ST. MARYS — A long friendship has spurred the partnership of two area residents who are trying to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients.
Debi Squire and Kim Strickland met in high school, when Strickland moved from South Korea to the United States. Squire took time to teach Strickland English and took her out to social events.
“I didn’t speak English when I first came,” Strickland said. “Debi just put me under her wing and said ‘OK.’ She taught me to speak and corrected my English all the time.”
Squire said the two quickly clicked.
“We became fast friends with a smile, and we have been dear friends — like sisters — ever since,” Squire said.
The two both went on to be teachers — Squire in Coldwater and Strickland in St. Marys — and they remained close, raising their children together. In 2005, Squire was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Squire left the hospital with surgical drainage tubes called Jackson-Pratt drains that were stitched to her body.
“It coils around your body, under your skin — sometimes around your back, sometimes back and forth — and it’s under your skin,” Squire said of the drainage tube. “It comes out a hole in your body. They take stitches and literally stitch it from your skin through the tube.”
At the end of the tube is a four-inch, football-shaped suction drain that hangs from a patient’s body. The drain is necessary, Squire noted, because patients’ bodies produce extra fluid after their operation.
“This happens to people that have breast augmentations, breast reductions, when they have voluntary plastic surgery and many normal surgeries not related to breast cancer,” she said. “Because they are often removing tissue, what happens is your body continues to make the fluids that it would need to supply that tissue.”
It is common for patients to have more than one drain, she said.
“Some girls come out with as many as eight (drains),” Squire said. “More often it’s two, three or four, but sometimes it’s six, seven or eight drains, depending on how much is being taken or how extensive the surgeries are.”
The amount of time a patient needs a drain can vary. Squire said some are able to leave the hospital without a drain, while others may need them for a few weeks. The drain, she said, is not supported.
“What’s holding this up is stitches,” she said, noting that a small loop is on the drain for patients to use a safety pin to clip the drain to a bra or T-shirt.
Showering was also difficult with the drains, Squire said.
“The doctors tell us to wear a T-shirt or a bra in the shower,” she said.
After catching her drain on a doorknob, Squire developed a life-threatening infection.
“I had sepsis, which is an infection throughout the body,” she said.
With a slew of antibiotics and medical attention, Squire was able to beat the infection but could not help but wonder if there was a way to prevent something similar from happening to other patients.
“I kept thinking during that year, ‘Why can’t I get something to hold these (drains)?’” she said.
After extensive searching, Squire was only able to find one product, and she said it is not comfortable. So, she began working on designing a product that was functional and comfortable for patients and teamed up with Strickland, creating their company, Cancer-Comforts.
“We’re a perfect team,” Strickland said of her partnership with Squire.
“She’s creative, she’s able to design, she can see the picture and went through it, she knows exactly what we need. For me to see that, and when she asked me to help, I could see how I could have my part to help her develop all that and work on it and make it happen.”
Cancer-Comforts offers a line of products designed for the comfort and ease of use for the patient. The “Hang In There” line features three drain pouches made from comfortable material and are adjustable to fit the patient’s needs.
The comfortable flannel pouch is designed for everyday use and is available in pink or white. The quick dry mesh pouch is designed to be cool and comfortable for hot days and will work in the shower. The shower caddy can hold up to eight drains and is made from a fast drying fabric.
A port pouch is also available, eliminating the need for tape. Two specially designed shower caddies have also been developed, the pleura vac caddy and the hemovac caddy.
Each of the products is made locally and is latex free. Squire said she and Strickland are working to get the products to area patients.
“This is a product that needs to go home with them from the hospital,” she said. “Giving it as a gift before surgery is an excellent idea.”
Squire noted when they receive an order, they get it to the patient as quickly as they can.
“They can call us and we will get it to them as quickly as possible,” she said. “Usually by the time people find that they need it, they need it now.”
The two are working with local pharmacies and with the American Cancer Society and the Cancer Association of Auglaize County to get their products to patients in need. Squire noted that area residents may also get involved through sponsorships.
“What we would like to do is have groups sponsor — $150 will get it on 12 patients,” she said.
Squire noted that she is also available to educate interested groups.
“If any group wants a speaker, I’d gladly come and talk to them — educate them on drains, breast surgery, the cancer journey and chemo,” she said. “I would talk to them about my story and also introduce this and give them the opportunity.”
She said she and Strickland will continue to work on getting their product to patients in need.
“Our mission is to get it on every patient that needs a drain,” she said. “That’s what we’re devoting the rest of our lives to.”
For more information, call 888-586-8180, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Cancer-Comforts.com.