Lisa Lurie was a 47-year-old video producer, writer, and mother of two girls in 2007 when she received a life-changing phone call from her doctor. She had breast cancer and would need a double mastectomy.
“Two weeks later, I was on the operating table,” Lurie said. Chemotherapy began a month later. “Within a matter of weeks, I was bald, breast-less, and bloated from steroids.” She could barely recognize herself in the mirror. “It was soul destroying.”
The diagnosis and treatment thrust her family into crisis mode. Decisions had to be made about surgery, treatment, insurance, and how to take care of the family. What she didn’t have time or energy for was locating specialized clothing.
“I was in so much pain after my surgery. I couldn’t use my arms, and I kept thinking I wish there was a product that was soft, like some sort of vest you could wear.”
Lurie turned to her good friend Ellen Weiss Kander for help. “She knew how emotionally devastated I was trying to deal with the visible side effects of cancer.” Together, they went in search of products.
They hit a wall. It wasn’t until after her recovery that Lurie discovered the Heal In Comfort shirt online. It was super soft, had four internal pockets to conceal surgical drains, and had Velcro-like fasteners to make it easier to get dressed. The discovery was late, but it sparked an idea.
Lurie asked Kander to help her launch a new company. “I sat down with Ellen and I said, I want you to help me do this. I want to help other women have a better recovery experience than I had. I think we need to start finding products and lifestyles solutions for women to have a fashionable, informed recovery experience. And she said, 'I'm with you.'"
Cancer Be Glammed launched in 2009. It’s a lifestyle company dedicated to helping women facing all forms of cancer—not just breast cancer—recover with dignity, self-esteem, and personal style. “We are the people who say cancer is devastating and can really tear you apart and strip you raw, and we're going to help you put the physical, appearance-related pieces of yourself back together,” Lurie said.
The company’s website doesn’t actually sell products but serves as a portal to companies that do. “We don't sell anything on Cancer Be Glammed for a reason,” Lurie said. “We want to always have the flexibility to have access to the most current and best products and fashion solutions for the women that are our targeted audience.” Instead, the website has hyperlinks to companies such as Annie & Isabelle, Dear Johnnies, and Gownies that sell designer hospital gowns and robes. A variety of companies, including Heal In Comfort, sell clothing that camouflage medical drains. Chemo Beanies®, Headcovers® Unlimited, and Lindi Skin® sell products to manage chemotherapy-induced hair loss and skin issues.
I felt that women in the cancer world were underserved.
Radiant Wrap sells a garment with easy access to the chest and back for breast cancer radiation. “You don't have to wear a depressing hospital gown,” Lurie said. “That may sound like a small thing, but when you're going through radiation day after day after day for weeks, there's something to be said for that.”
Lurie herself developed lymphedema, or swelling, in her arm after lymph node surgery. “I have to wear a compression bandage on my arm and hand called a lymphedema sleeve and gauntlet. The ones they gave me looked like ACE™ bandages. It's embarrassing. You're dressed up to go out on a nice night, and my arm is swollen, and people are like, what happened to your hand? What's wrong with your arm?” LympheDIVAS is now a sponsor on her website. The company has taken the concept of an ugly compression bandage and turned it into a wildly colorful and fashionable sleeve. “You're still calling attention to yourself, but at least it's beautiful, and you can tell your story in a positive way, as opposed to somebody looking at you and feeling sorry for you. It's hip looking. They have ones now that look like your arm was tattooed. I mean, I think that's genius.”
Cancer Be Glammed also helps women deal with ostomy surgery, an operation to create an opening in the abdomen for body wastes to pass through. “One of the most difficult things to go through is an ostomy,” Lurie said. “You talk about something that is really life changing and that can impact your body image and personal relationships.” Recovery products on the website include clothing, pouch covers, wraps for intimacy, and swimwear.
Sometimes, another unfortunate result of cancer treatment is to prematurely hit menopause. “When you're thrown into menopause, the symptoms are even worse than if you go into them naturally,” Lurie said. “It was miserable. Hot, cold, hot, cold, hot, cold!” The Cancer Be Glammed website recommends sleepwear and accessories to help women deal with hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms.
Cancer Be Glammed also has a gift marketplace. “So many people kept asking us, I have a friend who has cancer, or a friend who was just diagnosed, can you please recommend a gift? So we did tons of polls among the women we knew, and they gave us lists of some of the best gifts.” Now the website recommends things like bed loungers, bed trays, tea, knit wraps, and cozy throws.
Since Cancer Be Glammed doesn’t actually sell products, it had to find other ways to make revenue. In the beginning, that was through affiliate marketing of products and independent contracts with vendors. That business strategy allowed the company to establish itself in the cancer recovery market. In 2015, Cancer Be Glammed moved to phase two of its business plan. It is now pursuing content sponsors and advertisers for its website and its video platform, CBG-TV. Sponsors include Radiant Wrap, LympheDIVAs, and AnaOno Intimates. The company has also produced a book, “Cancer Be Glammed: Recover in Style.” Designed like a style magazine and featuring cancer survivors as models, the recovery guide helps prepare women for the appearance-related side effects of surgery and treatment. It is intended to be a support tool for nurse oncologists to empower their patients to engage in their own recovery. The plan is to partner with healthcare, pharmaceutical, and consumer companies to purchase, publish, and help distribute it or to sell it directly to hospitals, cancer centers, and support groups.
In the 8 years since Lurie co-founded Cancer Be Glammed, she has faced especially tough personal and professional challenges. In 2012, Ellen Weiss Kander—her dear friend and co-founder—passed away from liver cancer. She was not even sick when the two women launched Cancer Be Glammed. “It was absolutely out of the blue and very devastating,” Lurie said.
Lurie struggled with whether to remain in business. But two things kept her going. First of all, she and her friend were role models for their daughters. “Ellen was never a quitter. I felt like we must carry on.” Also, Lurie didn’t want to abandon all the women who wanted her help. “So sometimes I would cry, and then I’d wipe my eyes and flip open my laptop and get back to work.”
Lurie is fond of saying that she and Kander started Cancer Be Glammed “with two computers and an idea.” She continues to acknowledge the important role that technology plays in running the company.
When it comes to running the website, search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial. “Having my key performance indicators that allow me to know which products and content is really the most important allows me to be relevant, dynamic, and current. It lets me know constantly what women need and want.” SEO metrics tell Lurie, for example, that her readers are most interested in 1) custom hospital gowns and robes and 2) medical drain management.
Social media has helped her form partnerships with other cancer survivor entrepreneurs and get the word out about her business, to network and get recommendations on products.
Video conferencing enables meetings with colleagues around the globe. Lurie’s web designer lives in Germany, so she uses video conferencing to collaborate with him. “You have the flexibility to work all over the world, all hours, with anyone you want to. It is just fantastic.”
Lurie also has video conferences a few times a week with Dafna Yachin, principal of Lunchbox Communications, to review projects. Lunchbox Communications is her creative arm; through it she has rebranded and grown Cancer Be Glammed with a new logo, website, and CBG-TV. It also helped her design, shoot, and lay out "Cancer Be Glammed: Recover in Style.”
"Dafna and I met when we were 22 years old doing broadcast TV," Lurie said. "She knew after Ellen's death that I was struggling. She believed in the mission of the company and was determined to help me get back on my feet. She became my go-to person in Ellen's absence and she still is."
Lurie has used her videography skills, honed as a writer and video producer working for Alcoa in Pittsburgh, to create CBG-TV, the dedicated YouTube channel that focuses on helping women recover in style. Recent videos show how to deal with hair loss and tie headscarves. Lurie also interviews Dana Donofree, the founder of AnaOno Intimates, a company specializing in reconstruction lingerie. CBG-TV, which currently has several sponsors, provides another form of revenue for the company.
This year has been a huge milestone for Lurie. She recently celebrated 10 years cancer free. From a practical standpoint, her business plan spells out where she hopes to be in another 5 or 10 years: expanding the multimedia platform to include products for men and children, growing the brand through licensing, and developing patient engagement tools and programs for the oncology healthcare community.
Still, with continuing scientific research, the next 10 years could bring something even more stellar.
“I want to be out of business. I want cancer to be cured. I don’t want anyone to have to worry about these things. I’d be ecstatic.”
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After getting diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Lisa Lurie was inspired to help others going through recovery. She launched Cancer Be Glammed in 2009, connecting cancer patients to fashionable products.
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