For Casey Benjamin, big risks beget big rewards.
In 2015, when she found out her cancer—dormant for eight years—was back with a vengeance, she didn’t freeze. Instead, she sprung into action, leaving her marriage, city, old life behind.
Ultimately, throughout her fight, she drew great strength from an old high school friend, Jonathan Singer, who turned out to be her soulmate. And, as he helped her through her battle, they discovered how comforting, energetic, supportive and positive certain special amulets, talismans and crystals could be.
Together, they started Juju Supply Co., a line of jewelry charged created with positive energy in mind. Pieces are designed to promote everything from compassion to healing to starting over and are perfect good luck charms for a friend in need.
Here, Casey Benjamin shares why confidence in the face of change can make all the difference:
Live the Process: How and when did you and Jon originally become friends and then later reconnect?
Casey Benjamin: I believe in fate!
My partner Jon and I met back in the 90s. If you ask any people who knew us in high school, they would all agree that we were inevitable. Sixteen years ago, we both married other people. In the summer of 2015, we found ourselves both in Chicago, divorcing those same people. Then, the Universe moved some mountains, opened up a pocket for us and we slipped right in.
In June of 2015, my son had an accident that kicked off the series of events that literally saved my life. He was 8 years old at the time and dislocated his knee on our friend’s trampoline. The injury landed him in a wheelchair and sent the two of us to Chicago for the summer. My husband and I were renovating a home in Brooklyn at the time and the living situation became untenable with a kid who couldn’t walk.
Now in Chicago, I woke up one night with a high fever and stomach pains. My mother took me to the ER. At the hospital, I had a CAT scan of my abdomen and the imagining caught something in my lungs—an area they weren’t even scanning. They called it an “incidental finding.” It was a 3-cm mass on my left lung.
My cancer was back. In 2008, I had beaten cervical cancer after five rounds of chemo and six weeks of internal and external radiation. Banging up against my own mortality for a second time, I seized the opportunity for radical life change. I sold the house, ended the marriage and quit my job. I committed to living a life that was authentic and sharing it with my kids. I had become a muted version of myself.
I must have put a silent APB out to the universe: “I am restarting my life, bring me my soulmate!” As I entered into a serious fight for my life in a city that wasn’t mine, the high school guy became mine. I had a lobectomy of my left lung, then went through six rounds of heavy adjuvant chemo to knock out any more rogue cancer cells. My hair fell out, I looked skeletal, I turned gray and I had serious case of chemo brain. It didn’t matter one stitch to him. I never felt sexier or more loved. It was like I won the lottery on the same day that I got fired.
It’s now two years later, and we haven’t been apart since. We have renovated a home in Michigan, drank mojitos in Miami, hiked around New Mexico, hung in LA, bought costumes for a 1978 party in Nashville, worn white jeans in Palm Springs, shopped swap meets in Yucca Valley, started Juju Supply, bouldered in Joshua Tree, looked at art in Beacon, took a major “Fuck Cancer!” trip to India and Sri Lanka, traveled with all our kids to Mexico and have vowed to not let more than five days go without seeing each other. It works so effortlessly because we are meant to be.
"It was like I won the lottery on the same day that I got fired."
LTP: Have you always been interested in jewelry and/or the notion of talismans—even as a child or young adult?
CB: I come from a long line of mavens on both sides of my family—masters of creating perfectly art-directed moments, chock full of intention.
I will say that my maternal grandmother, Patty, was the original Queen of Juju. Her home was filled with meaningful pieces she had collected over the years: mini gold-leafed monkeys climbing rock quartz mountains, hand-painted puppet theaters, Pakistani cloth dolls, small bowls of shells and stones in the perfect vessel. It was a mashup of old, new, valuable, cheap, handmade and ethnic. Each item was placed carefully in the right spot and atop the perfect glass block to lift it up, just so. Even under the coffee table, I remember a whole underwater shell scene with plants cascading out of conch shells. Just before she died, she changed up the guest bathroom, tying vintage 60s silk scarves onto tibetan wall hooks. Every zone in the house made you feel something.
She was equally creative and intentional with her jewelry. She had a collection of charms and bracelets she wore every single day: well-worn hearts with her kids names on them, a diamond charm that was identical to one her sister wore, a gold #10 (she was #10 out of 10!), jade totems that her mother had given her as a kid. And, on both wrists, she wore an equally meaningful assortment of bangles and strings. You could track her movements around the house by the jangling sounds she made.
I have always done work that is visual in nature and related to how a person feels in a space. I was an independent production designer for tv and film, dressing sets, designing homes, finding perfect paint colors. I worked at Publicolor, a not-for-profit that works to transform dreary inner-city schools with bright color. I was an early employee at Poppin, an office supply company that sells hot pink and yellow staplers aiming to change the way people feel in the workplace. When I had my two children, I went to India to source great jewelry and decorative pieces to sell at trunk shows.
And it turns out that creating pretty art-directed moments in my own home is also my specialty. Just like my grandmother’s house, my apartment is full of color and collections. I have textiles piled on window sills, bright cushions on the floor, small figures and whistles on the dining room table, lake stones collected in Michigan and more small brass figures than I can count!
LTP: What did these objects mean to you during your fight with cancer? How did this lead you to launch Juju Supply Co.?
CB: After the surgery to remove a portion of my lung, before I began chemo, I took a trip to Santa Fe (my favorite place) to visit my father. I visited Chimayo, an old Santuario famous for it’s healing dirt. Crutches, walkers and 8x10 glossies of people that were healed line the walls of the chapel. In the gift shop, I had a seminal moment: I picked up a milagro charm of brass lungs and added them to the chain around my neck. The lungs joined an evil eye, a gold coin from India and a rose gold and diamond om. Just like my grandmother, each of these charms connected me to a person, place or experience that I treasured. And now the lungs helped to focus my mind on healing.
From then on, I jangled my way to every chemo appointment, scan and round of blood work. I held them in my hand as the needles went in and my eyes drifted shut. This good juju that I wore every day became my armor—I felt protected. And when I finally kicked cancer’s butt for the second time, my partner and I decided to start Juju Supply Co. so that we could arm other people going through similarly difficult times.
Our jewelry is worn for personal intention. A lot of jewelry is worn as outward bling and flash. Our pieces are intended for private purposes. The question to ask when you are shopping our site is, “Where do I need some good juju?” The jewelry is organized into collections around areas of need. Fresh Start is for people going through major transitions and change (divorce, new job, new city etc.) Compassion is for people who need to remember to act with an open heart (parents of kids with ADHD, managing a sick family member etc.). Healing is for people who need to focus their minds on healing an ailing body part. We have Intention Bracelets that are meant to be tied on with a goal in mind. They are a great gift to yourself or to a friend who wants a gentle reminder of a commitment.
Each of our collections has a signature Jangle that is comprised of three super-charged charms hanging from a chain. You can also purchase charms individually to create your own Jangle, maybe taking from more than one category—no judgement!
LTP: What are your own personal wellness rituals that keep you feeling balanced and healthy?
CB: I practice Transcendental Meditation. It’s the most important thing I do for myself in the realm of wellness and self-care. It’s two 20-minute mantra-based meditations daily. TM makes me feel insulated and safe. I can see problems and am able to create space between myself and the noise—not ignore it, but just not carry it around. I am sure the practice has added years to my life.
I love Pilates and go twice a week. I like the whole laying down while working out thing. My partner is an avid Bikram yoga devotee, so I have started joining him in that practice. As he likes to put it, it’s like getting physically wrung out each time.
I do my best to eat the anti-cancer diet: rainbow on my plate, no refined sugars, no wheat, buckets of green tea, no dairy blah blah. It’s super boring, but I know how to satisfy my cravings. The best chocolate hands-down without refined sugar is Hu Chocolate. I always have a bar in my bag. Mary’s Gone Crackers Everything Super Seed is my salty snack. And almond butter on a salted apple for breakfast is a daily ritual.
I love my Bongers for massage. I keep them on the table and we all “bonger” each other while we watch TV; kids love it.
I keep fresh, bright flowers around all the time, even in the dead of winter when the bodega specializes in technicolor daisies. It’s like visual candy and makes me happy every time I see them.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
CB: Hanging with people I love in a foreign country—preferably some obscure spot in Mexico or India. Eating a meal outside under a pergola with friends. Watching a nature show. Sitting on a portal in Santa Fe listening to birds, watching clouds and feeling the hot sun. Screened in porches in Michigan with music and wine. Shopping a really awesome rural flea or market in a foreign country.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
CB: Be yourself. It’s the most important piece of advice I can give to anybody. Try not to do things because you think you’re supposed to do them. Don’t be afraid to change or take a big risk; you’re smart, you will figure it out. Surround yourself with a really great committee (friends) and don’t be shy about surveying them as you contemplate change. You only have one time around. Don’t squander it in a city you don’t love with a person who drives you nuts or in a job that doesn’t make your heart sing!