LONG BEACH - Starting a business is a daunting and often stressful task.

But starting a business as a single mother with a cancer diagnosis might make most people hang up their dream.

Not Nancy Zwiers.

Instead of allowing her dream to fall by the wayside, she said she "soldiered through" after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, focusing her attention on her passion.

"Who knows how long I have, so I will continue to push forward and follow my dream," the 23-year Long Beach resident said. "The richness and fullness of life really has nothing to do with the length of your life."

Since 2000, Zwiers, 54, had been running her own business, Funosophy Inc., a leading brand-building consulting and invention firm in the toy industry.

She was never able to get the funding to make her own toys, however, until her big break came in 2011 - just as she was beginning her battle with cancer.

Despite undergoing daily radiation treatment, Zwiers successfully launched her first product, Pony Royale, a line of 12 collectible princess pony dolls, each with a birthstone blaze, as well as interchangeable hair and fashions for open-ended, creative mix-and- match play.

Pony Royale, which was launched in partnership with toymaker Razor, has been nominated for toy awards by industry groups. Other toy lines soon followed.

Zwiers started her company after spending years climbing the corporate ladder, but it wasn't fulfilling and she wanted a change. She also wanted to spend more time with her daughter, now 17-year-old Nikki Wadley, and have a "better quality of life," she said.

"At this time, I no longer aspired to the lifestyle of the working executive anymore," she said. "I wanted to be a good parent, I wanted to continue to live in Long Beach, I didn't want to commute - so I just decided to start my own business."

It was at this time that Zwiers used her innovation and creativity to form a business plan.

Funosophy, which was coined by Zwiers to mean "wisdom in the world of fun," conducts extensive research in the area of kids and play. Zwiers has advised more than 150 clients ranging from start-ups to the biggest players, like Mattel, Disney, Hasbro, Leapfrog and Spin Master, she said.

But it didn't just start in her garage.

Zwiers has a "deep expertise" in kids and their play and is broadly acknowledged as one of the world's leading experts in girls' toys. She spent nine years as an executive at Mattel, where she received "priceless experience" working on products such as Barbie, Polly Pocket and Cabbage Patch, she said.

"First of all, let me say that as a corporate refugee, my earnings have never equaled that of the corporate world," she said. "But I have a much better quality of life and I am doing what I love - working with people that I love - and have remained in the industry that I love."

She has two other toy lines: Fashion Marks, a line of fashionable markers and creative activity kits inspired by the world of cosmetics, which won the 2012 National Parenting Center Seal of Approval; and Leapfrog Poppin' Play Piano, which allows toddlers to learn numbers and colors while they play music and was awarded the Oppenheim Gold Award. It is also one of Amazon's top picks for toddlers during the 2012 holiday season.

One of the Pony Royale products, Princess Rosie Pony, received five stars on Amazon - the highest rating - with customers raving about its "affordability," and it being a exactly "what young girls are looking for."

"Finally, a pony that is on the market that is affordable and beautiful," one of the reviews said. "My daughter loves horses ... These ponies are not only well made but they are really pretty and unique."

Though Zwiers isn't yet cancer- free - she will be on medication every day for the next four years as part of her treatment plan - she said focusing on her business has helped her put the cancer behind her.

"I had a dream for some time to create intellectual property," she said. "I loved inventing, and these products are my own inventions. Having three lines in the marketplace is very rewarding, and like any inventor, I am always working on the next thing."

kelsey.duckett@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2128, twitter.com/KelseyDuckett