When my surgeon, Dr. Marie Pennanen, told me two years ago that I had cancer in my left breast, I started to feel I was on borrowed time. This was, after all, my third brush with cancer.
The first came 12 years ago, when my gynecologist’s office called to say they had just found my file – lost for more than a year – that showed I had a stage 4 pre-cancerous condition. The surgery was successful, the margins were clear.
Then eight years ago, a little spot on my nose seemed insignificant but it turned out the cancer was growing down, not up, making it five times the size of the little spot. My nose today looks fine – but it’s not the nose I grew up with.
And now, breast cancer. The anxiety was intense. I told myself to get a grip. After all, my diagnosis was one that millions of women had already heard. Statistics indicate that one in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives.
But I decided there are just so many times one can dodge a bullet. So, after much agonizing, I opted to increase my odds and go for a double mastectomy, rather than the recommended single.
Then came the shocking news: Dr. Pennanen told me that a different, hard-to-detect, and much worse cancer had been found in my right breast. In effect, she told me, I had saved my own life.
After such a life-affirming event, I was determined to pursue an idea that had come to me the night before my surgery: to launch a sophisticated fashion collection of clothing and accessories for women dealing with breast cancer treatment – whether it be surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
On that night, I reached out to my best friend, Christine Irvin, an astute Wall Street veteran and an artist. I described the concept in detail. “So are you in?” I asked.
“I’m in!” she replied. And that was the birth of the Alloro Collection. (Christine later told me that she would have replied with the same gusto that night had I suggested opening a car wash. But I digress.)
We quickly enlisted my cousin, Roedean Landeaux, a long time couturier in Greenwich Village, for the initial designs.
Having undergone treatment myself, I was aware that pain and discomfort are not confined to the chest area. For instance, after surgery, arms may not regain full range of motion for many months, or longer and there can be persistent discomfort under the arms and along the sides of the body. Radiation and chemotherapy also can result in burning sensations. After breast cancer treatments, many women discover that their old clothes no longer look good on them.
Based on my own experience – and after reading hundreds of blogs by courageous women – we developed 20 design elements that address the challenges women face after treatment.
The designs and construction of the Alloro Collection considered physical postoperative challenges as well as psychological ones. It turns out those challenges are quite inter-related.
As Dr. Pennanen, recently wrote: “Breast cancer patients actively engaging in efforts which made them feel good about their appearance have better social and psychological quality of life and lower levels of depression.”
For that reason, she noted, “doctors and nurses should… encourage patients to implement behaviors to improve or maintain their sense of physical attractiveness. This isn’t being vain, it’s being healthy.”
We also hoped to remain sensitive to the financial toll treatment takes on the women and families who must endure it. With that in mind, Alloro has made certain that the same designs in our soft, colorful fabrics are available to everyone.
Once the designs were set, we reached out to more than 150 wonderful volunteers, many of them former colleagues from my 33 years in corporate finance. We received advice and encouragement from these generous and kind marketing executives, public relations experts, lawyers, accountants, researchers and bookkeepers and from countless other friends.
And now, just 18 months later, we have put together a beautiful collection having learned infinite lessons about website design, warehouse connections, on-line credit card authorization and more. Women’s Wear Daily, The Washington Post and other publications have praised the Alloro Collection for its beautiful designs and unique features ensuring comfort in style.
Our goal was never just to sell clothing, but rather to find a way to raise awareness and give back to the community. We have pledged to donate 25 percent of our profits to cancer research and prevention organizations.
The first organization we selected to receive the Alloro partnership donation is the Prevent Cancer Foundation, which shares our commitment to the prevention and early detection of cancer through research and education. Some of the donation result in grants to communities for resources like the MammoVan, which is critical for women who don’t have access to medical testing and treatment.
Breast cancer – any cancer – drains the color out of women’s lives. We simply want to restore that color with beautiful fabrics and designs that make women feel beautiful again so they can move forward – in style. And for me, the joy of doing this with my best friend and my creative cousin – with the support of so many wonderful people – has put the color back into my life. “What if I live” is much better to contemplate than “what if I don’t.”
Laurel Kamen is a former executive with American Express and the co-founder of the Alloro Collection.
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