Startup Diaries: The Joys Of Working With My Son
The NextWomen Generations & Family Business Theme
Maria Lucas, whose company Radiant Wrap creates alternative designer gowns for women to wear during radiation treatments for Breast Cancer, tells us about the joys of working with her son, Koray.
I didn’t grow up a stranger to Breast Cancer. I was eight years old when my mother was first diagnosed. She had a mastectomy, and in the years that followed, she went on to have five reoccurrences, treated by many rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. I also had three aunts and four cousins who were diagnosed, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when at age fifty, I myself was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
It was the day before New Year’s Eve in 2010, a day like any other. I had a busy day ahead of me at work and I was really tempted to cancel my appointment for my routine mammogram. I decided to go, and after having to wait for over an hour, I finally got in. By then I was agitated and mad, I had things to do and this was just taking too much time. After the mammogram, I went in for a cervical exam as well as a physical exam of my breasts. As I was lying there thinking about how late I was for work and all the things I needed to do, the nurse practitioner stopped and asked me “Have you felt this lump before?"
Before I knew it I was sent for a follow up, and two hours later I was sitting in a surgeon’s office hearing those four words that no woman ever wants to hear, “You have Breast Cancer".
My world had changed.
Of course, choices were presented, but in the moment you are in shock and can’t really think clearly as to what steps to take next. I was offered a double mastectomy, because of my family history, but all I could think about was that my mother had a mastectomy and her cancer came back five times. So I opted for a lumpectomy followed by radiation treatments.
After two surgeries and a month of healing, I began radiation therapy at our local Cancer Center in Napa, CA. I must say, I was treated like a Queen. I was given a parking pass for preferred parking, access to a waiting area that held a lending library, large screen TV, fresh baked cookies daily and was given daffodils on Fridays. No expense or attention to detail was spared. The only part of the experience that I felt was odd was that when I came in for treatment daily, I would go into the changing area, reach in a communal bin and change into a hospital gown. You know the ones, rough, faded cotton, open in the back with half the ties missing, a few tears and holes. It was funny; there was an abstract painting in the waiting room of a woman in the gown- it falling to her knees as she was bent over in thought waiting to start treatment. I would sit and stare at the painting everyday while I myself was waiting.
Then one day it hit me - there had to be something better to wear. Something that didn’t take away my femininity, something that didn’t make me feel sick; didn’t remind me every day that I was a cancer patient.
So I started to do some research to see what was out there, if anything, that may be an alternative gown for women to wear during radiation.
I was unable to find anything specific for Radiation treatments. I talked to the technicians and the doctors about what attributes of the garment were important; openings, accessibility, length and material. On a Friday around the third week of my treatment, I took a few of the standard gowns home with me.
Now a seamstress I am not, but I had some ideas. I knew I wanted something that was stylish and flattering, something that was closed and secure at the back and a garment that wasn’t encumbered by ties, buttons, Velcro or snaps. I thought if I could cut up these gowns and design a one piece wrap around that tied at the waist, I would have a beautiful alternative gown. And that is exactly what I did.
I wore it to treatment on Monday. It was not only received with rave reviews (one of the technicians said “You’re gonna make a million dollars!”), but it was functional as well.
My son, then 22, was in his last semester at San Francisco State University studying Business. He had just completed a two year concentration in Small Business Entrepreneurship, and I told him about my idea and design. We immediately formed a partnership and Radiant Wrap was born. He knew someone in San Francisco, so we brought my mock up design to her and before I knew it we had a pattern and a real prototype. Once we perfected the design, we got some great advice from her with regard to packaging and branding. She pointed us to Los Angeles’s Garment district where we found our fabrics. We had our first forty gowns made that June, six months after I was diagnosed and one month after I finished my radiation.
Now two years later, Radiant Wrap is part of the cancer program at ten Hospitals and Cancer centers nationwide.
We are selling our Wraps to Cancer and Wellness Boutiques and to date have provided nearly 1,000 Radiant Wraps to female Cancer patients. We continue to grow and hope that by year’s end we double the number of partners that we have. One in eight women is diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and two thirds of those women will have Radiation therapy. We support and work with Breast Cancer organizations to include Living Beyond Breast Cancer, the Breast Cancer Alliance, Breast Cancer Wellness Foundation, and recently were asked to partner with Susan G. Komen in a regional event.
Working with my son has been the greatest pleasure. It is such a source of pride for me to see what a mature young man he has grown into.
He has also learned a lot and embraced the Breast Cancer community, working daily with Nurse Navigators, Oncology teams and Breast Health professionals. It is a world that I know he never thought he would enter into in a million years. Having him in this partnership has also helped us to pull in an entire younger demographic to Breast Cancer awareness. We plan to attend the C4YW’s Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer in 2014, which targets women under the age of 45 affected by Breast Cancer. With social media, we have a very robust and young following on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Linked In. I am the face of the business but I give my son, Koray, all of the credit for making Radiant Wrap a business. We definitely complement each other.
In our business, he's the boss. But then, sometimes, I have to put my mom hat on and say, "Hey, we're not business partners anymore. "
Radiant Wrap is a beautiful alternative to the traditional hospital gown. The gowns are made in a soft polyester charmeuse, a lightweight fabric woven with a satin weave, in lovely and bright seasonal colors and patterns. There is no reason women cannot keep their self esteem and look fabulous and stylish, no matter what they are facing or being faced with.
Dignity Health’s Mercy Cancer Centers in Sacramento California offer Radiant Wrap to their female Cancer patients.
“The Center is privileged to have these beautiful, bright women in many different colors moving around our passages and treatment rooms 5 days a week. This has changed the feel of our treatment center. It has encouraged the feel of a team of women journeying together, as opposed to a single patient in a clinical setting receiving treatment. The inspiration to make a difference for each woman on this journey reminds us, as the Navigators, how privileged we are to work with this band of strong and brave women.”
Radiant Wrap would have never been conceived if something terrible had not happened. But I do know that we can either let these events ruin us, or we can take the opportunity to turn them around and make something wonderful out of it. This is my chance to give back, to share something wonderful with other women who are fighting this disease.
I draw inspiration from my mother, who now at eighty years old, still has the most positive attitude of anyone I have ever met. She has had her share of illness and misfortune, but she never let it take her smile away.
I’ll always believe that out of something bad something good is born and that every dark cloud has a silver lining.
My hope is that every woman out there diagnosed with Breast Cancer and facing Radiation therapy has the opportunity to wear a Radiant Wrap and that it makes their treatment time just a bit brighter.
Maria Lucas is a 52 year old wife and mother of two. Maria grew up in Connecticut and she now lives in Napa, California. During her free time she enjoys bike riding, gardening, reading and her two dogs. Maria was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer in December 2010. As of this writing, she has been cancer free for two and half years. Koray Lucas, age 24, lives in San Jose California. Together they run Radiant Wrap, creating alternative designer gowns for women to wear during radiation treatments for Breast Cancer.
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