Cheryl Laughlin is a bona fide wordsmith… a lover of language, a virtuoso of vocabulary, a worshipper of words. So imagine her fear and shock when, at age 33, she was suddenly at a loss for them, unable to remember words as simple as backpack. A TICK bite and a diagnosis of LYME disease were to blame for the years she spent scrambling to find all those lost words. Ironically, this same malady became the impetus for her BITS OF LOVE jewelry brand and its debut collection of four letter word rings dedicated to the power of words as instruments of inspiration when you need it most.
Cheryl’s jaw dropping-cannot believe-what are the chances journey to wordplay entrepreneurship starts in the most unlikely of places… on the seat of a mountain bike in El Dorado Hills, California about 30 minutes east of Sacramento. She and her boyfriend Caleb Porter, both competitive cyclists and adventurer seekers, went out for a typical ride at their favorite spot, Salmon Falls. But like the start of any suspense filled horror story, they decided to mix things up and take a different path that day.
This particular trail had a heavy overhang, the kind that offers the most welcoming of 5-Star accommodations to ticks and, consequently, the most unwelcoming (potentially) to those below it. At any given moment and with no warning, these tiny, blood sucking arachnids can drop from above like mini-stealth bombers, going completely undetected as they latch on to an unsuspecting victim and begin to feast.
Here’s the what are the chances part… unbeknownst to Cheryl and Caleb, they were BOTH bitten by separate ticks on that same ride and, as it turns out, both ticks carried lyme.
Post ride, the fun loving couple got sick with what they thought was a crazy flu, but bounced right back and that was that.
A Bumpy, Dowhill Ride
Feeling good was short lived and skin deep. Six months later, following a routine foot surgery, inexplicable and bizarre things began happening to Cheryl’s body and mind. Speaking with the 20/20 clarity she now has about the full ramifications of Lyme Disease, Cheryl explained, “Apparently when you have a surgery, the lil’ lyme buggers realize your immunity is low and start amassing troops to take over.” And take over they most certainly did.
Her nerves were misfiring all over the place, she developed chronic bladder issues and had numbness in her feet and half her face. She was racked with joint pain, eventually reaching the point where she could barely bend her knees.
Then her word problems started. “You could be sitting right behind me and I couldn’t remember your name some days, even if we worked together for months.” Simple words also randomly disappeared from Cheryl’s grasp. “I would point at items and be completely blank.”
One of the scariest moments came when she went out for a short jog and couldn’t find her way back home. This seemingly healthy, thirty-something woman was falling apart at the seams (physically and mentally) and no one knew why.
In total, Cheryl spent seven years misdiagnosed, bouncing from doctor to doctor who would tell her nothing was wrong. Desperate for answers, she took to the internet to search her own symptoms. What she started to suspect as the possible cause was then confirmed by a specific blood test and an official medical diagnosis* was made: Lyme Disease and it was, in fact, compliments of the infected tick that bit her years before.
Often called “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms mimic those of many other diseases, Lyme Disease apparently gets misdiagnosed and mistreated all too often. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.* Six months after Cheryl’s diagnosis and following his own knee surgery, Caleb started showing symptoms that were all too familiar. A blood test that Cheryl urged him to get, confirmed that Caleb had Lyme Disease too.
Turning Lemony Lyme Into Lemony Lyme-Ade
To make her diagnosis “bubblier and less scary” and take power away from the disease that had her at its mercy, Cheryl resorted to her love of words and renamed this life altering illness “Lemony” Lyme Disease. But that wouldn’t do much to protect her from the next unexpected blow she suffered at the hands of lyme.
Words have always held delicious possibilities to snap me out of a funk or celebrate a bit of awesomeness.
“When I got my diagnosis, I was let go from my marketing job and had to work freelance to get by. Corporate America isn’t the most forgiving when they sense any type of pending illness. They kind of like to flush you out of the system as fast as possible instead of coming up with some type of solution like flex work schedules.”
Faced with this added complication while dealing with the effects of her disease, Cheryl turned to words once again, diving into screenwriting. Getting lost in the endless possibilities of story lines that can form when you put certain words together, gave her a much needed escape from the pain she was in. Cheryl found herself thinking about what her main quirky character would wear if her screenplay ever got made.
That’s when she remembered a small LOVE ring her mom had given her growing up, one that she adored, and an idea started to form.
BITS OF LOVE Is Born
“I’ve loved the power of words since kindergarten, when I was ecstatic instead of just happy. Words have always held delicious possibilities to snap me out of a funk or celebrate a bit of awesomeness… like bubbly champagne on the brain.”
With that in mind, Cheryl asked herself, “How about tiny, powerful word rings to inspire other people taking on the unexpected ups and downs of life?”
It was her mom, a high school English teacher, who gave Cheryl her love of words. And since she used to tell her, “Remember, Cheryl, sometimes a small word will do better than a big word,” she felt like she was on the right path with her idea.
Cheryl started with that LOVE ring from her childhood, updated it and recreated it in her head, then on paper, and finally set out to turn it into a reality. She spent months being told that a quality ring using crisp letters was next to impossible, and she should move on to something else.
But she pressed on and kept searching until she finally found a shop that would work with her and that matched her attention to detail and enthusiasm to succeed.
Her perseverance pay-off… a newfangled LOVE ring handcrafted out of solid sterling silver done with what would become her signature BITS OF LOVE look – the “O” set with a high quality, genuine gemstone (the LOVE ring features a genuine rubellite tourmaline).
It was the first, official four letter word ring in her BITS OF LOVE jewelry collection and two others quickly followed suit.
Cheryl added a BOLD ring to the line after her work with 20K Films and their all-female documentary crew that produced PROCEED AND BE BOLD. “The director Laura Zinger was such a tour de force that I started noticing the word BOLD popping up in my day to day that it seemed such a nice fit.” For Cheryl, this ring, which features a genuine red garnet, is “a reminder to let the world know you’re up to any challenge.”
And HOPE… that one was a bit of a life raft of a word that Cheryl wrapped around when she was super sick and really wanted to imagine being well again. Of this genuine blue topaz accented ring she says, “HOPE focuses you on the awesomeness just waiting around the corner.”
Once Cheryl had her plans fully in motion for BITS OF LOVE jewelry, she asked Caleb, who loves tossing words about too, if he would like to join her on the journey and become a partner in the company since he had been through similar ups and downs after that fateful mountain bike ride.
He said yes (after 17 years together he better have), they officially launched BITS OF LOVE in November of 2012 and the rest is history.
Cheryl has never publicly shared the details of her battle with Lyme Disease until now. We are honored that she allowed us to be the first to tell her inspiring story. She is a Woman You Should Know.