When Dr. Elizabeth Thompson decided to undergo a radical double mastectomy because of an extensive family history of breast cancer, she knew it would be life changing—but she never imagined it would lead her down a new career path helping other women faced with a similar fate.
“I have a pretty extensive history,” Thompson, a radiation oncologist, told FoxNews.com. “My great grandmother had bilateral breast cancer, my mother had breast cancer in her 40s, and my grandmother was in her 70s. So it seemed kind of late, but inevitable.”
Being a working mother of four, Thompson soon came to realize that managing her unusually high cancer risk would be a challenge. Like most women in her situation, she would have to undergo mammograms and MRIs every six months for the next 30-40 years – a routine that didn’t seem to fit with her lifestyle.
So, she decided to go on the offensive.
“I sort of said to myself, ‘Okay, if I’m going to be doing this for 25, 30, 40 years, I might as well take the time now to look at my options and figure out whether or not I can be proactive, and just eliminate my risk and drop it down 99 percent,’” said Thompson, who lives in Westchester County in New York.
“I had what they call a direct implant breast reconstruction,” Thompson said. “Which meant they went in and the shelled out all the breast tissue. They left me with my skin, and then they immediately put in an implant so that when I woke up after the surgery, I looked the same as I went in.”
Thompson’s experience with the surgery turned out to be a very positive one. So positive that her surgeon asked her to work for her part-time to help counsel other women thinking of getting the surgery.
“When I talk to patients who have been through the surgery and have used it, it makes their life so much easier. And it gives them the feeling that someone’s really looking after them and cares about the little things.”
After a number of months, Thompson started compiling a list of items that she felt would better improve a patient’s time while they were in the hospital undergoing a mastectomy. Eventually, this list gave birth to her cosmetic bag, the BFFL (Best Friends For Life) bag, and ultimately, her new company to go along with it.
The bag, designed by cosmetic bag designer Stephanie Johnson, contains items such as specific creams, drain care packs, and an ‘axilla pilla,’ which is a microbead pillow designed to prevent chafing and soreness under the arm.
“When I talk to hospitals who actually give it to patients and talk to other patients who have been through the surgery and have used it, it makes their life so much easier,” Thompson said. “And it gives them the feeling that someone’s really looking after them and cares about the little things.”
Thompson doesn’t intend to stop at just this bag — her company already has a traumatic brain injury bag in the works as well. Ultimately, Thompson wants the general public to understand that the hospital experience doesn’t necessarily have to be a scary one.
There are about 200,000 women in the United States who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and about 50 percent of those women will have a mastectomy, and about 50 percent of those women will also have radiation, Thompson said.
"We want them to know that women have options and that when they are diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s not a death sentence."
Thompson said medical research is lacking in terms of studying patients’ hospital stays. In general, she hopes to spread awareness with her company about the different ways one can deal with cancer and to find ways to make a difficult treatment more comfortable.
“We need to educate the general population to all different types of cancer and what are options for patients and how do we help them recover,” Thompson said. “Not simply just for breast cancer, which I’m a huge advocate, but for a lot of different other diseases.”