Usually when a woman has been treated successfully for breast cancer, there is relief that she has moved past the illness. However, 89 percent of breast cancer survivors are subsequently diagnosed with lymphedema, a condition unknown to most people, including fourth-year Kinesiology student Benny Hua and his mother when she was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.
When lymph nodes are removed or damaged as part of cancer treatment, often a blockage can happen in the lymphatic system, preventing lymphatic fluid from draining properly and causing swelling. In breast cancer patients, this swelling often occurs in the arms. The condition, once it begins, is permanent – something Benny considers unfair for those who have already survived serious illness. A further injustice is the sheer ugliness of the compression sleeves breast cancer survivors must wear as part of managing their condition.
His mother’s diagnosis came around the same time that Benny was reading about marketing and business, and thinking about business ideas connected with his kinesiology studies. A venture creation course helped him consolidate his business idea: to make attractive, fashionable (and possibly even smart) compression sleeves for breast cancer survivors with lymphedema.
Once Benny began telling his story and the business plan for his company, Node, people became eager to support his enterprise and to get on board. Benny won the Velocity Fund’s $5,000 Pitch competition, won $6,000 in in-kind patent services through the Nspire Business and Technology Conference, and was one of the winners of the Big Ideas Challenge, which offered him a term at St. Paul’s GreenHouse.
“Right now we’re at a fork in the road, trying to decide whether to focus on this as a fashion garment or a piece of technology,” said Benny. “We’re working on validating the technology of using smart fabrics for our compression sleeves; is the information the sleeves would give valuable, and to whom?”
For now, Benny and the Node team — which now includes a designer, electrical engineer, and nano-engineer — are spending this term moving forward with the fashion aspect of their first line of sleeves, with the goal of helping cancer survivors feel beautiful and comfortable as they manage their conditions. They want to continue to tell their story, develop their brand, and move forward with evaluating the technology aspect of the sleeves.
The end of this term will mark graduation for Benny, but his three- to five-year plan is to continue developing Node. The lymphedema community has been very receptive to his enterprise and Benny says, “It’s just feels right to help these people.”
Benny values the help he has received through GreenHouse. “The biggest value is it’s not just one space – not just technology, not just science — but a collective, a bigger picture. We’re all in this together, all moving along. It’s entry-level friendly. For someone starting out, the biggest question is where do I start? GreenHouse is really good with that – helping you get started, develop your idea. They also have the knowledge and expertise to help companies that are a little farther along.”
As for Benny’s mother, she’s doing well. She’s made positive lifestyle changes to reduce the effects of her lymphedema and is swimming and exercising every day.
- by Susan Fish
More about Node:
Node is a medically-based wearable technology company that makes smart, beautifully designed, custom fit compression garments for cancer survivors suffering from lymphedema. Node’s mission is to empower the lymphedema community with a smart compression garment that allows them to effectively monitor and manage this condition and increase their quality of life. Node’s vision is to create a social movement behind Node and lead the industry in lymphedema awareness and recognition for future care.
Hear Kwame Ansong's podcast interview with Benny