A Warm Embrace: Supporting women after breast cancer
(05/02/17) - Women diagnosed with breast cancer expect to fight, to have their hair fall out - and maybe even lose their breasts, but long after the medical issues, there can be personal challenges.
It's something Jodie Faber of Greenville learned after beating cancer.
Her story begins in 2003 when her brother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a result, she underwent genetic testing in 2004 and learned she did carry a breast cancer gene.
Then in 2005, Jodie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"Your life changes the day you hear that C word," Faber said.
Doctors caught her breast cancer early because of the genetic testing. Her oncologist gave her the option to have both breasts removed.
"It was pretty much a no-brainer. When you have a brother who has breast cancer, your odds aren't really good," Faber said.
Her double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery were done in the same procedure. Life returned to normal - for the most part.
"Every time you take your clothes off, you have a constant reminder of it," Faber said.
Faber now has breast implants.
A swim in East Bay in Traverse City on a warm summer day revealed a chilling side effect of the implants.
"First of all, they were bright red, they looked awful and I was freezing and couldn't warm up," Faber said. "Removes the blood supply to your breasts, so you no longer have the ability to generate the heat."
Her entire core was cold. She had to take a warm shower to feel comfortable again.
Faber's plastic surgeon told her hand warmers inside a bra were the best available option. She tried them and got burned. Not seriously, but it hurt.
"It was bad enough that it made it red for several, several weeks," Faber said.
"Why is no one talking about this? Why is no one trying to help these women if this really is a problem," said Emily Austin, a senior at Central Michigan University studying entrepreneurship.
Faber's employer, Spectrum Health, offers a program called "Innovations".
Faber presented her problem to them, and in turn, they connected Faber with three CMU students - Austin, Haley Rusicka and August Overy.
Like Austin, Rusicka studies entrepreneurship, while Overy is focused on fashion merchandising and design. Together, they were challenged to help solve Faber's problem, potentially helping other women, too.
They designed a three-layered thermal bra that would be soft in sensitive areas.
"Make it warm, to make it comfortable, and make it beautiful," Austin said.
They thought about using battery power in the bras, but didn't want them to feel like a medical device.
"These women have already gone through enough and don't want to be singled out among other women and among the world, about having to go to a special place to get something that everyone wears every day," Rusicka said.
Each bra was hand sewn by Overy. She made several before coming up with the final two prototypes. One is floral, the other is black and pink.
Meantime, Rusicka and Austin focused on building the business and marketing the "Embrace" bras.
There is a deep meaning behind the Embrace name.
"These bras will embrace you, but also for you to embrace yourself," Austin said.
A one-of-a-kind mannequin at CMU put the Embrace bras to the test. "Norm" the mannequin has 46 zones that can test several variables, including temperature.
He was critical to determining if the Embrace bras functioned well.
"With our bra, the temperature only dropped about six degrees, compared to around 10 to 12 degrees," Overy said.
Recently, they asked Faber to be the first to join in the wear trial.
"I was a little skeptical about it and they said, 'Just wear it'," Faber said.
Faber felt the embrace. She said the bra did keep her warmer than her current bras.
"It's such a relief to think there's, there could be something out there, for not just me," Faber said.
Other survivors are trying them out too, which could lead to more prototypes, as Austin, Overy and Rusicka move closer to fulfilling their dream of making and selling the bras on a large scale.
"I think it'd be great to be able to have it as a nationwide brand where women everywhere can go into a regular bra store and be able to pick it up," Overy said.
The bras are not available for sale at this point. In October, the students plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of moving closer to manufacturing and selling the bras.
You can follow their progress by checking out their Facebook page. We've posted a link in the 'Related Links' section of this story.