctors began to throw out options and it was hard to take it all in. "My goal with the scarf kit was to make it so simple, so that then the noise can quiet a little bit," she explains. "The reason I call it Mission Mine is because when you are in that period of challenge and you can quiet your mind enough to hear your own inner voice, you can find your own vision."
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Challenge forces people to stop and take a look at their lives, Greenwood says, and she hopes to inspire people to use their own challenges as an opportunity to find their path. Whether it's facing cancer or struggling economically, she has always been able to stay optimistic. "My mind doesn't go to those [negative] scenarios," she says. "I'm not saying there aren't those fear moments in the middle of the night when you're in challenge, but for the most part I've always just known that I was going to be taken care of and I was going to be better than fine."