Lisa_HinkleySummoning Up the Healing Spirit…in a Flash

Imagine being on the brink of tremendous nationwide success with your home-grown business, and all of a sudden, you’re diagnosed with breast cancer. If you’re Lisa Hinkley, co-founder of the San Diego craft beer company Green Flash Brewing Company, you summon up the healing spirit that comes from a husband’s support, an inner drive to see your business idea succeed, and the amazing spirit to help others through Komen San Diego. This is her story…

Lisa and Mike Hinkley together founded the now very famous and in-demand craft beer company Green Flash Brewery in 2002. As husband and wife, they were fulfilling a shared dream to produce a product that is unique and one that they are proud of. The dream did come true, which is a credit to their determination and brilliance as business people.

But their dream was interrupted along the way when in 2010, Lisa was traveling home from a restful family vacation, and by chance, she was struck by the emotional story about a woman and her family’s cancer struggles (she read in The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan).  Strangely enough, reading about another woman’s ordeal compelled Lisa to perform an (admittedly rare) self-exam. One person’s story is another person’s cure? Perhaps.

“I was devastated when I discovered a large lump in my left breast,” says Lisa – who just had a ‘negative’ mammogram two months earlier. “Was it possible for cancer to grow that quickly?” she thought.
Her recent mammogram had revealed the presence of micro-calcification (a possible indicator of breast cancer). After an additional screening, however, the technician did not see any presence of cancer, and Lisa was told to check back the following year. It ended up being breast tissue density that prevented an accurate reading at the time.

After finding the lump, Lisa returned to the doctor, scared and wondering what comes next. This time, the technician performed an ultrasound, probing the area for a long time before asking if there was a family history of breast cancer. As it turns out, Lisa was adopted. Fortunately, Lisa had made contact with her maternal aunt in 1992, and she knew that her grandmother, aunt and great grandmother all had breast cancer.

Lisa considers the fact that she knew her family history to be a miracle. That’s because for most adoptees born in the baby boomer period (post WW II to Roe vs Wade in 1979), obtaining biological health information can be next to impossible. During that time, adoptions were primarily closed, and birth records permanently sealed, leaving adoptees without hereditary information. As early detection can be life-saving, especially when it comes to cancer, many people are left in a dangerous medical limbo not knowing their family predisposition to cancer and other diseases.

After a long series of tests that included needle biopsy, MRI, CAT Scan and PET Scan, Lisa was diagnosed with a 5cm tumor. The cells appeared to be Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS) – a non-invasive type of breast cancer, which is considered good news in the world of “how bad is it, doc?” However, due to the size of the tumor, the doctor recommended a mastectomy.

Lisa made the difficult decision to treat her cancer aggressively and elected to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. When the full tissue biopsy results came back from the lab, she received a new diagnosis of Invasive Mammary Carcinoma as well as a trace amount of cancer in the lymph node. After 14 more lymph nodes were removed, Lisa’s oncologist recommended chemotherapy.

The anticipated discomfort and dreaded hair loss from chemo is what Lisa had feared most when initially diagnosed. It wasn’t easy, but in Lisa’s experience, it was not as awful as she expected. During this time, Lisa rested but found that the best medicine was to reinvest her attention toward what gives her the most satisfaction when it comes to beating the odds – focusing on making the family business more successful than they imagined. That’s a goal she could live with. And she did more than live – she thrived.

While Lisa was busy undergoing the process of diagnosis, surgery and treatment, Green Flash was in an exciting period of growth. When Lisa was first diagnosed, she and Mike started construction on a new brewery site – a huge jump for the business. Lisa also began to spearhead a creative juggernaut to re-brand the look of the Green Flash packaging. These business projects provided the perfect distraction for Lisa, allowing her to feel excitement about the opportunities on the horizon. She felt there was so much to look forward to, and she was not willing to let Cancer get in her way.

While Lisa was in treatment, she knew her giving spirit needed to channel her positive energy and charity efforts someway – that way being via Green Flash into helping others whose lives were impacted by Breast Cancer. After opening the large new brewery in 2011, Green Flash hosted the first annual Treasure Chest beer release event in the Tasting Room. Proceeds from Treasure Chest in 2011 were donated to Breast Cancer charities in San Diego.

Lisa was particularly touched by the support and kindness of her local chapter of Komen for the Cure, inspired by the group’s determination to help those in need at the local level. All proceeds from Treasure Chest events and beer sales benefit the charity, and over the years, Green Flash has raised upwards of $50K for Komen San Diego.

In 2012, one dream came true – Lisa celebrated being cancer free ( I was declared cancer free after surgery in October 2010).

As for Green Flash, that dream keeps coming alive. In 2013, Green Flash announced they would build a 2nd brewery in Virginia Beach, VA to open in 2015, and the bi-coastal expansion prompted Lisa’s decision for Green Flash to debut Treasure Chest in key markets nationally.

As a way to share the message and raise money for the cause, Lisa will host Treasure Chests events in San Diego and Virginia Beach – as a primary focus, and will be developing a Team Treasure Chest for the 5K races in both cities.

As a Survivor and an adoptee, Lisa believes strongly that all women should have equal access to information and services that could detect early-stage breast cancer, because that’s the proven way to increase the chances for survival. She is an advocate for making genetic testing affordable for all. She is also an advocate for opening all adoption records so that adoptees have access to the full scope of their available medical history – a right that all other non-adoptees and those adoptees of open adoption, currently have under the law. Both the availability of affordable testing and open records would lead to earlier detection and increased survival rates.

Lisa’s story is inspiring. Her life is defined by creating successes in a flash, even when the odds are against her. We want all women to be defined by the successes they create, and that is why Komen San Diego will always be defined by the continuing success of helping women like Lisa.

We admire the courage of all women who are surviving breast cancer. If you want to share your experiences with us, please contact: