Preventative mastectomy inspires business to help breast cancer patients

Drain Dollies founder Charlotte Wood wins Remarkable Person prize at Live Better With’s Spotlight Awards

founder of drain dollies charlotte wood

A young woman from Manchester has been awarded one of our Remarkable Person prizes at the inaugural Spotlight Awards by Live Better With.

Charlotte ‘Charley’ Wood has been awarded the prize for her invention of Drain Dollies – bags to conceal surgical drains in a discreet and simple manner.

We spoke to Charley to find out more about Drain Dollies and how she feels to have won a Spotlight Award:

Charley Wood lost her mother to ovarian cancer when she was a teenager. Upon finding out that she carried the BRCA1 mutation gene – the gene which can lead to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer – at aged 26, she opted for a preventative double mastectomy. Although she was young, she knew it was the right decision for her.

“It was a big decision to make, but when you’ve watched your mum die, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal,” the 28-year-old explained.

A mastectomy often requires patients to carry unsightly surgical drains to remove blood and fluids from the wound which could cause swelling or infection.

Charley knew about the drains, so in preparation for her operation, she looked for a product that she hoped would help her during her recovery.

Charley with her drains after the operation

“I knew all about the drains, and that I would have them because my sister had the surgery before me. So I looked online to see if there was anything that I could use to hide them but there wasn’t anything.”

“So me and my friend’s mum thought that we could make something to put them in. That same week I made my bags, I realised how great they were, I thought it would be cool if I could make them for other people too.”

With the help from her friend’s mum, Charley learned how to sew and started making Drain Dollies for other women who had had single or double mastectomies.

I couldn’t sew at this point, my friend’s mum taught me how to sew.  We set up a little factory in my lounge. I spent my days recovering watching films and making Drain Dollies. And it went from there.”

drain dollies founder charley wood
Charley with her friends’ mum – who taught her how to sew

The bags aren’t just practical, they also help self-esteem at a time where it is understandably low.

I think there’s a huge dignity aspect to it. Even when I was walking from the ward to the car when I was discharged, people were staring at me. If you see someone with strange looking pipes and bags full of blood, you’re going to look. You feel a bit self-conscious on top of feeling s**t because you’ve just come out of surgery.”

drain dolllies for mastectomy surgery
You have a choice of six beautiful  Drain Dollies prints

Charley is really pleased with her win and proud that Drain Dollies is building a reputation for itself.

It’s really nice to know that I’ve helped so many other people through something so simple,” she said. “It’s great that the Drain Dollies are being recommended by healthcare professionals too. I have a questionnaire where I ask ‘where did you hear about us?’ and a lot of my customers are filling in ‘recommended by the hospital’.  So it’s nice and cool to feel valued.”

Charley continues to raise awareness of the BRCA gene by writing for the Huffington Post and appearing on television and through her personal blog – They Are Not Twins, They Are Sisters.

The campaigner also donates 10% of all proceeds if Drain Dollies to Prevent Breast Cancer, a charity based in The Nightingale Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital where Charley had her operation.

For now, Charley, who runs Drain Dollies by herself, just wants to focus on her bags but she’s opened to the possibility of expanding her range in the future.

“There are a lot of great mastectomy products out there, but my idea is so nice and unique and it’s becoming a brand that is recognised in the cancer community. I’d never make anything that is already out there. So I wouldn’t create anything else unless I came up with a new idea, because I know how I would feel if anyone stepped on my toes.”

drain dollies founder

The first of its kind, the Spotlight Awards shine a light on the achievements of truly remarkable people, products, and services in the cancer community. Nominated by the public, and voted by a panel of expert judges, the winners are from all walks of life, of all ages, and from across the world.

The Spotlight Awards have been organised by Live Better With, an award-winning online platform where cancer patients and their loved ones can find products and information to help with the symptoms and side effects of living with cancer.

See the full list of Spotlight Award winners here.

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