The Teal Gypsy enables Janna King to raise ovarian cancer awareness while pursuing her passion for fashion.
By Carol McPhail
As Janna King neared the end of her final semester at Auburn University, she began experiencing severe pelvic pain and bloating. The symptoms were more intense than she was used to, but she brushed them aside as she prepared for graduation. After earning a bachelor’s degree in apparel merchandising and design in December 2009, she went to work at a boutique in Orange Beach. Her symptoms intensified and eventually became too difficult to ignore.
In June 2010, King made her first-ever appointment to see a gynecologist, who attributed her issues to a possible case of endometriosis, a common health problem in women in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb, or uterus, grows outside the uterus. After lab work, the gynecologist told King she could perform traditional surgery to treat the endometriosis. Because the physician would not be able to perform laparoscopic surgery, King went in search of a second opinion and less-invasive options.
After seeing another gynecologist, she was referred to the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, one of the few places at the time offering laparoscopic surgery to treat endometriosis. King had the less-invasive surgery on August 10, 2010. During the operation, the surgeon discovered that her condition was more serious than first suspected. At 22, King was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer, and she quickly began treatment at the MCI. At the time, she was among the institute’s youngest ovarian cancer patients.
Ten days after her diagnosis, King had a second surgery to remove more of the cancer. The operation led to a much more difficult recovery. Four weeks later, she started chemotherapy. King continued the treatments for four months. In January 2011, she was declared cancer-free.
Every year, about 21,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and more than 13,700 women die from it. Women ages 63 and older are more likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but younger women also can develop the disease.
Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage. Because most symptoms such as bloating and pelvic pain align with symptoms of less serious conditions such as premenstrual syndrome, ovarian cancer can continue to spread in the body without detection. It’s crucial to detect ovarian cancer as early as possible to maximize the effects of treatment, but there currently are no recommended screening tests for the disease.
Throughout her treatment, King continued to work at the boutique in Orange Beach. A few years later, she moved back to Auburn to work as a store manager before returning to her hometown of Andalusia, Ala. There, she worked in retail but longed for something more meaningful.
“I definitely feel like God was pushing me to think bigger as I started to think about my purpose,” King said. “I knew I wanted to be able to help those who are going through treatment, and I wanted to share my testimony to be a light and hope to those people. I also wanted to raise awareness for ovarian cancer, because at the time of my diagnosis, I wasn’t even fully aware of what it was. I think it needs more recognition, especially among younger women.”
King realized she could incorporate her love for fashion into her desire to raise awareness about ovarian cancer, so she made the decision to open her own boutique.
King launched The Teal Gypsy in 2018. The boutique’s name reflects King and her values, including the color for ovarian cancer awareness, and her adventurous nature. She incorporated a teal cancer ribbon into the boutique’s logo, ensuring that anyone’s first experience with the business would be an opportunity to raise awareness of ovarian cancer.
When her business took off, King began making donations to ovarian cancer awareness and research foundations. For the 10-year anniversary of her diagnosis, King chose to donate to the Mitchell Cancer Institute as a way of giving back to the hospital that played an instrumental role in her diagnosis, treatment and recovery. In the past year, she has donated more than $3,000 to patient care and research at the MCI.
“The Mitchell Cancer Institute is very special to me. The care that I received from the doctors, nurses and other employees was amazing,” King said, “I couldn’t have done it anywhere else.”
The Teal Gypsy originally was launched as an online-exclusive boutique to allow King to test the waters as a business owner, but it quickly warranted expansion into a physical store. She began operating the boutique at a location inside of Walker’s, a local business in Andalusia. As the shop continued to grow, King set her sights on taking the business on the road using an Airstream camper.
She met someone at an apparel market who had an Airstream, named Silvia, for sale. King purchased the gleaming silver camper and began travelling with The Teal Gypsy until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
She is eager to return to the road once it becomes safe to do so. In the meantime, her boutique’s online store and physical location in Andalusia remain open.
When talking to younger women, King uses her story to encourage them to seek treatment when they notice an abnormality with their bodies. “You always need to get things checked out, just in case,” she tells them. “I let mine go on way too long.”
King says she hopes her story will inspire others to remain resilient and hopeful during difficult times.
“I believe having faith and hope is so important,” she said. “Without it, fear wants to take over. God is glory in my story. Jeremiah 29:11 says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
“That is my favorite Bible verse, and it has gotten me through everything I have gone through,” she said. “I believe in miracles, and I know that God made me one of them for a reason.”