At only 34, Sali Sasi has a CV to rival even the most seasoned CEO. As one of of the masterminds behind the runaway success of online sportswear retailer Stylerunner, Sali played a pivotal role in driving the activewear industry into a new era. Having now moved on from the e-commerce site, the entrepreneur has turned her hand to the business of women’s empowerment, co-founding PoppyRenegade, focused on building a community of women to inspire, connect and celebrate one another. The Australian has also landed the new role of Director of Brand Partnerships at The Iconic (another of Australia’s leading online retailers) and as if this wasn’t enough she recently married one of Australia’s most renowned chefs, Nathan Sasi.

At first glance Sali’s story is an enviable one… One of highs and incredible success, but it hasn’t always been this picture perfect for the mother of one, who at 26 was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. Fortunately, after months of chemotherapy and finally a double mastectomy she was given the all clear. For someone so young, this harrowing experience was enough to set her life on a completely different trajectory to what it has become.  In Sali’s case, this has almost been her secret weapon, drawing on the strength gained from her experience allowing her to be an incredible source of inspiration for women everywhere. From her honest, motivational and uplifting social media presence to the creation of Poppy Renegade, Sali is focused on empowering women everywhere. In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Sand & Smoke  sits down with the Australian beauty who shares her inspiring story and a refreshingly raw and real perspective on what really matters.

“Having cancer has helped me with letting go of fear, your ability to jump in and not fear risk is propelled. It taught me that I am strong and resilient, more than I ever realised.“


I actually found a lump at the age of 26 but given my age and the fact I had absolutely no family history my doctors weren’t overly concerned, putting it down to a cyst. I had it monitored every three months with regular results of ‘inconclusive’ findings. A year on and practically overnight the lump had increased significantly, the next thing I am being told after being rushed for emergency tests is that I had Stage II breast cancer.

After seven months of chemotherapy my treating team felt pretty confident that I had beaten the cancer however something was telling me the fight wasn’t over just yet. I pushed for an elective double mastectomy and reconstruction. I was lucky, thanks to my persistence my surgeons were able to remove two more tumours that were close to my blood vessel. Following that news I was then placed on five years forced menopause treatment (to stop my hormones feeding any possible remaining cancer cells in order to starve it), I pushed for six and a half years and was officially in remission in 2014.


There were many highs and lows but every step along the way my focus was on doing what needed to be done to ensure I was around to grow old for my son. This was a huge driver for me.

“The ability to also inspire other women potentially going through the same thing was also something I wanted to do so getting through the toughest journey was never just about me – it was always something greater than my own personal journey.”

The best piece of advice that I received was that life doesn’t stop just because you have cancer. As harsh as that was to hear at the time it made me snap out of the poor me victim zone I initially fell into.


My son helped me get back into life following the diagnosis. He is the most incredible human being. He is unconditionally loving and forgiving and there is no greater support, inspiration or love that comes close to that of your childs. As I get older my focus is to become a better mother and role model to him.

I no longer take things for granted, being present is important to me. Something as simple as having dinner with my loved ones with no phones and no TV is something I really value. I guess there are elements of my life now where I also think F*#k it – I’m going to do what makes me happy rather than worrying what other people will think.

I think when you focus on giving yourself what you need it actually makes you a better person because once you’re happy you can then give yourself to others wholeheartedly. Having cancer has helped me with letting go of fear, your ability to jump in and not fear risk is propelled. It taught me that I am strong and resilient, more than I ever realised.


Prior to being ill I don’t think I lived a healthy life. I worked long hours, was often stressed, operated on very little sleep. I would barely exercise and lived off processed foods and binge drinking. I have now done a complete flip. I am more focused on living a balanced life and I’m actively elimiating anything that causes me stress in my life.

I generally don’t have a strict regime in terms of fitness. I love gym classes with friends or workouts with my husband. I’m always choosing to walk as an option over the lift or the stairs. My CEO, Patrick Schmidt, is renowned for having walking meetings rather than sitting at a conference table and I love this.

I’m easy going when it comes to eating. My husband is a chef and known for cooking from scratch. He makes all his own cheese, charcuterie, vinegar.. you name it, so that idea of knowing where and what your ingredients are is important rather than just eating the end product. During the week we eat pretty clean, breakfast is usually something quick and simple like eggs on toast and lunch and dinners are often grilled proteins like chicken or fish with sweet potato or brown rice and steamed greens. The weekends are free so we either enjoy a home cooked meal of pasta or we love to go out and enjoy our favourite restaurants. Balance is key – if I feel like dessert I’ll have it, if I don’t I’m happy to go without.


To find the positive. As hard as that may seem I believe that in every situation there is something good to be found, be that to be given an opportunity to practice self love because you now have no hair, exercise faith and patience because your journey holds a level of uncertainty or to know that your struggles offer others strength for those going through something similar.


“Do whatever the f*#k makes you happy.”

Image via popsugar

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