At 17, Akriti Gupta saw the lives of cancer patients and survivors up close. In 2015, her father was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer in 2015. During routine hospital visits, Akriti and her mother Kavita Gupta came across many breast cancer patients and learnt about their difficulties in finding a quality affordable breast prosthesis in the market.
The ones available were either too expensive or the cheaper alternatives were foam-based and of poor quality that would have an adverse impact on their health.
This prompted them to take the entrepreneurial route and launched Canfem, a for-profit social enterprise. Based in Haryana, it offers affordable and quality breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras for breast cancer patients and survivors in India. The niche market for breast prosthesis is expected to grow at CAGR 9 percent between 2020 and 2027.
A comfortable and healthy solution
Kavita Gupta, a social worker at the time, was aware of the different types of fabrics and their quality.
The duo tried different types of fabric and developed prototypes for a breast prosthesis. During the seven months Akriti’s father spent in hospital, they would present prototypes to doctors and rework on them based on their feedback. They kept on consulting doctors with every modification and spoke with breast cancer patients in the hospital till they perfected a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Launched officially in February last year, with approval from All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Tata Memorial Centre Hospital, Canfem currently specialises in two products; breast prosthesis and a cancer brassiere, which is a mastectomy bra with pockets.
Available across sizes in three shapes (triangle, round, and drop), they are priced between Rs 499 and Rs 1999. Akriti says they also customise shapes and sizes according to requests.
“We also kept in mind the purchasing power of Indian customers and geographic features and focussed on design that is comfortable to wear in a hot and humid climate,” she adds.
The duo has developed two technologies for the manufacturing process of each product. While the technology for prosthesis manufacturing has been patented, they have applied for a copyright for the mastectomy bra.
The entrepreneurs are looking for distribution partnerships with organisations and hospitals that are working with cancer patients and survivors. They are currently in touch with a few NGOs and clinics in Rajasthan and Bengaluru and deliver across India for orders placed through their website and WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, Akriti decided to strengthen her entrepreneurial journey by pursuing a master’s in social entrepreneurship from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She also had her first brush with entrepreneurship in 2015.
To ease her family’s financial burden when her father’s treatment was going on, she started making assorted homemade chocolates to meet her daily expenses as a college student. Named Akriti’s Chokolades, she also conducted workshops for family members of cancer patients were going facing financial troubles.
Physical changes and mental well-being
In India, one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every four minutes, albeit at a later stage in most cases, according to Cytecare Cancer Hospital. Akriti says that late stage diagnosis, primarily due to lack of awareness and healthcare facilities, lead to most women having to undergo a mastectomy (a surgery to remove breast tissues). Most women undergo a mastectomy to remove as much of the cancer as possible, restore the breast’s shape post that, or relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
However, the resulting changes in their bodies often affects their mental health. The 22-year-old explored this further in her thesis for the master’s programme and says the mental well-being of women who undergo the surgery needs to be addressed.
Having interacted with many doctors, cancer survivors and patients, she says, “the urgency further fuelled the fire in me that what I am doing is very important.”
While dealing with breast cancer survivors, Akriti noted that many had a hard time dealing with the trauma of mastectomy and something as simple as restoring their body weight with breast prosthesis helps in regaining dignity and self-esteem. She learnt that many tend to socially isolate themselves and feel incomplete.
For most, cancer is akin to a death sentence. Akriti’s early association with the dreaded disease also showed her that most educated youth of her age are ignorant about cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Around that time, she also started awareness campaigns in college campuses through games and activities that have grown to include more than 150 Delhi University students. Currently, she is leading Win Over Cancer, a non-profit organisation started by chartered accountant and cancer survivor, Arun Gupta.
A Global Action Poverty (GAP) changemaker who was awarded the title, “Young Leader Creating Better World for All” by the Women Economic Forum, Akriti is helping survivors of breast cancer with the gift of comfort and confidence.
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