Breast Cancer Survivors Create Fashionable Lymphedema Sleeves

11-Nov-2006 4:55 PM EST

Drexel University

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    From lymphedema to LympheDIVA: three friends and young breast cancer survivors create fashionable lymphedema sleeves.

Newswise — An estimated 213,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, according to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Facts and Figures 2006. Of these, as many as 40 percent will develop lymphedema as a side effect of treatment.

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes excess fluid, called lymph, to collect in tissue and produce swelling. In breast cancer survivors, the swelling can occur in the arm, hand, or trunk region because the lymphatic system has been compromised by surgery or radiation. It is an unattractive and sometimes painful reminder of the breast cancer experience, and it never goes away. Some women say that lymphedema is a more devastating diagnosis than breast cancer itself.

To address these concerns, three friends have made it their mission to help breast cancer survivors manage their lymphedema in a fashionable way, and inspire them to feel attractive, strong, and confident.

Robin Miller, 23, and Rachel Levin, 36, are young breast cancer survivors who developed lymphedema shortly after the end of their cancer treatment. When they learned that lymphedema required them to wear an uncomfortable, orthopedic-looking, plain beige compression sleeve and a gauntlet or glove every waking hour, they took action. While waiting in the doctor's office, they decided that there had to be a better solution for the look and feel of the sleeves that they would have to wear. Robin, a Drexel University graduate, approached Kristin Dudley, a Drexel fashion design graduate, with the idea of creating fashionable compression garments that would bring together form and function. LympheDIVAs was born.

"The look and style of the sleeve has remained the same for more than 30 years," said Levin. "There's absolutely no reason why it can't look stylish and still be an effective medical device."

LympheDIVAs is an entrepreneurial start-up company that creates fashion-forward, high-quality, medically correct compression apparel for breast cancer survivors living with or at high risk for lymphedema. LympheDIVAs products are described as "medically correct fashion." The armsleeves and gauntlets are made of high-tech fibers in fashionable colors and designs, and are designed to be worn with sportswear, eveningwear, and other apparel.

After weeks of research and meetings, an exhausted Kristin accidentally referred to the condition as "lymphediva," a slip of the tongue that gave the group its name, its inspiration, and its attitude. A LympheDIVA is "an admired, glamorous or distinguished woman managing her lymphedema with poise and style," according to the company.

The three women are working full time on launching a successful line of armsleeves and gauntlets. Dudley also designs clothes for, and Levin produces documentaries through her business StoryDisc.

LympheDIVAs is introducing its first five styles. The sleeves come in black, pink, blue, gold shimmer and silver shimmer. They are made of 360-degree-stretch fibers, moisture-wicking technology, and Lycra® Body Care moisturizing unscented aloe vera. The sleeves will be introduced at the LympheDIVAs booth at the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure in Baltimore on Oct. 21 with presales available on the company web site Products will also be available, starting in December, in various breast care specialty boutiques.

"We believe this will also help improve the management of lymphedema because women will actually want to wear these sleeves," said Dudley. "Fashion makes a woman feel beautiful. Our products are spirit-lifters."

Women suffering from post-breast cancer lymphedema can provide feedback on what they would like to see in the new line of compression apparel at the LympheDIVAs web site. A portion of the proceeds from their products benefits breast cancer and lymphedema research.

LympheDIVAS took third place in Drexel's Baiada Business Plan Competition and received a total of $8,000 in cash to start the company. Currently housed in the Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship in Technology, LymheDIVAs is using professional marketing resources to get the new products on the market. "Our ultimate goal is to increase awareness about the condition," said Miller. "Early intervention can help prevent the condition from getting worse." The Laurence A. Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship in Technology consolidates Drexel's student entrepreneurial offerings under one roof. The Center provides an innovative and unique approach to entrepreneurial development, offering interdisciplinary academic instruction, real-world resources and a physical environment for accelerated business creation.

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