Helping Women with Breast Cancer: Two Friends Create JILLIES®

Sandy just underwent a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery for breast cancer. When she returned home, she put on her JILLIE® and wore the cozy 100% cotton garment throughout her recuperation. “It was soft and feminine and made me feel better, less like a patient,” she said. “The Velcro made access to my post-surgical areas easily accessible, too. Knowing the company was founded by two women touched by breast cancer and that their mission was to help women like me felt especially inspiring.”

Lauren Penn and Margie Lipshultz, creators of JILLIES
Lauren Penn and Margie Lipshultz creators of JILLIES

Great ideas sometimes come from life’s most difficult experiences. JILLIES came to fruition as the result of a wonderful friendship between two women with a passion to make a difference in the lives of women undergoing breast cancer treatment and recovery.

Lauren Penn and Margie Schultz Lipshutz immediately gravitated towards each other when their children were in elementary school. They planned  family vacations together and regular couples nights out. Lauren and Margie shared the joys and challenges of everyday life. Their friendship and deep regard for one another is evident as soon as you meet them.

They said they had always wanted to work together in some capacity, although at the time they had no idea what that might be.

When they first met Margie had just started a small specialty catering business. She previously worked in the nonprofit health care field with a research team collecting and analyzing data from cancer patients. Margie considered health care as her vocation and cooking her creative outlet. However, as her children grew she wanted to be available to them, but without a ‘real job’ she felt that something was missing in her life.

Margie’s Career and Life Experiences

Woman having Mammogram
Woman having MammogramMargie’s interest in cancer research emerged from the complications and treatment around her mother’s breast cancer. Back in the early 1980’s, “My mother was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer when she was 46 years old, when breast cancer was considered a disease of the aged. She discovered it early and fortunately found a surgeon who was one of the pioneers of breast conserving surgery. My mother was one of the first women to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy followed by radiation therapy. At that time illnesses, such as cancer, were rarely discussed so there was very little conversation in our house regarding what my mother was going through. There was no professional support for my mother’s or our family’s emotional needs,” Margie explained. Her mother managed her treatment alone, remaining stoic and silent about her experiences throughout.Margie’s way of handling this difficult time was to assume the responsibility of cooking the family dinners.  She desperately wanted everything to feel normal, even though her world had been turned upside down. Unspoken anxiety dominated their family on and off over the next decade.

Margie said, “The emotional part of having cancer was not in the forefront back then. The focus was on the science. Even with my knowledge of the research, I had no idea of how my mother would fare both physically and emotionally during her treatment.

“The ongoing persistence and dedication by physicians, scientists, researchers, and patients have led us to where we are today. The good news is that the great strides made over the past 25 years in the early detection, diagnosis, and treatments for breast cancer have led to so many women living full and happy lives despite their disease. My mother is a 27 year survivor and going strong!”

“Currently the number of women living with breast cancer is unprecedented. The emphasis of research and care weighs heavily on the medical side, which of course, is of the utmost importance. However, there are emotional, physical, and daily life issues that women, as patients, have to deal with. The information available to assist in these areas is often sparse and hard to find. This is where JILLIES comes into to play,” Margie said.

Lauren’s Career and Life Experiences

Lauren considered herself a career person with ambitious goals and had a successful professional career in the marketing industry. She hadn’t placed much importance on marrying and having a family until at age 31, a special man walked into her life. He had just recently separated from his wife with whom he had three young children.

Their courtship continued throughout his complicated divorce and almost two years later they married. Lauren worked demanding jobs until John’s ex-wife chose to move to Florida taking with her their eldest daughter, while giving the two younger children to them.

After some time, Lauren decided to put her career on hold and focus on pulling the family together. “The kids were traumatized by their mother’s departure and we needed to focus on them and their well being above all else. I couldn’t do my work and raise these children. Someone had to take care and make this family work. Within a few years the eldest daughter who was living in Florida with her mother decided she wanted to live with them as well.

Three women model Jillies
Three women model JILLIES

Lauren’s Personal Experience with Breast Cancer

Lauren noticed a lump in her breast when she was 41. Her doctor reassured her it was nothing worrisome. A month later she went for a mammogram and was told that they needed to biopsy the small mass.

“I knew something was wrong. I had a lot of experience dealing with cancer. My mother is the survivor of three different types of cancer, including breast cancer She’s a very strong woman and has been through the trenches. As a teen and young adult I watched my mother deal with each diagnosis and treatment with strength, dignity and complete resolve. Although I worked out, ate healthy and tried to life a healthy lifestyle, I couldn’t control my genetic makeup. Thankfully we caught the cancer in an early stage.”

“I felt so out of control during those months between the realities at home and now breast cancer.” Telling her story, Lauren’s face flushed. She fought back the tears and sat quietly until the wave of sadness passed. Margie too sat in silence.

Lauren then shared that she needed to feel some semblance of control through this process. When she learned that the radiologist would be tattooing her to map out the sites that needed radiation, she decided to use her voice.

She explained, “You can have a say in your treatment and can choose to chart your own course.” In short order she found a radiologist that was willing to map out the sites using ink that could eventually be removed without invasive procedures. In another instance, when she questioned the size of the field being mapped out for radiation therapy, the doctor agreed that the site did not need to be so large and re-mapped the treatment area.

The treatment went remarkably well, even though Lauren was forewarned about numerous potential side effects. “The only time I felt sick was when I entered the hospital for treatment and had to put on that johnny.” Lauren chose to change in the treatment room, refusing to sit in the waiting room feeling like a cancer patient. She said, “I needed to do this for my own dignity and sense of self. Sitting in the co-ed waiting room with a johnny on made me feel uncomfortable and exposed. I knew this was a time I needed to take care of myself and listen carefully to my inner voice. The doctors were surprisingly cooperative.”

Margie and Lauren often talked about some of the frustrations of being a patient. Lauren’s husband did not like the fact that she had challenged some of the routine treatment procedures or that she was vocal with her feelings about her medical care. Lauren knew for her recovery, she had to reclaim her life and follow her own instincts. “It was my nature to challenge the status quo that lead me take action on behalf of other breast cancer patients. Margie shared my vision. In our small way, we believe we can make a difference,” Lauren said.

Inspiration turns into a mission and the creation of JILLIES

Their mission became making women feel more empowered as they went through their treatment protocols. One wintry afternoon they came up with a design for a feminine garment women could wear during cancer treatment. They met with people in the fashion, fabric and medical worlds and came up with the “JILLIE.”

JILLIES are beautiful, luxurious, feminine garments, made of 100% cotton in a pale blush color. They are perfectly suited for women undergoing breast cancer treatment and mammograms. Lauren and Margie have been introducing and donating JILLIES to breast care facilities around the New England area. They are now distributing and selling these beautiful garments nationwide and sell them on their website as well.

Lauren offered, “Of course finding a cure is paramount. However we feel we can help women in the midst of this tremendously challenging time feel better during their ordeal. Feeling good in the face of treatment helps the healing process. JILLIES are one tangible way of allowing women to feel more dignified, comfortable and feminine.”

Lauren and Margie both faced their own struggles, but came together in their inspired mission to make a difference in the lives of women dealing with breast cancer. Margie added, “We’re challenging the medical community to do a better job, to better understand the woman attached to those breasts. The concept and realization of JILLIES is just the beginning.” They also want to promote groups for women who have undergone treatment and are waiting for their six month follow-up visit with their oncologist. Margie and Lauren both agreed that this is a particularly difficult time for women. This lull between treatment and follow-up can be a time riddled with questions, uncertainty and anxiety. Their website is filled with resources and information to help women with breast cancer.

JILLIES garment
JILLIES Garment

Margie and Lauren are two extraordinary women making a positive difference in the lives of women as they face a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond. They both know from witnessing the impact of breast cancer that research alone is not enough. Women need support, and a sense of empowerment and dignity. Margie and Lauren are committed to helping women gain balance and feel better as they forge ahead during this challenging time of their lives.

But they are only two in number and the needs are great. They have put their own personal funds to establish this non-profit organization and manufacture the garments. “We hope to find individuals and corporations who see the value in our mission and are willing to provide the funding necessary to outfit all breast cancer patients with their own JILLIE and other support to make living with the disease a bit easier,” stated Lauren.

Learn more about Lauren and Margie along with their mission and products by visiting their website at www.jillies.com

*What are JILLIES?

“JILLIES was created from a passion to stand up and conquer issues around breast cancer. This is not about what happens with medical care, but what comes up in daily life, the day to day routines that may be altered because of breast cancer. JILLIES is here to help by giving resources and tips on many of the non-medical concerns women with breast cancer have. We are committed to helping make a small difference in the treatment experience for breast cancer by designing a garment called the JILLIE, as a replacement for the standard hospital Johnnie. The JILLIE is for women only and provides the comfort, privacy and style that are missing from standard hospital garments. Our hopes are to help make the diagnosis, treatment, and living with breast cancer a bit less stressful and a lot more comfortable. We hope you find JILLIES information, links, and garments useful.”

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