There’s a bittersweet story to Julez Bryant’s journey to jewelry design that starts on a path paved by cancer.
Nearly 15 years ago, her friend Herman was suffering from throat cancer and gifted Julez Bryant a crystal charm bracelet before he died. Bryant, of the present-day Julez Bryant jewelry design house in San Diego, worked on the business side of a video game development company and had no jewelry experience, but she removed the charm and placed it on a necklace of more crystals. Soon after, a shop owner stopped Bryant while she was wearing it and asked to see more of her work. Giddy, she went home and broke apart pieces of her grandmother’s costume jewelry and reworked the styles into 15 necklaces that the store owner immediately bought. Julez Bryant Designs was born.
Seven years into her career change, Bryant was landing in New York City for a Jewelers of America trade show. As she turned on her phone, it rang, and someone from her doctor’s office was on the other end. “You need to come home immediately,” the staffer said. “You have malignant melanoma and require immediate surgery.”
Once the cancer was removed, Bryant had another three years before being diagnosed again with cancer, this time of the breast.
“I had a strange pain in my chest wall and an itching near my armpit,” she recollects. Bryant had a mammogram, which was inconclusive, so her doctor had her get an ultrasound that ultimately found suspect tumors that were later biopsied. An MRI followed to determine the state of her lymph nodes. In the end, Bryant had two different types of breast cancers that affected her lymph nodes. She began chemo, had 43 separate radiation treatments, and was put on a course of cancer meds to last 10 years. March 2016 will mark five years since her last radiation treatment.
“Chemo brain is a real thing,” says Bryant. “One year after chemotherapy, I was not as emotional, but still felt like I was coming out of a cloud.”
Her stamina in battling the cancer inspired doctors to ask her to spearhead volunteer efforts to help young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’m there with them before they start treatment, I serve as a conduit between physician and patient, help them find appropriate trials, fill out financial paperwork—I’m there in the middle of the night. If they’re scared, they can call me,” she explains. “Patients have questions like ‘When do I lose my hair’? and ‘Is it normal to feel like this’ about side effects or anger. They also ask me if I was bald (I was) and they love to see my picture because it helps them realize they are not alone. Breast cancer is a language you speak when you can’t communicate.”
Beautiful Julez Bryant during chemo and after
During this time, Bryant naturally withdrew a bit from her professional life, shelving her show schedule to recover. Plus, she was a mother to two kids. “I became a hermit for a few years, and they say it takes three years to return to feeling like who you were before breast cancer,” she adds.
Through her advocacy position, she also helped a number of women going through breast cancer. One of the women she assisted was a 28-year-old mother of two named Mayra. Bryant was present at Mayra’s first chemo treatment and was there when her family took her off life support. Before Mayra died, Bryant pledged to her that she would help her children, now ages 4 and 15, with college costs the best she could, and within two days of Mayra’s death, raised enough money by auctioning off a piece of Julez Bryant jewelry to cover the expenses of Mayra’s funeral.
Now, Bryant continues to donate about 15 percent of annual sales to a variety of charities and specific individuals affected by breast cancer. And Mayra remains close: Her uncle now works as a bench jeweler for Julez Bryant.
“If I know of someone in need, I donate a piece to help raise money,” she says. “It’s my duty. If it weren’t for Herman, I wouldn’t be here.”
But don’t expect to see a pink ribbon in her line. “I want to do something for a younger woman that says ‘We’re survivors, we’re warriors,’ and is more relevant, like an arrow,” says Bryant. “Jewelry is so relevant to breast cancer because there is nothing more girly, and breast cancer takes away your femininity. And when you’re bald, rock a pair of big hoop earrings.”
Though Bryant doesn’t earmark a specific sum to breast cancer charities, she is open to helping individuals—like she did with Mayra—raise funds as needed. See her pink-minded pieces, including an arrow, available for wholesale purchase below.
Noki Large pendant necklace in 18k rose gold with 0.15 ct. t.w. diamonds, $3,245
Mayra Extra Large pendant necklace in 18k rose gold with 1.55 cts. t.w. colorless and cognac diamonds, $11,245
The Style 360 blog is your editorial source for the newest jewelry trends, market analysis, trade show insights designer profiles, and more.