Whitefish Bay — Linnea Harrington wasn't supposed to get breast cancer.
She didn't have a family history of breast cancer, and she was only 34 years old. When she found a large lump in her breast and sore lymph node in her armpit, she thought she might be fighting off a cold or a virus. One doctor told her she had dense breasts, but she had a nagging suspicion it was something more.
By the time she talked to a second doctor, the cancer had reached stage four. If she had waited another two months, the doctor said she would have passed the point of recovery. She received three types of chemotherapy in six months, a double mastectomy, 36 rounds of radiation and a full hysterectomy.
'It was an insane 10 months,' the Whitefish Bay mother of two recalls.
A year after her diagnosis, Harrington said she was starting to miss the busy schedule of her old sales job. To fight off her stir-craziness, she and her two daughters – then 4 and 5 - started freezing fruit juices into popsicles. They concocted unique flavor combinations, like strawberry basil lemonade and lemon blueberry.
Pretty soon, her fresh fruit popsicles became a favorite at parties.
It was a 'natural progression' to start adding liquor and bitters to the mix, she said. Her friends and family jokingly referred to her as a mad scientist as she tested how much alcohol she could add without inhibiting the freezing process. She created a full menu of craft cocktail slushies, including Moscow Mule, sangria and jalapeno peach margarita.
A month after coming up with the concept, she decided to test her idea on 'Shark Tank' when the television show came to Milwaukee. She and her husband spent a night outside the Milwaukee Art Museum in July 2014, but because she didn't have any clients at that time, she didn't make it past the show's producers.
Harrington has since given more thought to her business, which she calls 'Linnea's Pops and Lickers.' The fresh fruit popsicles are called pops, and her alcoholic popsicles are called lickers. In the spring and summer, she sells fruitier flavors like pina colada, mango and fruit punch. Some of her fall and winter flavors include pumpkin brulee, chai latte and mulled wine.
Linnea's Pops and Lickers is one of three early-stage businesses competing in the final round of the Hottest Kitchen Entrepreneur Challenge on July 20. The contest aims to find the best new food and beverage business ideas in Wisconsin.
Harrington hopes this contest will help take her popsicles from a hobby to a business. She sells popsicles to friends and to the café at Elite Fitness in Brookfield, but she doesn't have the capacity to fill large orders from her home kitchen. Harrington said she would like to move her operations into a larger kitchen with employees who aren't her daughters. She also has to work out packaging and licensing issues.
As she adjusts to her post-corporate life, Harrington said she has found a new sense of purpose through her pursuit of popsicle perfection.
'I never wanted cancer to define who I am as a person,' she said. 'It was important for me to get back to my old self, and now I feel like my old self again.'