The word that first comes to Peg Feodoroff's mind when she recalls the time she spent in the hospital is "undignified." Diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma, Feodoroff in 2002 underwent 25 days of radiation at a Boston facility, where she watched other patients shiver in their thin gowns while waiting for treatment. "Not only are you terrified, you're now humiliated," recalls Feodoroff, 56, who wrapped herself in cardigans to allow easy access to the growth on her upper arm while staving off the chill. "I said, 'I can do something about this.'"
That resolve only strengthened when, just four months later, Feodoroff's younger sister Claire Goodhue learned she had stage 4 colon cancer. And so Feodoroff, Goodhue and their middle sister, Patty O'Brien, banded together to form the fashion company Spirited Sisters. In October they unveiled their first collection: a line of garments under the name the Original Healing Threads that would look as chic at a party as they are practical and comfortable in a hospital room.
Featuring Asian-inspired styling (think Mandarin collars and kimono sleeves), the items also boast deep pockets and are made from stain-resistant fabric. Sold through the company's Web site (spirited-sisters.com) and ranging in price from $49 to $169, the clothing's key innovation is the breakaway panels that a doctor can peel back when examining a part of the body, sparing the patient the indignity of having to open or lift up a gown.
The pairing of such procedure-friendly touches with high style has earned plaudits from the medical community. People who are sick "don't want to look like patients, and having a nice, elegant-looking garment helps a lot," explains Marie Zano, a nurse at Boston's prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That's certainly true for Evelyn Norton, 85, of Boston, whose daughter gave her one of Spirited Sisters' tan-colored tops after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. "It's perfect—it opens at the different spots where they give radiation," says Norton, who adds that her medical team wanted her to donate the top when she was finished with treatment. But she plans to keep it, explaining, "It looks like a real person's jacket."
In fact, the clothes have gotten such a good response that Spirited Sisters plans to expand into children's hospital wear. But the company will be doing so without Goodhue, who worked in advertising sales and lived in San Francisco before losing her fight with colon cancer in January, at age 44, leaving behind a daughter, Lilly, 9. "The pain gets a little better each day," O'Brien says, "but there's still that big hole in your heart that's never going to be filled."
Not that Feodoroff, an interior designer and married mother of two who lives in North Easton, Mass. (where the company is based), and O'Brien, a psychotherapist who lives near Atlanta with her husband and son, aren't trying. In March they established the Claire Foundation, in honor of their late sister, to help single mothers who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses; part of Spirited Sisters' proceeds will support the foundation. As Feodoroff explains, "Claire always wanted to leave her mark on the world, and this will do it. She will have a legacy."
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