Online boutique aimed at cancer survivor needs

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 common chemo-wear to allow for port access. Drains used after surgery were simply (and inconveniently) pinned to shirts. No one gave instructions about the best scarf sizes to make chemo-induced hair loss chic. And there was no such thing as “easy dressing clothes” to assist those whose lymph node removal surgeries made it difficult to raise their arms.

“Like many women, I had an excellent medical team and excellent medical care but no one to really help me cope with the physical changes of body disfigurement or hair loss,” she said. “When I recovered, I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’”

It was a sentiment she shared with longtime friend and fellow Squirrel Hill resident Ellen Weiss Kander. In 2009, they dreamt up Cancer Be Glammed, an online information platform for women surviving any type of cancer. The idea evolved in a big way this summer, as the information site added two new components: the Life + Style boutique — full of cancer and survivorship lifestyle necessities, many of which are created by survivors — and the Gift Her Collection, which is a curated set of gift ideas for and by women surviving cancer.

It all goes back to Lurie and Kander brainstorming over their kitchen tables. They focused on what it meant to “survive” the disease — a concept that received little attention at the time and that for many women, included entrepreneurship.

But the venture took a pause in 2011 when Kander developed cancer and passed away.

“It was tempting to fold up my tent and go home,” Lurie said. “But I knew this is such an underserved area: recovery for women. We had such good feedback. It’s like we hit a nerve.”

In 2015, the Cancer Be Glammed website launched in earnest and presented information that many women fighting cancer were previously left to learn for themselves: How to dress for breast or chest surgery, what to do after hair loss, how to feel stylish while dressing practically for treatment and more.

To further hone the site’s purpose, Lurie conducted a survey in 2019 with cancer clothing company Wrapped in Love. The 876 women who answered identified unmet needs such as fashionable hair loss solutions, beautiful bras meant for women who underwent mastectomies and lumpectomies, treatment clothing for chemo and a few other categories.

Combined with Lurie’s knowledge of cancer survivor-owned companies striving to create such products, Cancer Be Glammed’s two new components came into existence.

The information platform side of the site evolved, too. Survivors tell intimate details of their treatment and recovery, including the “why” behind their decisions. Bloggers and contributors give advice and how-tos. And there’s a written tribute section to Kander, although that isn’t the only way she’s honored.

After she died, her son Ben, a Pittsburgher, founded the Welly water bottle company, whose name is mixture of “Elly,” his mother’s nickname, and (water) “well” for the company’s mission to give a percentage of each bottle sold to clean water projects around the world.

The sale of Welly bottles in the boutique also emphasizes the need for proper hydration during cancer treatment. Like all the other products in the Life + Style and Gift Her Collection, they’re stylish, in breast cancer-acknowledging soft pink and lemon slice motifs.

That attention to detail is something the survey results identified as necessary.

“Eighty-two percent said support for lifestyle issues and appearance issues was essential to their recovery, and I think that said it all,” she said. “It’s not a ‘nice to have.’ It’s not ‘being vain.’ It’s really about being able to learn to live in your skin again and regain your self-esteem.”

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Lisa Lurie, a cancer survivor and founder of Cancer Be Glammed, poses for a portrait at Our Clubhouse on June 1, 2018, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Lurie, a cancer survivor and founder of Cancer Be Glammed, poses for a portrait at Our Clubhouse on June 1, 2018, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

By Abby Mackey

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette