Necessity: The Mother of Invention By: Lisa F. Crites
With my lab report in hand, I searched the halls for a familiar face. As the hospital’s corporate media strategist, I knew most of the doctors, so when I saw Dr. David Williams, I asked him; “what does this mean?” He took the report, glanced at it quickly and said, “it says DCIS. Lisa, you have breast cancer.”
He handed the paper back to me as I turned away. That cannot be, I thought. I am young. I am healthy and I have no family history of breast cancer. I headed to the emergency department for a second opinion. There, I found Dr. Sumant Pandya, the pathologist who had prepared the report based on my biopsy. “Dr. Pandya, what does this mean?” “It says you have breast cancer, Lisa.”
It has taken me years to understand my initial reaction to those words. I really was not sad, angry, or scared. What most was utterly alone. I had faced adversities in my life, but my mother had always been there, as my best friend, confidant, advisor, cheerleader, and unstinting supporter. Now, she was gone, killed instantly in a tragic car accident in 2001. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure as I stood there staring at that piece of paper, but once I did, I quietly asked myself; “what’s next?”
I knew I did not want chemotherapy, or any “medicinal poison,” running through my veins. I have spent my entire life being healthy, exercising, eating right and constantly monitoring what I put into my body, so that was never an option for me.
My oncologist gave me two choices. I could undergo a lumpectomy with six weeks of chemotherapy/radiation and Tamoxifen for another five years, or a mastectomy, with no chemotherapy, radiation, or ongoing medication. I chose the second option. In all honesty, I am far more emotionally connected to my hair than that of my breasts. If I had to lose one or the other, the breasts had to go.
The hospital scheduled my mastectomy early in June 2009. I remember lying in bed before the surgery, missing my mom.
I awoke that evening after eight hours of surgery in severe pain.
The following day I was directed to get out of bed and walk. That is when I first realized I had four bulky surgical drains sutured into my armpits which extended down to my knees, making walking tough. And, showering, the doctor said, was out of the question for at least two-to-three weeks to prevent a surgical-site infection. “You need to protect the drain sites,” he said. “What comes out of the faucet (tap water) is not sterile.”
My reaction bordered on disbelief. “I’ve just had my breasts cut off, I have dried blood on my chest, my hair is matted, I smell like a hospital and you’re telling me I can’t even shower?”
Upon discharge, I began looking online for a water-resistant garment. Nothing existed. Women had been undergoing mastectomies in this country for 70 years, yet no water-resistant product was out there to protect me while showering. It was hard to believe. My solution? Sliding a plastic trash bag up over my body and tying the drawstring at the neck to keep the water out.
Showering in a Trash Bag
This frustrating and degrading experience led me to speak with dozens of other breast cancer patients who had undergone mastectomies. Every one of them said, “I used a trash bag, too,” or [email protected] wrap, in the shower. But nothing seemed to work — their drains got wet anyway.
That is when I began hearing a nagging voice in my head telling me I should create my own water-resistant product. That sounded odd, and I tried to ignore it, but as time passed, that voice became a calming, directional force in my life, and I would argue with it. “Are you crazy?” is how these conversations always began. “I have just had surgery and there are drain tubes coming out of my body. How can I create such a product for other surgery patients at this time?”
What convinced me to listen to my inner voice was the idea that if mastectomy patients could shower with ease and dignity, they would feel better physically, psychologically, and emotionally — something gravely needed during the healing process.
Before I could even start this new endeavor, however, back I went to the hospital, this time with a life-threatening infection and hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Unfortunately, one of the tissue expanders inserted in my body became infected. This necessitated removal and another debilitating surgery.
Undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments
During the few hours I was alert, trying to heal, each day, I began focusing on my creation. I had an extremely basic idea for the design. I also knew the chest area needed to be designed with sensitivity to the drain regions. But I needed help with my vision, so I reached out to my brother, an engineer, to help me design the architectural schematic, and to my aunt and cousin to help create the first prototype.
Although the idea behind my invention was good, would the product keep me dry? I stepped into the shower with our first prototype. It worked surprisingly well.
Once the design took shape, I needed a manufacturer! This time, I reached out to a friend who had experience importing goods, and he secured a manufacturer.
The SHOWER SHIRT® Design
With an extremely busy and traumatic year behind me, I began reflecting. The year had been disheartening in many ways, but one in which I experienced both personal and spiritual growth. Psychologically, I had changed, even though I could not necessarily explain those changes. After eight years of grieving for my mom, I had finally come to terms with her unexpected death. For the first time, I felt content. I was alive and healthy without that sad, underlying depression accompanying everything which had transpired over the last several years. More importantly, I looked forward to building The SHOWER SHIRT CO. — my company’s name — to help other women after mastectomy surgery. By being inspired to try to help others, I no longer had the mental capacity to focus on everything I had lost, including my breasts, but what I might just gain.
Exactly nine months after the initial infection, the surgeons went back in to surgically rebuild the problematic left breast; my fourth operation. This led to yet another infection, Vancomycin treatment via a “PICC” line, and four months of hyperbaric therapy.
Along with my daily hyperbaric treatments, I created The SHOWER SHIRT Co., LLC; attained a trademark; started creating marketing materials; submitted a provisional patent application for the product; and took steps to attain Medicare coverage, while redesigning the multiple prototypes.
As I anticipated finalizing the product, questions, such as “Am I wasting my time?” and “Is this entire project useless,” continued to arise, racing through my mind. In the end, the humiliation of showering in a trash bag did not really matter to me. What mattered was what other women thought. As my patent attorney kept reminding me, the most important question was: Does this product have marketability?
After five variations, our final Shower Shirt design was ready for the mastectomy garment market. I really hoped to be ambivalent about this product, given all the stress, financial constraints, surgical drains, tears, and infections that went into creating it. But, instead of viewing it as a huge battle scar, I loved this inanimate garment. In truth, having never had children, it became my child. I needed to introduce it as my own, with every bit of love that a mother has for her creation.
Nearing my fifth and final surgery, and with the Shower Shirt prototype now completed, I realized another unknown journey loomed before me. Bringing this product to market was going to change my life, my focus, and my career, for better or for worse.
I continued to reflect. I learned so much, lessons I never really wanted to learn, but nevertheless, experiences which became more valuable to me as time went on. I remember the smell of the hyperbaric chamber, phantom breast pains and the caring voice of my husband asking if I felt “sad” or “happy” on any given day. I can still remember the anxiety before every surgery.
For those times I became fearful and overwhelmed, I would create many reasons not to move forward. My inner voice would say, “Lisa, just keep doing what you’re doing,” to which I would respond, “But I don’t know what I’m doing.” The voice persisted — telling me to “just keep doing what you’re doing.” Somehow, it helped me reengage and think about what I might attain by bringing this project to fruition.
I know now I survived by throwing myself into my cathartic Shower Shirt world. I missed my previous life, of course, the freedom which came with being healthy, and, as always, I missed my mother, every day. I continued to lean on my simple faith and spiritual beliefs. My faith became a form of “blind faith,” as I had to believe all would be OK. In retrospect, I absolutely have come to believe blind faith placed me in a vehicle to create the Shower Shirt, but it was a power much higher than me who drove this long, complicated process. Even though the Shower Shirt was my child, it was not created for me. It was created for friends, family members and hundreds of thousands of future breast cancer patients. With that mission firmly in mind, I kept moving forward.
The day arrived for my fifth and final surgery. This last procedure involved replacing the expander in my left breast with a permanent implant. The procedure moved quickly, and recovery was uneventful. YES, I could now look in the mirror and see two breasts, albeit a scarred and no-nipple pair.
It was October 2010. My extended medical adventures, or misadventures, thankfully, now lay behind me. And the product order was ready for shipment from the manufacturer, just in time for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A week or so before receiving the first shipment, I met with a hospital based home medical equipment company. To my surprise, this group ordered five hundred units. Within 48 hours, I also received a call from the American Cancer Society’s catalog department, “Tender Loving Care,” wanting also to offer The Shower Shirt®. In addition, a Lifetime TV producer requested I be a guest on their nationally syndicated morning show, “The Balancing Act,” to highlight National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Next thing you know, Wal-Mart added The Shower Shirt® to their product line through the company’s medical device division at Walmart.com. Amazing.
Where are we now? We are in more than 70 retail mastectomy boutiques across the United States, with inventory being sold in multiple countries internationally, as well. Of course, we are on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and even Pink Lotus Elements. Now considered a Class I Medical Device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The Shower Shirt® also carries an official United States patent.
Despite significant effort, including the introduction of ‘Post Mastectomy Infection Reduction Act,’ sponsored by Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) and Congressman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), we have been unable to secure Medicare coverage for breast cancer patients. Somehow The SHOWER SHIRT® is viewed as a mere “convenience” item for mastectomy patients and not reimbursed for breast cancer patients, despite decreasing the chance of infection and contributing to wellbeing after surgery.
Women deserve to be given their personal dignity when confronting so painful a loss. It is no more than my own mother would expect, nor should it be more than your mother – or sister
or daughter — would expect as well. It is not until all mastectomy patients, and other patients who need chest protection while showering, are at least aware of the The SHOWER SHIRT® product will I feel my goals have been met, and my fight with cancer, and my efforts to help similar women recover, will not have been in vain.
The SHOWER SHIRT® Patented/Inventor, Lisa Crites, fits a Breast Cancer patient with her product.
BIO: Lisa F. Crites is the award-winning inventor of The SHOWER SHIRT®, having won a 2015 InnovateHER series, sponsored by the SBA, Washington Post, and Microsoft. Lisa also received a 2015 Patient Innovation award from the University of Portugal, School of Business & Economics, and presented at the World Government Summit – Edge of Government exhibit in the United Arab Emirates. Lisa has been featured in FORBES Magazine, the Huffington Post and Readers Digest; FOX News, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Lifetime TV’s, ‘The Balancing Act.
A Health/Medical broadcast journalist, print columnist, corporate healthcare consultant, media strategist, guest speaker and obvious entrepreneur, Lisa has more than 30 years of experience in the field of health/medical journalism, corporate communications, news issue management and media relations.
Lisa’s philanthropic work includes being a board member on four philanthropic boards. She earned her Bachelor of Science (BS) in Journalism from Murray State University, Murray Ky; Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Corporate Communications, and Master of Science (MS) in Digital Marketing and eCommerce, from the University of Barcelona, European School of Business, (ENEB) Barcelona, Spain.
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