October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign run by the National Breast Cancer Foundation to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. During this month, the education and awareness surrounding breast cancer is amplified by people who have been affected by cancer and are looking for education, screening, or support. One founder, Catharine Janssen, has dedicated her retirement to just that. Founded in 2019, Janssen started BRACAShirts as an aid to those who had surgery related to breast cancer and other major surgeries that require drains. Janssen created garments for people to wear that house and protect drains and equipment without the need for uncomfortable and sometimes exposing hospital gowns. Janssen’s design was born out of lived experience, having struggled with post-surgical drains after her own battle with breast cancer. With a previous career as a critical care nurse, a personal experience with cancer survivors, and a passion to help others in her shoes, Janssen created a business built around thoughtful and impactful care for cancer patients. Integrating cancer coaching, wellness education, and community support into the business, the story of BRACAShirts is multi-dimensional and awe inspiring, founded and run by a woman dedicated to loving and supporting those in need.
Janssen’s post-surgical experience was the catalyst for the creation of these innovative shirts, after finding a need for a garment that could be worn comfortably and usefully alongside drains and tubes from abdominal or chest surgery. With the initial design being made from thrifted and borrowed clothes, Janssen put together a shirt that had a large pocket in the front to hold the drain bag, and space for the drain tubing to sit comfortably and not get in the way. This invention morphed into the full-blown business of BRACAShirts, available in different styles and for different purposes. BRACAShirts now offers men’s and women’s designs, including options for the drain pocket to be on the outside of the shirt for easy access for healthcare providers, or on the inside of the shirt for protection and discreetness when necessary. A new hospital gown design was recently released with intent to be used for the same purposes while people are staying in hospital and are looking for that extra piece of comfort and care.
Seeing the impact of breast cancer firsthand, Janssen seamlessly added support and education for other cancer patients to the BRACAShirts business model, providing information and community during these challenging times in people’s lives. After starting BRACAShirts, she received her certification for holistic cancer coaching and focused on integrating her teachings into her business. “I felt a disparity in the knowledge that people were receiving about their general health and how it relates to cancer care”, says Janssen, “I want to provide a robust opportunity for cancer patients to educate themselves and build their knowledge so that they can be empowered, feel good about what they are doing, and make choices that are right for them and their families”. This addition of cancer coaching allows for a sense of empowerment within the community of BRACA customers. BRACAShirts became a space where people can be comfortable reaching out to find dietary, spiritual, physical, and educational skills to help with coping through cancer. Janssen focuses on ensuring that cancer patients can find happiness within themselves and work towards a healthier life that lessens the stress and physical toll of the experience.
BRACAShirts recently pivoted to an online, e-commerce store after hospitals and the stores within them were affected by Covid-19. They now offer surgical drain shirts, educational series, cancer coaching, community programs, and more information on how to get involved. Curating this well-rounded space for cancer care, Janssen reflects on her journey of creating something that she is proud to offer other cancer patients as support. “My hopes and dreams for BRACAShirts is not just to sell my products, but to build a community of breast cancer survivors who can support each other and learn together,” says Janssen, “It is powerful when people can learn to feel good and help one another through the tough journey that is cancer”. There is no better way to recognize and reflect during Breast Cancer Awareness Month than to celebrate entrepreneurs and survivors like Catharine Janssen, and highlight the incredible work that she does every day for breast cancer awareness.