PITTSBURGH – When Lisa Lurie endured chemotherapy, a double mastectomy without reconstruction, the removal of lymph nodes in her arms, and the removal of her ovaries to fight breast cancer at age 47, she struggled with the lifestyle components of her treatment.
Oversized t-shirts were the common chemo wear to allow access to the port. Drains used after surgery were simply (and inconveniently) attached to shirts. Nobody gave instructions on the best scarf sizes to dress up chemo-induced hair loss. And there were no “easy clothes” to aid those whose lymph node removal operations made it difficult to raise their arms.
“Like many women, I had an excellent medical team and care, but no one who could really help me deal with the physical changes from disfigurement or hair loss,” she said. “When I recovered, I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.'”
It was a feeling she shared with her longtime friend and Squirrel Hill roommate, Ellen Weiss Kander. In 2009, they invented Cancer Be Glammed, an online information platform for women who have survived any type of cancer. The idea took off on a grand scale this summer when the information site added two new components: the Life + Style boutique – full of life necessities for cancer and survivors, many of which were created by survivors – and the Gift Her Collection, which is a curated gift idea for and by women who survive cancer.
It all goes back to Lurie and Kander thinking about their kitchen tables. They focused on what it meant to “survive” the disease – a concept that received little attention at the time and which for many women included entrepreneurship.
But the company took a hiatus in 2011 when Kander got cancer and died.
“It was tempting to fold my tent and go home,” said Lurie. “But I knew this was such an underserved area: recreation for women. We got such good feedback. It’s like we hit a nerve. “
In 2015, the Cancer Be Glammed website started in earnest, presenting information that many women fighting cancer had to learn on their own beforehand: how to dress for breast or breast surgery, what to do after hair loss, how to practical dressing feels stylish for treatment and more.
To further refine the website’s purpose, Lurie conducted a survey with cancer clothing company Wrapped in Love in 2019. The 876 women responding identified unmet needs such as fashionable solutions to hair loss, beautiful bras for women who have undergone mastectomy and lumpectomy, treatment clothing for chemotherapy, and a few other categories.
Combined with Lurie’s knowledge of cancer survivor-owned companies eager to develop such products, the two new components of Cancer Be Glammed were born.
The information platform side of the site has also evolved. Survivors share intimate details of their treatment and recovery, including the “why” behind their decisions. Bloggers and contributors provide advice and guidance. And there’s a written tribute to Kander, but that’s not the only way it’s honored.
After her death, her son Ben, a Pittsburgh native, founded the Welly Water Bottle Company, whose name is a mixture of “Elly”, his mother’s nickname, and (water) “fountain” for clean water projects around the world.
The sale of Welly bottles in the boutique also highlights the need for adequate hydration during cancer treatment. Like all other products in the Life + Style and Gift Her collections, they are stylish with breast cancer-approving delicate pink and lemon slice motifs.
This attention to detail was deemed necessary in the survey results.
“82 percent said assistance with lifestyle and appearance issues was essential to their recovery, and I think that was all,” she said. “It’s not a ‘nice to have’. It is not ‘being vain’. It’s really about being able to learn again, to live in your own skin and to regain your self-esteem. “
More information: www.cancerbeglammed.com.
Lisa Lurie, a cancer survivor and founder of Cancer Be Glammed, poses for a portrait at our clubhouse in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on June 1, 2018.