SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - When Maria Lucas underwent radiation for breast cancer, she said her doctors, the hospital and the radiation center had everything covered. Except her back end.
"I had counseling and nutritional counseling. I got three free months at the local fitness center," said Lucas, 52, of Napa, Calif., who was diagnosed in late 2010 and underwent a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, follow-up surgery to take out any remaining cancer cells in surrounding tissue, and radiation in 2011
"They just give you everything, but then they give you this crappy, open-in-the-back hospital gown," she said.
So Lucas, who says she was never much of a seamstress, asked to take home a few gowns, got out the sewing machine she bought at Target, and whipped together a prototype gown specifically designed for patients undergoing radiation to the upper body.
She wanted it to be practical -- it's designed so the patient can reveal only those areas that are being radiated -- yet comfortable and stylish enough to be worn while sitting in the waiting room, walking between exam rooms or even in public. When she wore it to her treatments, she received great feedback from technicians and patients at the center.
Lucas showed it to her son, Koray, who was just finishing an entrepreneurial course for his undergraduate business degree at San Francisco State University, and he thought his mom had more than a good idea.
"Basically I said we can take this great idea and make it a great business," said Koray Lucas, 23, who graduated in May and now lives in San Jose, Calif.
The mom-and-son duo took the idea to a San Francisco designer to refine the pattern and started hunting for fabrics. Last year, Radiant Wrap was born.
Radiant Wrap is not the first stylish hospital gown ever to be produced, but it's the first to be designed specifically for upper-body radiation. Maria Lucas said she has a patent pending on her design, which wraps around the body and ties with two belts on one side.
She said the gown is her way to help make a difficult experience just a little bit better. "It sounds like a pretty small thing, but it's really huge," she said. "It makes me really happy I can share my experience and make it better for the next person who has to go through it."
So far, Radiant Wrap has sold more than 500 gowns to about seven cancer centers in northern California, which in turn offer the gowns to their patients to use during treatment or to keep as a gift.
Koray Lucas said he's in discussions with other centers and is projecting that Radiant Wrap will sell about 100,000 gowns in 2013.
Jennifer Thietz, an oncology nurse navigator with Mercy Cancer Institute in Woodland, Calif., said Maria and Koray Lucas gave a presentation last fall and the center ordered more than 100 gowns to give to their patients undergoing radiation. She said the center plans to buy more.
Thietz said the gowns actually transform the look of the treatment center. "You could wear that out to a shopping center if you needed. They really look good," she said.
The gowns retail online for $59 apiece, but Koray Lucas said centers that buy in bulk receive a substantial discount. He said the company, which started with less than $10,000, has outsourced production of the gowns to the Philippines.
Koray Lucas works at a health club, but hopes he can eventually devote himself full time to Radiant Wrap. "I want to ... give this business my undivided attention for a bit," he said.
Maria Lucas said she considers herself the face of the business, but gives her son much of the credit for making it work.