By Lisa F. Crites
Call it clairvoyance or pure coincidence, but from the age of 15, I was confident I would face at least two extreme traumas in my life; my mother would die tragically and I, at some point, would be diagnosed with breast cancer. During my teen years, sometimes I would wake up in hysterics that my mom perished in a car crash, only until I realized it was a dream. In my early 30s, and two weeks after getting married, I did lose my mother in a car accident. She was ejected from her vehicle and pronounced dead on scene. Though I always felt this would happen, one can never prepare for such a traumatic incident. I had no control over the accident, her death, or my emotions from the loss. I was obviously in shock and exponentially sank into a severe depression.
A decade later, and nearly two weeks before my 42nd birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My first thought was, "I knew this would happen," my second thought, "I cannot undergo chemo," (another forethought I had pondered often due to three decades of believing I would eventually be served this diagnosis). I again had no control over the situation, but I was at least able to approach the diagnosis rationally. I knew I had full control over all decisions related to my breast cancer treatment.
To avoid chemotherapy and radiation, I quickly opted for a bilateral mastectomy. My surgeon mentioned that after surgery I would endure post-surgical drains for three weeks. The drains were quite cumbersome; four drains, three feet in length extending down to my knees. He also stated I would be unable to shower due to the risk of water-borne infections. Though "not showering" was obviously concerning, I assumed I could easily purchase a water-resistant garment for protection. After discharge from the hospital, I searched online for a protective garment, to no avail. I subsequently reached out to friends who had also undergone mastectomy surgery, with the same familiar and repeated responses; "nothing exists; try using a plastic trash bag!"
I kept thinking, women have been going through mastectomies for 75 years, why is there not a product to protect me? More than 300,000 women are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and half undergo mastectomies. Why am I reduced to showering in a plastic trash bag?
After several trash bag showering sessions, I was rather annoyed. I turned to my brother, an architect, to design a protective shower garment. My aunt and cousin developed the first prototype based on my brother's drawing.
During the next year, while working on multiple prototypes, I found myself in and out of the hospital battling infections, seven surgeries, and four months of hyperbaric oxygen treatments. My surgeon would continually say "you can't get these drains wet," and I would smile and think, "I've just received another prototype to test." Though I knew nothing about creating a product for the mastectomy marketplace, my sole focus was to keep women from showering in trash bags after breast amputation.
The SHOWER SHIRT® was introduced to the market 18 months after my diagnosis. Four years later, the patented product is shipped to breast cancer patients across the U.S. and to Canada; England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Japan and Israel, with Walmart.com, AMAZON, and CureDiva as continued buyers. In addition, dialysis, ostomy, cardiothoracic and even tummy-tuck patients use our product for protective purposes.
To make the product more readily available, we are fighting for Medicare coverage via the 'Post-Mastectomy Infection Reduction Act' sponsored by Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).We are frustrated that Medicare does reimburse for "shower coverings" for the End Stage Renal Disease population (patients on dialysis treatment) but have continually refused to do so for the breast cancer/mastectomy population. So, it's safe to say, this initiative to attain Medicare coverage to support "shower coverings" for breast cancer patients will take an act of Congress.
This is what I know: By developing The SHOWER SHIRT, I've not only helped others, I've helped myself. This project helped me take control over a situation which was out of my control. Interestingly enough, the most pragmatic education in my life didn't start until I chose to assume both a personal and financial liability to design and manufacture this protective garment for future breast cancer surgery patients.
This mission has given me a peace of mind I haven't had since my late 20s; years before my fears and nightmares became reality. This project is extremely personal, and why it's so extremely special. If patients who need The SHOWER SHIRT believe what I've created is good, then it must be good, and something I believe would make my mother extremely happy.