One of the most ambitious people I’ve met used to drive a pink pickup truck covered in flowers, with the words MISS TEA PARTY painted across its flanks. Surely it was the most feminine Ford F-150 to have graced the highways of Henrico County, Virginia.

Kim Newlen was a South Carolina native who had a penchant for adding the word sweet in front of everyone’s name. In 1995, the stay-at-home mother was itching to reach other women with Christian witness and friendship. She began hosting women in her Virginia home, and eventually her ministry, Sweet Monday, expanded to homes and college campuses in every state. Always hospitable, Newlen broke the Guinness World Record for World’s Largest Tea Party in 2005, hosting more than 7,000 people on the campus of the University of Richmond, where many of the attendees wore pink.

Who knows how many tea-drinkers that day knew that Newlen was walking the campus battling one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. The year prior, at 47, Newlen had undergone a lumpectomy, radiation, a full mastectomy, then full chemotherapy, then full radiation—“every complication that can occur with cancer short of death,” she said. “I thought what I would do was just pull the covers over my head and wait until everything was over.” Instead, “the exact opposite happened. No one could have been more surprised than me . . . that I would have gotten bolder as I got balder, but I did.”

After Newlen had endured every skirmish in her battle against cancer, she realized that one of her greatest needs amid endless hospital visits was a dose of normalcy, the ability to go about routines of beauty and personal care. Working with a Manhattan-based fashion ...

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