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Thursday, October 25, 2007

It’s just middle-aged white guys making them, not the customer: Compression sleeves for lymphedema

Rachel Troxell, 37, learned she had breast cancer three years ago. After going through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, she said the hardest part was learning that she had lymphedema, a condition that affects a sizable number of breast cancer survivors and cause their limbs to swell with fluid. "With the cancer, there was a clear path to follow, and I knew there was an end to it," she said. "With lymphedema, you are stuck with it, and it affects the quality of your life."

Her treatment for lymphedema required her to wear a compression sleeve constantly, leading to questions from everyone she encountered. Rachel, a videographer and graphic designer, said she became consumed with finding an alternative to the drab, unsightly and uncomfortable sleeve.

"I called some companies that made the ugly garment, asking if there were other options, and they all said no," she said. "It is just middle-aged white guys making them, and they aren’t the customer."

She connected with Kristin Dudley, who was then a 22-year=old fashion student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. They designed a more fashionable and comfortable compression sleeve. Kristin was excited about it because her own grandmother, who had lymphedema, had refused to wear her own compression sleeves.

Rachel and Kristin won third place for the idea in a business plan contest sponsored by Drexel University. They are now partners in Lymphedivas, since starting the company last year.

Their business owes its inspiration to the brush with breast cancer.

Survival rates have increased markedly, so there are now 2.3 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., according to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, one of the largest breast cancer research and advocacy organizations. Many survivors are committed to doing something to ease the ordeal of others or to solve a particular problem they encountered in their own treatment.

Advice to those with a serious health condition: Perhaps, like Rachel, you can find innovative ways to help others who suffer from the same health condition you do.

Read another of our entrepreneur stories, or read Marci Alboher's source story in today’s New York Times.

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