Imagine your world being turned upside down with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Now imagine your partner being diagnosed with the same disease in the same week. That is what happened to furniture artist Blaise Gaston and his wife, Cali.

The Virginia-based artist and his wife were both diagnosed with grade 2 breast cancer in April, 2015—Blaise in one breast and Cali in both. As the next days passed, the pair went through similar appointments, procedures, and surgeries—first Blaise, then several days later, Cali. Cali supported Blaise as he underwent treatment that she soon would also receive. Each experience for Blaise was a preview for Cali of what was to come. In Cali’s words, “We really do feel like if either of us had to do this, it is so much better that we get to do it together.”

Within the next several weeks, Blaise underwent a mastectomy and Cali underwent a bilateral mastectomy. The two were bolstered by each other and the loving support of the community around them. Through the whole experience, they remained bright and optimistic. Eventually, they found out that Blaise’s continuing treatment would be straightforward and minimally invasive. Cali, on the other hand, required chemotherapy.

32 years prior, Cali had survived lymphoma. She was ready to take on her remaining breast cancer treatment with as much tenacity as she had used to fight lymphoma. True to her mission, Cali tackled breast cancer treatment head-on with an inspiring, positive attitude that included daily doses of gratitude for the community support around her. And within several months, she was through to the other side of the treatment and training for a breast cancer awareness run.

The pair has been very open about their journey of strength and survival. They have become advocates for breast cancer awareness and research. Cali is very active in their local community in raising funds to further the eradication of the disease—including participating in events like the Chancellorsville Women’s Four Miler, an organization raising money for the UVA Cancer Center Breast Cancer Care Program where they both received treatment.

The experience has taken Blaise down an unexpected path as a furniture artist. He was approached by a woman who was also diagnosed with breast cancer. There were similarities between their stories: the client was diagnosed at the same hospital as Blaise and Cali, but the prognosis and outcome would not be the same. The client commissioned Blaise to craft a one-of-a-kind casket. “Measuring someone for a custom fitted casket was a first in my career, and maybe not a last,” stated Blaise. Blaise’s skill as an artist and craftsman is readily apparent in the piece. Yet, as you look at it, you notice that there is another level of painstaking care in it—one that comes from the experiences that Blaise and his client shared.

customer casket creation

finished custom casket

finished custom casket by furniture artist Blasie Gaston

As a result of his experiences, Blaise has become active in the local community to raise awareness about men and breast cancer. Breast cancer in men is about 100 times less common than in women. According to the American Cancer Society, “2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed” in men in 2017. As a survivor, Blaise has the ability to speak firsthand about the impact—and to make a difference in the lives of others.