How one woman went from cancer survivor to entrepreneur
For most, a cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event that happens once. For Cinde Dolphin, it became an all too familiar adversary, striking not once but multiple times.
It wasn't just her resilience in the face of repeated cancer battles that was remarkable. Dolphin also designed an innovative solution for patients because of her challenges with postsurgical drains.
The struggle that sparked an idea
"I've been diagnosed four times with cancer," said Dolphin, adding that she faced the onslaught head-on, starting with her first diagnosis at age 40 and continuing in the subsequent battles that tested her mettle.
She recalled she needed a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment after her initial diagnosis. Then, seven years later, cancer returned.
"I found a kind of inconsistency in my breast tissue," said Dolphin.
This time, it was a different type of breast cancer. She expressed relief after her second bout.
"It didn't even require chemo the second time," said Dolphin. "Good, now I'm done."
Yet, fate tested her resolve again with a third cancer diagnosis. Her surgeon advised a mastectomy. David Sahar, MD, Dolphin's plastic surgeon, reflected on her journey.
"When I saw her first, it was a difficult time in her life being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through multiple operations," said Sahar.
Noting her prior treatments, he explained their choice of DIEP flap breast reconstruction because of the heightened risks associated with implant reconstruction after radiation.
The DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap breast reconstruction procedure is sometimes used after a mastectomy. The procedure involves taking skin and fat from the lower abdomen and moving it to the chest to create a new breast mound from the patient's own tissue.
The hassle of surgical drains
It wasn't just the cancer and breast reconstruction that was challenging.
"After recovering, I had these drains attached to my body that were amazingly inconvenient, embarrassing and awkward," said Dolphin.
Surgical drains are tubes that take fluid from inside and extend to a collection bulb outside the body. They are necessary to remove excess fluids from the surgical site. Yet, patients like Dolphin struggle to conceal them with clothing, and they can dangle awkwardly, reducing mobility.
A nod to resilient women
Dolphin's journey with cancer sparked the idea of a drain carrier. Her desire to give back to other women facing both health and financial challenges propelled her invention forward.
"Here, I survived cancer for the fourth time, and it touched me so much that I wanted to do something to make the world a better place. So, I signed up to volunteer with a women's microloan group in Africa," said Dolphin.
Inspired by an embarrassing and inconvenient surgical drain experience, Dolphin designed a solution – the Kili Medical Drain Carrier. This innovative, soft, water-resistant zippered pouch worn like an apron gives postoperative patients a comfortable way to carry their drains, enabling them to move more freely and shower more easily.
Based on the time she spent in Africa, she described the women as hardworking, building small businesses to earn enough money for farm supplies, school fees and medical care for their families. They became close. The women, based at the foot of Kilimanjaro, locally known as Kili, became the namesake of the Kili Carrier.
"They said, 'Gee, we'd love to make something out of our fabrics that will cheer up the patient or make the patient feel beautiful,'" said Dolphin.
This desire led to integrating vibrant African fabrics into the product design, transforming the carrier into lively aprons.
Impact beyond innovation
The Kili Medical Drain Carrier, patented in 2021, is more than just a product. Its impact ripples out in multiple directions. It provides patients with a practical solution, but the invention promotes entrepreneurship in third-world countries, employing women in small businesses to craft these unique aprons.
Sahar praises Dolphin's tenacity and her invention.
"Our patients really liked the product, and they felt it helped them in many ways," said Sahar. "She continues to send carriers to patients for free sometimes when they can't afford it."
A legacy of giving
Dolphin's legacy isn't just her innovative Kili Carrier. A devoted community advocate, she lends her hand to support Afghan refugees, vulnerable women and various charities.
"I was healed by helping others, and I think others will feel that too," said Dolphin.
Despite relentless adversity, Dolphin's journey can inspire cancer survivors and all who face challenges. Her story, laced with compassion, shows that with determination, a bad circumstance can turn into a force for good.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.