There are many realities, big and small, of breast cancer you just don't understand until you're in the thick of it. One such little detail ended up changing the course of Lisa Crites' life.
Even though Crites had spent years as a health care reporter, she didn't learn until after she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy herself that chest surgery patients aren't allowed to shower for quite some time after their surgeries. They're supposed to wait to shower until after their surgical ports or apparatuses are removed. But depending on the person and any complications that might come up, that can sometimes take weeks.
"I ended up in the shower wearing a plastic bag, and I was frustrated," Crites remembered. "Women have been going through mastectomies for years. Why wasn't there something to protect me and let me shower? I was a TV reporter, I'd covered a lot of health stories, but I'd never been a patient. I didn't know that mastectomy patients were showering in trash bags."
Crites worked with family members to modify a beauty salon cape and make herself a "shower shirt." That was in 2009.
Over the next year as Crites recovered, she worked to turn her shower shirt into The Shower Shirt, a patented product that's recognized now as a Class 1 medical device by the FDA, covered by Medicare, and is available nationwide and internationally.
Crites, a southeast Missouri native and Murray State University graduate, shared her story with fellow survivors this month at Baptist Health Paducah's annual breast cancer awareness luncheon.
"I don't have children, so the Shower Shirt became my cathartic project to keep me focused on something other than feeling sorry for myself," Crites said. "I never wanted breast cancer to define my life, only to refine my life. The whole process with the Shower Shirt, it really taught me that we're stronger than we think we are. We just have to forge ahead."
Before Crites' shower shirt could become The Shower Shirt, she made five different prototypes before obtaining a patent, then went through the process of finding a manufacturer, then had to navigate her way through the medical red tape it takes to bring a medical product to market. It was all new to her, and challenging, but she kept forging ahead.
The end result is a water-resistant garment designed to protect chest surgery patients from risk of water-born infections while showering while keeping the wearer as comfortable as possible.
Though Crites' inspiration came from her experience as a breast cancer patient, it's now used by all kinds of chest surgery patients, including, hemodialysis, cardiac, lung, hernia, rotator cuff, neuro-stimulation, and external defibrillator patients.
Crites credits the support of her friends and family, as well as her faith, with helping bring the Shower Shirt to fruition.
"I don't think I could have gotten through this whole process without my faith," she said. "That faith put me into a vehicle to create the Shower Shirt, but it was powers much higher than I that drove the process. I always laugh and say, all I wanted to do was keep women from shower in trash bags. Who knew it'd turn into this. It just goes to show, sometimes when you do things just because you feel it's the right thing to do, great things happen."