After having surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer four years ago, Simonne Cormier started looking for a breast prosthesis made from all-natural materials — but couldn't find any.
Breast prostheses are usually made from silicone or foam, and placed in the pocket of a special bra.
"I didn't have a big lump, but the outcome of the surgery was quite dramatic," Cormier said in an interview with Island Morning from her home in Valleyfield, P.E.I., near Montague.
She said she tried many of the breast prostheses on the market, but didn't like them.
"I found that none of it was really satisfying for me — the comfort level of the product itself, the issues that arose with them not sitting exactly where they should," she said.
"I just couldn't find anything that would suit my needs — and that was upsetting to me because I thought if I'm looking for this, I'm sure and certain others are as well."
'Wasn't going to settle'
The fruitless search spurred Cormier to create a prosthetic for herself. She shared it with friends and family, who applauded her innovation and urged her to share her idea more widely.
Last year, she founded Au Naturel Solutions, a company specializing in manufacturing all-natural breast prostheses. She also won a 2019 Ignition Fund grant of $25,000 from the province.
"I wasn't going to settle. I really felt that the need was there, and for me that was powerful enough," she said.
The grant allowed her to research alternatives and create a prototype for a hypoallergenic, biodegradable and completely natural breast form — but she can't share any photos of it, as it's not the final product.
I stand tall and I stand proud a lot more than I did before, because I am comfortable — Simonne Cormier
She said the materials will all be animal- and plant-based fibres — sheep or alpaca wool, hemp, bamboo and cotton are all under consideration.
She didn't want potentially toxic synthetics next to her skin.
"Something so close and personal to me had to have a solution that I could be comfortable with," she said, adding "if you're not comfortable, you're not confident."
The other key component to the prosthetic is a loop-and-snap attachment system that keeps the prosthesis in place in a bra, reducing the need to constantly check and adjust it.
"It stays where it needs to be, and that means a lot," she said.
"I stand tall and I stand proud a lot more than I did before, because I am comfortable."
'Right people supporting me'
She's now working with the P.E.I. BioAlliance to get the product to market some time in 2021.
"I myself don't have the skills and I know that. But with the right people supporting me and being there, it's going to make it so much easier to put this in the hands of the people that require it," she said.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — it is estimated about one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives, and one in 33 will die from it, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Cormier said her health is now excellent. She urges Island women to look after themselves, and get mammograms.
She also stressed her product will be not only for breast cancer survivors, but for those who have one breast larger than the other (asymmetry) or other needs.
"To me, it brings great joy to be able to provide that."
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