Humble beginnings, deep roots, and a whole lot of HEART...
What started as an idea, pair of scissors, and a visit to the local craft store in 2010 quickly grew into much more than just a vision for Registered Nurse Courtney Wilson and her business partner pharmacist Greg Dowless.
Following in her mother's footsteps, Courtney graduated from nursing school in 2008 and graciously accepted a position on the inpatient oncology floor of her local hospital. Courtney knew she had found her calling in oncology nursing and so did others around her. At her 90 day evaluation, Courtney recalls her manager telling her that she "was the epitome of all things a nurse should be" and that watching her at work was "like watching a duck on water." Courtney speaks this of her time spent on the oncology floor:
"I knew more than ever that I had found my calling as a nurse- where I could make a difference in the lives of others at a time they needed compassion, kindness, love, and respect the very most. I knew I would be instrumental in changing the lives of others along my journey, however, I never imagined that all the hands I held, the last breaths I witnessed, the tears shared with both patients and family members, the lives I helped to save, and the lives I helped to let go while on the inpatient oncology floor would have impacted MY heart, soul, spirit, and life to the extent it did. In my experience, there is something about a cancer diagnosis which changes the way people live their lives- it helps clear up very quickly the things that really matter vs. the things that don't and is a constant reminder to never take our time here on Earth for granted and to all show one another a little more grace, kindness, and love along the way."
After working on the impatient oncology floor, Courtney was given the opportunity to work in an outpatient oncology center where she ended up spending time working in a very busy chemo infusion room. With accessing the port being a sterile technique, Courtney began to notice challenges with accessing based on clothing choices for patients. “Patients would end up with stretched-out collars from having to pull their shirts down, shirts needing to be removed completely or partially in order to gain access to the port area, and sometimes even left people feeling overexposed in our wide-open infusion room,” Courtney explains. “I started noticing a few patients who would come in wearing shirts in which they had taken scissors and made cuts or even large holes in order to make getting to their port easier.”
That sparked Courtney's idea: create unique shirts that made accessing a patient’s port less stressful- a “treatment-day uniform,” so to speak. The goal was to make accessing the patient's port an easier experience for both the patient and the nurse. Courtney also wanted to help take the worry away from patients on what to wear to chemo. "I always put way too much thought into what I wear different places personally, and I wanted to create something patients would have as their 'go to' for infusion sessions. I like to think of it as their 'game day shirt' where they know exactly what to throw on to go out and kick cancer's booty!" says Courtney.
Courtney mentioned the idea for specialized treatment day shirts to her pharmacist colleague Greg Dowless. "Greg has always had such an entrepreneural spirit and had experience with selling products and starting up businesses, so when I had the idea, I knew exactly who to bring it to," Courtney says. After mentioning the idea to Greg, the two did some research and found that no such type of shirt truly existed. That’s when Greg encouraged and helped Courtney bring her idea to life.
Determined, Courtney began sewing, cutting, and experimenting on shirt designs until she finally found the solution. “A zipper strategically sewn into the chest at a 45-degree angle beginning at the collar opens the chest area up exactly as it should for sterilizing and accessing the port with ease while maintaining privacy and comfort.” Courtney says. Courtney went on to perfect her zipper-sewing skills, and from there, she and Greg co-created the brand ComfyChemo®.
Courtney, being a perfectionist, spent hours making each shirt by hand. Prior to sending out each package, she would pray over it. She says her prayer is always that the intended recipient "find peace in whatever is to come." It was also very important to Courtney that each shirt sent out was wrapped like a gift so as to add a little bit of unexpected happiness into each recipient's day.
As awareness of ComfyChemo® shirts grew, so did the company’s number of orders. Due to demand, hand-making the shirts was no longer feasible, so Courtney and Greg decided to find a manufacturer. This was easier said than done as many of the samples Courtney and Greg received from manufacturers didn’t meet their extremely high standards. Then one day they found their perfect fit- a manufacturing team who is led by an amazing lady who's parents both died from cancer. Courtney says: “We were blessed to find our amazing manufacturer who we still work with today and has worked closely with us through the years to optimize our design and ultimately has allowed us to provide a line of apparel that we can wholeheartedly stand behind for its excellent quality, comfort, and affordability."
Today, ComfyChemo® shirts are mass-produced and are worn by patients nationwide. They’re also available for sale in a number of larger cancer centers including Duke University Medical Center and the University of Kansas Hospital to name a few. Although Courtney and Greg have watched several "copycats" jump in and out of their space through the years, they pride themselves on being the original to the market and believe that their heart for what they do and the excellent quality of their product has yet to be matched.