Lisa Lurie’s breast cancer in 2007 left her bald and bloated from steroids, and without breasts or ovaries. While her medical team had removed her cancer, she didn’t know how to remove the body and self-esteem issues left in its place.
“It really impacts you,” Lurie says. “I used to say that I was a cancer-created Humpty Dumpty. That’s how I felt, that I didn’t know how to put myself back together again.”
Aided by friend Ellen Weiss Kander — one of the only people Lurie says saw how much she struggled — Lurie set out to find products that would help her improve her self-image.
“She [Weiss Kander] was just such a positive force,” Lurie says. “She said, ‘C’mon, there’s got to be things to make you look and feel better.’”
While Weiss Kander looked in stores, Lurie scoured the internet, where she found a surgical postoperative recovery shirt created by a cancer survivor.
“I said, ‘I needed this six months ago and couldn’t find it,’” Lurie says. “And that was the spark of the idea. I called Ellen and said, ‘We could do this for people.’”
In 2009, the two founded Cancer Be Glammed, a company that educates and empowers women, helping them to recover from cancer with dignity, self-esteem and personal style.
Catering to women just diagnosed with cancer to those in recovery, Cancer Be Glammed’s website has a list of places where visitors can get information about every form of cancer and a blog with personal stories and advice, plus a guidebook filled with practical yet fashionable lifestyle products.
This summer, the company pushed its mission one step further, creating the Life & Style Recovery Boutique, an online market where women can purchase a variety of cancer recovery products.
Lurie says the boutique is the result of a survey Cancer Be Glammed created with Wrapped in Love, a cancer survivor-inspired clothing company, to understand the lifestyle needs of women with cancer. Of the 876 women who responded, 82% said support for appearance-related challenges and lifestyle issues was essential to their recovery.
“They told us what their top products were, the type of information they needed and wanted and where they wanted to get it,” Lurie says.
The Cancer Be Glammed Life & Style Recovery Boutique today partners with 15 cancer survivor-created companies and serves as a hub for products that range from fashionable clothing with chemotherapy ports and stylish mastectomy bras to feel-good socks and cozy blankets.
“We vetted all of them. We have relationships with all of these companies,” Lurie says. “We didn’t just want to be a reseller, we want to partner with them to improve the overall experience for women, and they’re very dedicated to that as well.”
With photos of cancer survivors confidently modeling bright clothes, the Life & Style Recovery Boutique looks less like a cancer statement, and more like a fashion statement.
“We [Lurie and Weiss Kander] used to always say we believe that looking better on the outside helps you feel better on the inside,” Lurie says.
Lurie and Weiss Kander, who both grew up in Squirrel Hill, knew each other at Allderdice High School. Years later, when their daughters attended kindergarten together and became best friends, the two reconnected.
Weiss Kander, while not a cancer survivor, knew the havoc chemotherapy wreaks on the body, having received it while undergoing treatment for a rare blood disorder.
In addition to a need for the company — more than 8 million women living in the United States are either cancer survivors or undergoing treatment — the two thought about the message it would send to their children.
“It also was important to show our children, particularly our daughters, that you can go through terrible things, dust yourself off, and get on with your life,” Lurie says.
Then a terrible thing happened.
Two years after starting Cancer Be Glammed, Weiss Kander became sick with liver cancer. She struggled with the disease for about a year and died in the summer of 2012.
It was devastating,” Lurie says. “Absolutely, flat out devastating…I just couldn’t function.”
Lurie took her grief and channeled it into Cancer Be Glammed, creating the cancer fashion recovery guide that can be purchased on the website.
“I decided I had to continue [Cancer Be Glammed] as difficult as it was, because I just felt like it was important to continue what we started together but even more so there was a great need for it,” she says.
Lurie says business at the Life & Style Recovery Boutique has been successful. The website, which had about 1,500 views per month when it started in 2015, now receives more than 10,000 hits.
Had Weiss Kander survived cancer, Lurie believes she would be thrilled their original vision for Cancer Be Glammed had expanded by offering support to other organizations in the cancer community.
Plus, one other thing.
“She was the glam in Cancer Be Glammed. She was a beautiful person inside and out, and I’m like a pajama-wearing, sweat pants-wearing, T-shirt kind of girl,” Lurie says. “I think she’d say I’ve stepped up my act, and I think she’d say ‘It’s good to see you having hair and makeup.’”