Two Pittsburgh women create a resource for post-op necessities and niceties
By Marilyn Uricchio
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
"In a very short time I was bald, I was breastless and I was bloated from steroids. It’s very hard to hold on to your sense of self when you look in the mirror and the person staring back isn’t someone you recognize," Lisa Lurie says of her battle with breast cancer two years ago.
For Ellen Weiss Kander, the experience was different but no less profound when she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that required her to undergo chemotherapy in 2005.
But the two friends from Squirrel Hill had more than illness in common: Although they knew each other in high school, they really bonded when their daughters started kindergarten together. Both were stylish mothers with active lives who refused to lower their fashion standards or capitulate to disease. When Ms. Lurie couldn’t find head scarves big enough to hide her hair loss, her frustration led to the creation of cancerbeglammed.com.
"Lisa came up with the idea," says Ms. Kander, who joined her friend in launching the website last month. "She said if we can’t find these products, other women must be having trouble finding what they need to help them recover and battle the side-effects of chemotherapy and other treatments."
Ms. Lurie, 50, and Ms. Kander, 49, spent 18 months shopping online and at stores around the country, and talking with cancer support groups such as Gilda’s Club as well as oncologists and oncology nurses. Eventually they selected more than 200 products to help women with post-op necessities and niceties, insisting that everything they chose had to be both functional and fashionable. Great-looking lingerie, mastectomy swimwear, wigs, post-op apparel and sleepwear are featured on the site along with hard-to-find items such as lymphedema sleeves and mastectomy bras with pockets for drainage tubes. Many of the items can be converted for traditional use after recovery.
"The whole goal was to buy things we would want even if we weren’t sick," says Ms. Kander. "There are lots of sites that sell cancer-related products that are either very medical-looking or scream cancer, like a T-shirt that says ‘Bald is beautiful.’ That may be some women’s choice, but for us it wasn’t. We wanted to get through this process looking as good as we could."
Educating women on what they will need during their illness is an important part of the website, and the friends drew from their own experience as well as others’ in writing a style guide called "What the Doctor Didn’t Order."
"Most women don’t know what they need to deal with the day-to-day reality of a cancer diagnosis and the side-effects of treatment," says Ms. Lurie. "When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re thrown into a free-fall. You have a very short time to deal with all the medical decisions and family planning you need to get done.
"Our goal is to walk women through the side-effects of treatment and recovery and offer fashion solutions. We want women to get on the website and say, ‘Wow, these women really get it.’ When we say glam we aren’t saying women have to get out of bed, dress to the nines and look well-turned out. But when you can, it’s nice to have the opportunity to add some style to make you feel better."
The prototype for Cancerbeglammed.com was created nearly a year ago, with a soft launch to get customer feedback on how to make it better, easier and more user-friendly. It was important to the women that the website have the right tone. For example, "breast form" is used instead of prosthetic, which Ms. Lurie calls "one of the most chilling words in the English language." A shopping list was drawn up to guide customers through each step of cancer treatment, along with tips for first-time wig wearers and other solid advice.
The website is also designed so customers can shop from their beds for "niceties," such as herbal teas to combat nausea and an electric kettle that can be used bedside. Cancerbeglammed.com even sells the Kindle so customers whose eyesight is affected by chemo can have access to enlarged type.
"We carry products for all types of cancer, and for people who have other types of chronic and serious illness as well," says Ms. Kander.
"For example, we have a limited mobility bra with Velcro front-closure that could be for any type of surgery or for someone with arthritis."
Five percent of the revenue from Cancerbeglammed.com is being donated to cancer support groups, and a blog on the site encourages women to participate in online support.