The only thing more frightening than being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer is being a nine-year-old child watching your parent navigate such a formidable health scare.
That was indeed the case for Megan Grote when her mother, Ann Sullivan, received her life-altering diagnosis 21 years ago. Though at the time she was shielded from much of what her mom was going through, the experience made a significant impact on her life.
Fast-forward 10 years to when Grote was a college sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, majoring in fashion design.
“I felt a pull to do something more impactful with my career, and with my mom having had breast cancer, that felt like a good place to start,” says Grote, who in 2017 launched With Grace B. Bold, a niche business that combines fashion design with social impact.
“I think women need to give themselves grace and also be bold while going through their cancer journey,” she says.
When designing her products, Grote considered the various challenges women face when undergoing breast cancer treatment. She asked her mom what the worst part of battling cancer was, expecting the answer to be “losing my hair” or “losing my breast.” It was neither. Her mother said it was coming home from the hospital with surgical drains inserted to draw fluid from the incision site. The medical device was incredibly cumbersome and, attached to tubing, made it next to impossible to comfortably position.
“Mom was safety pinning these drains into her robe. She wasn’t even able to wear her normal clothes because nothing fit around them,” says Grote, who started thinking about how to solve this problem pragmatically. “I thought, ‘I just need to create a pocket that holds the drain and feels comfortable.’”
Of course, the fashionista in her wanted to be sure it also looked nice. Working from the inside out, Grote constructed a top called the Ann Elizabeth, named after her mom, that has a pocket on the interior that ties under one arm and has a sloped shape. The front is then draped, which helps if a woman has had a partial or double mastectomy, because there is volume at the neckline to help offset loss of breast tissue.
In talking to breast cancer survivors, Grote learned that for each one of them there was a point in their journey when they felt like they lost themselves or felt stripped of their femininity. One woman told Grote that following her double mastectomy, she felt like a teenage boy.
“None of them were focused on how they felt physically. It was all mental,” says Grote. “It was looking at themselves in the mirror or thinking, ‘When I go into my closet, I can’t wear any of the clothes that are in there.’”
These women felt a void in their lives, which Grote was eager to fill.
She also sells the Eileen, which is the same garment as the Ann Elizabeth, just without the pocket. It’s great for women who have a port or are going through radiation. In addition, breastfeeding moms have found it to be the perfect top for nursing since it ties on the inside so even when they take the top panel down, they are never exposed.
In June 2021, Grote launched the Julie, a head wrap offered in a variety of fun prints, that’s been wildly popular. In fact, she nearly sold out in preorders. Not only do women experiencing hair loss love the scarves, but so do all women. (All of her products are named after women in her life who have had breast cancer.)
Grote’s “giveback” program is a way for past breast cancer patients to help current patients. After having their drains removed, women who are done with their garments can send them back to Grote free of charge. She has them dry cleaned, then folds and wraps each one in tissue paper. Local hospitals distribute the Ann Elizabeths to women who can use them. The giveback program is one of Grote’s favorite parts of her business.
Women have told her that they can’t imagine going through treatment without her products and that these garments have given them back a sense of self.
“Those are the comments that fuel my fire,” says Grote. “I felt helpless as a child watching my mom go through treatments, so in some ways this is therapy for me to be able to help other women.”
For more information about With Grace B. Bold, visit withgracebbold.com