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Champagne's Bad Luck Bubbles (Part 5 of 5 - Wines to Pair with Breast Cancer)

As I wait to start my interview with Devin Thorpe of, I sit back from the webcam on my desk, close my eyes and become still. Deep breaths in and out. I try to calm my racing mind.
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As I wait to start my interview with Devin Thorpe of Forbes, I sit back from the webcam on my desk, close my eyes and become still. Deep breaths in and out. I try to calm my racing mind.

Will he ask me to show him a gift box? Do I know my financials well enough? Don't forget to mention Old Town Cellars. Is there lipstick on my teeth?

"Hello everyone and welcome to Make Your Mark on the World show. I'm your host, Devin Thorpe, I'm a Forbes contributor covering social entrepreneurship," he begins and I smile, waiting for the camera to turn on.

How far cancer has brought me.

I know the Benedictine monks in the late 1600s in Champagne, France would have understood. They, too, started their journey to success with apparent bad luck.

They began by trying to make sacramental wine that they hoped would be as good as that coming from the distant wine-making area of Bordeaux.

Winemakers in Bordeaux were creating gorgeous red wines, wines that kings, queens, and the landed gentry were seeking out. The reds were being produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and back then, also Carménère.

The problem for the Benedictine monks in Champagne is they were located substantially further north than Bordeaux. Due to less daylight and warmth, the Bordeaux grapes they tried to grow wouldn't ripen; they remained tart and undesirable. They experimented with other grapes. Nothing was getting ripe enough to make good wine.

Unfortunately, ripening grapes wasn't their only problem.

Because their vineyards and wineries were substantially further north, the winters were colder, often times below freezing for long periods of time.

Fermentation can only happen when it's warm enough for yeast to eat the sugar in the juice, yielding the byproducts of carbon dioxide and alcohol. Native yeasts are on all edible products so once the skin of the grape is broken, the yeasts begin fermenting the juice of the grapes, yielding wine.

But yeast cells go to sleep when they get cold, which halts fermentation.

And our poor monks knew nothing about yeast or fermentation. All they knew was their bros in Bordeaux picked grapes in the fall, squeezed them, God turned the grape juice into wine, then they bottled it and enjoyed it the following year.

Dom Perignon and his monk friends in Champagne tried to follow the same schedule as Bordeaux. In late fall, once fermentation had stopped, or in this case appeared to stop, the wine was bottled and put in the cellar for the winter.

Picture this: It's 1703 and Dom's friend, Brother Pierre, goes down to check on the bottles in February. There has been a thaw in the normally freezing temperatures and the monk feels a warm breeze rush into the cellar as he opens the door. He walks down the stairs with his candle flickering.

The bottles appear fine, except he jostles one with the sleeve of his robe as he passes by.

Since the temperatures have warmed up, the invisible yeast cells in the bottle have awakened and have eaten more of the sugar in the juice, yielding more carbon dioxide. The pressure has been increasing for a couple weeks as the gas builds with no place to go.

With the slight jostle, the bottle can't hold the pressure anymore and it explodes, setting off a chain reaction as all the bottles near it get shaken. Brother Pierre covers his face to protect himself from flying glass, while running for the stairs, wondering how the devil got into the bottles this year.

Just like those early wine-making monks in Champagne, I curse my luck when I receive my bad news, wondering when it will all be over. (Well, I suppose the monks wouldn't curse.)

But something happens, both to the monks and to me. We decide to start embracing what is going on, rather than fighting it.

The monk's design a catcher's-mitt type of face guard to use when they check on the cellar. They begin to use English glass bottles, which are stronger, to withstand the pressure that builds up in the bottles during the winter. They offer their special sparkling wine to the royalty in the area. It begins to catch on. It is used at coronations of kings and queens.

I learn to be at peace with my cancer, and begin to notice all the blessings that it brings with it. I am showered with love and I feel inspired. Friends and family members visit me. They surround me with their gifts, food and cards and realize that I've had it all wrong all these years: friends can't take away the pain and fear, they are there to face it with you, standing arm in arm alongside you.

And as I learn this valuable lesson, others begin coming to me for advice regarding what they can do to help their friends who have just received bad news. I offer ideas to them.

A business begins forming in my head--a business that would provide gifts for friends trying to support each other through life's challenges. A business that would help people when they can't find the words. A business called Uplift Gift.

The Benedictine monks in Champagne got over their problem by embracing it. A multi-billion-dollar industry was created.

And as Devin Thorpe of Forbes asks his first question about my experience with cancer and how it helped me create an idea for a new business I realize that, just like the monks, if we can be open to learning from the good AND the bad things that come along in life, we may be surprised by where we are taken.

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