By Laura McAlister
When Sally Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, she had plenty to worry about.
While fighting for her life, she was also fighting with her insurance company to provide her coverage. In a five-month period, she underwent five surgeries, including a double mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery. She also had to undergo chemotherapy.
At the time, clothing was at the bottom of her list of concerns. Still, she couldn’t help getting annoyed by the lack of practical things to wear during her recovery.
“I went through five months of surgeries,” she said. “Here I was going through all this stuff, all this craziness, and there’s nothing to accommodate all these problems.”
First of all, after the surgery, Smith couldn’t raise her arms over her head for weeks. Then there were issues with all the wound drains and tubing.
The Homewood resident’s case was somewhat extreme. She had to have up to six drains, each slightly larger than an egg, connected to several feet of tubing on her at all times.
She searched for some kind of clothing that could accommodate the many drains and tubing but came up empty. So when the artist finally recovered, she set to work designing a clothing line for those recovering from breast cancer.
She teamed up with friend and entrepreneur Shelly Jacobs, who had also done some work in the fashion industry with Ralph Lauren.
They founded Chayah Clothing for the Body and Soul. Right now, their product is pajamas. The PJs are pale pink, with a healing logo created by Smith. The fabric is soft, and the button-down top and draw-string pants make it easy for those recovering from surgery to slip into them.
What really makes the pajamas unique, though, are the inside pockets that hold wound drains.
“The inside can hold up to six drains,” Smith said. “Then there are the tabs to put the tubing in, and you can adjust them to different lengths.”
Smith has been a cancer survivor for nearly seven years now, but Chayah Clothing is just getting started.
Jacobs said they literally spent years researching the best materials and design for the pajamas, and they hope in the future to expand the clothing line to have daytime options as well.
“I remember when Sally came to me with the idea, and I was just thinking there is no way there’s not a product like that out there,” Jacobs said. “I took three months exhaustively searching and couldn’t find anything.
“Then we spent months doing samples. We wanted it to be absolutely right.”
Both were committed to producing an environmentally-friendly product. The fabric is made from organic cotton and bamboo, which is soft yet can handle multiple washings. The pajamas come in small, medium, large and extra large sizes but run a little large to accommodate the wound drains and tubing.
Each set of pajamas comes in a reusable bag, made of the same fabric as the pajamas. Smith also designed a matching comfort wrap, which is basically a tube hat that can be worn on the head or around the neck for warmth.
While the pair is just starting to market the new product, it is catching on. The pajamas are for sale at Touching You in Hoover as well as on their website, www.chayaclothing.com.
Knowing how stressful her fight with cancer was, Smith hopes the clothing line can eliminate at least one worry for those recovering from breast cancer surgery.
“We know we have a real good product, and we know there is such a need for this,” Jacobs said.