Cancer treatment can go on for months or even years.
That’s a long time to wear awkward hospital gowns or struggle with clothing during chemotherapy.
When it comes to appearance, there are hats, bandanas, and wigs available, but people with cancer have other needs, too.
It’s about comfort and practicality, but it’s also about feeling like you’re still you.
A small army of entrepreneurs is changing the way people with cancer dress.
For many of them, the idea stems from personal experience.
Dignity and empowerment
When cancer upended the lives of sisters Peg, Patty, and Claire, they realized just how important clothing choices could be.
When there was any choice at all.
The trio co-founded Healing Threads to address the issues they experienced firsthand.
Claire lost her life in 2006 to metastatic colon cancer after 35 months of treatment.
Peg was treated for stage 3 melanoma, and has been cancer-free since 2002.
Patty has not had cancer, but she provided support for her two sisters. She remains a part of Healing Threads.
Peg Feodoroff, also known as “spirited sister #1,” is president of the Massachusetts company. She said the clothing was originally designed for people with cancer but has morphed into much more.
She told Healthline that the clothing line is helpful for men and women going back and forth for any type of medical treatments, including kidney dialysis.
The line features breakaway pants to provide easy access to the legs or hips.
“When I designed those, my experience with cancer was melanoma,” said Feodoroff. “For anyone with melanoma on their leg, I thought they would prefer to wear these pants and expose only what has to be exposed when it has to be exposed, rather than take their pants off for the radiation table.”
Feodoroff said a doctor once told her that he looks at people differently when they’re wearing a hospital gown rather than street clothes.
“It strips a person down to the lowest common denominator so you all look alike and all you are is a name on a bracelet. There’s nothing to distinguish you from anybody else,” she said.
One goal of Healing Threads is to help people maintain dignity and modesty while undergoing cancer treatment.
Another goal is empowerment.
“Being a baby boomer, and in the throes of the feminist movement many times, I want women in particular to take charge, demand answers, and be part of the decision-making process or even get a second opinion because they’re wearing a Healing Thread. That’s who we are and what we wanted to do,” said Feodoroff.
The versatile tops are particularly popular with women who’ve had mastectomies. You can wear the clothing in the hospital after surgery, but it’s ideal for those first weeks at home. Built-in provisions for drainage bags provide comfort and privacy.
The clothing is meant to go from treatment to public to home without a hitch.
And all that helps you feel more like yourself and less like a cancer patient.
Feodoroff laughed as she recalled her sister’s “horror” at having to wear a fanny pack to carry her chemo pump. She wouldn’t have had to use that option if she’d had a Healing Thread top.
So, how do doctors and nurses feel about nonhospital-issue clothing?
According to Feodoroff, feedback from the medical community has been complimentary. Nurses note that the clothes are not just better looking than a hospital gown, they’re also quite functional.
A customer wrote Feodoroff to say, “Mom lost her battle but she did not lose her dignity during the treatments. Her love will remain in our hearts forever and always.”
The sisters’ compassionate touch shines through in their clothing designs.
“We really love the human race and want to help women especially get through this horrible disease they’re facing,” said Feodoroff.
Fashion and fun for children
Jessica Kidd, founder of Gracie's Gowns, is a virtual one-woman show.
She’s president, chief executive officer, and primary seamstress of the Virginia-based nonprofit.
Gracie’s Gowns provides clothing for children with cancer and other illnesses.
“This is important to these children and their parents because they're able to feel like they're not in the hospital setting,” Kidd wrote in an email to Healthline.
“The children feel more at home, but they also have an increased self-worth that they are more than a room number or diagnosis and can be seen for the child they truly are. It inspires hope for families to continue each difficult day, regardless of the outcome,” she continued.
The gowns are custom-made for each child. The fabric colors and patterns are chosen to match their interests. Careful attention is paid to getting the size right.
“The design itself is completely different from the traditional hospital gown. Ultimately, the part that sets us above from any other organization is that each gown is personalized with the first name of the child it is made for, and the family is not charged a penny to receive it,” said Kidd.
Gracie’s Gowns has created 3,511 unique gowns in five years.
Kidd previously worked in emergency services, medical transports, and pediatric critical care. She observed the problems children had with awkward, ill-fitting hospital gowns that were often made from irritating fabrics. The problem really hit home when her own child needed hospital care for a few days.
The idea for custom-made gowns for children came to her as she worked on a hospital gown for a friend. The organization was named in honor of her friend’s child, Grace, who passed away due to neuroblastoma.
“I wanted to show each child they truly mattered to someone and in some way help them smile in the darkest of times. I wanted them to know they weren't just room 2034 bed B, the kid with cancer. They weren't just a statistic, or even just one of those kids that spend most of their time in the hospital,” Kidd wrote on her website.
The organization also donates gowns directly to hospitals.
A growing number of options
INGA Wellbeing makes stylish clothing for men and women in treatment.
Nikla Lancksweert co-founded the company after watching her mother go through ovarian cancer treatment.
In an interview with NPR, Lancksweert spoke of the company’s back-opening dress for women, which is designed to take the place of a hospital gown.
“But you would never guess it. I've worn it in the playground. I've worn it to the supermarket, often meetings — not having had a chance to change — but it has all that sort of ease of opening in that it opens at the back and it also has openings down the arms and a very discreet opening to the stomach,” she said.
RonWear and Chemo Cozy clothing lines feature colorful items with strategically placed zippers. The pieces are meant to feel cozy and help you get through treatment without having to disrobe or bare too much skin.
The clothes are designed to look as natural in public as your regular clothes.
Some people need an intravenous line called a PICC that remains in place between tests and treatments. Patients generally wear a dressing to cover and protect it. It’s a constant reminder of treatment.
Care + Wear sells a range PICC line covers in a variety of sizes and colors.
One of the potential side effects of mastectomy is lymphedema, due to lymph node removal. One way to combat this is by wearing compression sleeves. Lymphedivas offers compression sleeves and gloves that do the job, but with designs that are bold, sassy, or elegant to suit any occasion.
Sometimes, a simple pair of socks can make all the difference in the world.
Jake Teitelbaum was no fan of the poorly made, unattractive, nonslip socks hospitals give to patients.
In treatment for refractory Hodgkin lymphoma, he started bringing his own colorful socks to the hospital.
It made him feel so much better that he founded the Resilience Project, an organization that sells fun socks online. Half of the proceeds help provide financial assistance to people with chronic illnesses.
“It helped,” he wrote on his website. “It may seem ridiculous, but that little change reminded me that ultimately, I was in control of my experience. Whatever the circumstances, no matter how little I wanted to be isolated in the hospital, I could choose to use this as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person.”