Spectrum Health Innovations Introduces Bra for Breast Cancer Survivors

Thermal Bra

A new product is available for women who experience temperature issues after mastectomies. After three years and many wear trials, the Thermal Bra is ready for consumers. Elemental, the team who worked on the product, created a high-quality thermal bra with the needs of breast cancer survivors in mind.

The inspiration surfaced when Jodie Faber, a breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy, took a swim in the Grand Traverse Bay. When she emerged from the water, she noticed not only was she cold, but that her breasts were an alarming shade of red.

“I knew I was cold, and there are a lot of strange things that happen after having a mastectomy and you get used to a new normal. But that day, when I got out of that water, it scared me,” Faber explained.  “I thought to myself, ‘whatisthis?’” After discussing the problem with one of her daughters who also had a double mastectomy, as well as her plastic surgeon, Faber realized that this is a common problem for women.

The problem is the result of a loss of tissue and nerves after a mastectomy. Implants are not able to warm up naturally after becoming cold. Because they are against the chest, when they become cold, they cause the body’s temperature to drop. Faber’s plastic surgeon suggested that she use hand warmers to warm up, but that wasn’t ideal. In fact, they burned her skin due to lack of feeling. So, Faber sought other options.

To Faber, normalcy was one of the most important aspects of finding a solution. “When you have a mastectomy and you go through chemotherapy, you tend to lose a lot of your femininity. So trying to keep that sense, long after the chemo is gone and you’re in remission. You just want to feel normal. And like I said, every day when you get out of the shower, you have a reminder that you’ve had cancer, you have scars. So I thought, ‘Give me something that makes me feel pretty!’”

Faber, an employee at Spectrum Health, initially connected with Spectrum Health Innovations, which helps bring employee’s ideas for new products to life, with her idea for a bra that warms up implants.

Spectrum Health Innovations partnered with a group of students from Central Michigan University to create the Thermal Bra.
Spectrum Health Innovations partnered with a group of students from Central Michigan University to create the Thermal Bra.

Spectrum Health Innovations was the first step in bringing the Thermal Bra to life. The team underwent the due diligence process of understanding the problem better and asking how it really affects women and who those women are, what the opportunity looks like, and whether it is realistic to help.

After concluding that the project was worthy of moving forward, Spectrum Health Innovations found a group of talented students at Central Michigan University and brought them on board. With a state-of-the-art lab and ideal resources, the students were more than capable of creating a solution.

Sue Wroblewski, a graduate student from CMU who also works in a research lab in the fashion merchandising and design program, was one of the students who worked on the Thermal Bra. “We were brought in, kind of as the ‘problem-solver’ group,” Wroblewski said.

To Wroblewski, her main focus for the bra was creating a practical solution. “I think, as a functional designer, that the most important thing is understanding the person that is going to be wearing it and understanding their needs,” she said. “Jodie was very forthcoming and was willing to answer any questions we had, even if they’re not very comfortable questions.

“We did find other women as well who have suffered a lot, having cancer. The women in our trial did have cancer and went through a double mastectomy. I think they just were thankful to have somebody listen and understand what their needs were, and create a product based on those needs.”

Anthony Lazzaro from Spectrum Health Innovations said that having the product finally finished feels nothing short of amazing. “We’ve received hundreds and hundreds of emails, consistently, from women asking, ‘where can they buy this.’ To actually know that they can go and buy it now and have that and look forward to that sense of normalcy, is pretty incredible.”

Now that the final product is available for consumers, Faber said the entire experience has been extremely humbling. “I just think it’s important, I mean I’m just Jodie Faber working in a hospital, and pitching an idea because I’m uncomfortable. I don’t think we do that often enough, as women. We tend to settle, and I think that’s in our DNA. I just hope that for others, and I don’t know what their journeys are, don’t sit back and settle. Speak up. That’s what I did and look what happened.”

There are two different styles of the Thermal Bra available: the “Jodie”, with a wide band and available in black, and “The Gretchen,” with a narrow band and available in nude and black. The bras are available through the Elemental Kickstarter page and begin at $125 for a limited time only. You can also gift a Thermal Bra to someone who may need it.

*Photos courtesy of Spectrum Health Innovations

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