October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Every Wednesday of the month, we will be highlighting the stories of those who have had their lives affected by breast cancer. These are just 5 stories of 5 exceptional people in a sea of millions. About 1 in 8 U.S. women and roughly 1 in 1,000 U.S. men will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of his/her lifetime; this is one of their stories.
Name: Cathy McGrath
After her own battle with Breast Cancer, Cathy’s experienced the hardships of recovery first hand, prompting her to invent a solution for carrying on with life as best as possible following breast cancer surgery.
Alongside her friend and now Program Director, Maureen Cardinal, Cathy invented the Jacki Jacket providing A Little Easier Recovery for woman (and men) after their diagnosis. A Little Easier Recovery is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to make it “A Little Easier” for the next person that must endure cancer treatment and recovery.
In Her Words:
When I was 40 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I woke from my third surgery with multiple post-surgical drains. These are extremely painful and hang from your incision site to collect fluid. The more fluid they collect the heavier and more painful they become. When I asked the nurse how best to manage these she said, ‘go to Home Depot and grab a tool belt. ‘
As I laid there in disbelief, I thought ‘there needs to be a better way’ and if I could figure it out, it could be my giveback. The loss of dignity and control was devastating. I was thinking what would Princess Di or Jackie O wear if they have to endure this post mastectomy trauma. Then I designed a jacket to hold all drains, provide one-handed dressing, reduce pain, and restore dignity and independence. I called it the “Jacki.” It was everything the hospital Johnny was not, incognito, classic style with many unique features.
We tested the Jacki in two top Boston hospitals and received rave reviews. It took off immediately and since the surgeons operate at more than one hospital they were taking them out of our test hospitals and bringing the Jackis to other patients who would clearly benefit. The program ignited to a movement from patient to patient, nurse to nurse, and doctor to doctor.
We know nothing is easy about this cancer diagnosis, hence the name A Little Easier Recovery. We receive hundreds of letters from patients who are so grateful that we have made their lives easier…women who are not only fighting for their lives but their lives back. Women write that they did amazing things wearing the Jacki, like deliver her father’s eulogy just out of surgery, attend a son’s wedding, attend a kindergarten open house, etc, etc.
1% of all breast cancers are men, and they have to do the same treatment as women and everything is pink and it is really hard for them, too. We actually got a call for a guy who was the superintendent of a school suffering from breast cancer who asked for a Jacki. We came up with a men’s jacket just for him using the design of a casual baseball t-shirt. It was right before Christmas, and he said it was the best gift he had ever received.
Some of the testimonies are too difficult to read, they are so heart wrenching. We are so proud of all we have helped and we also of the great champions of the program. We were named one of the MGH 100 presented by Matt Damon. Then we were invited to participate in Mass Challenge along with 1,200 other organizations and won Social Impact, John Henry Award, and Perkins Award. We then were nominated by American Airlines for SBANE New England Innovators Award, and won the non-profit category. Dana Farber Cancer Institute is now studying the impact of the Jacki Program.
It’s been a whirlwind as we have come up from under the radar. It has been so rewarding and an honor to make a difference in the lives of these amazing women, and sometimes men, with advanced breast cancer.
We are now in 76 hospitals in 20 states including Alaska. The program is free to patients, but not without costs. Funding is always an issue even though we have some great sponsors; two sponsors in particular, who have been with us since day one, Polartec and Genentech, and both still sponsor us today.
Top hospitals give the Jacki free to Breast Cancer patients funded by grants and charitable and personal donations. There is no donation too small — it all helps.
To find out more about how to donate CLICK HERE.