From fighting cancer to founding ChezLeon: Cheryl Pollock’s story
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and MedTech Actuator would like to acknowledge the impacts of breast cancer and the importance of creating awareness about it.
MedTech Actuator startups work to improve and save the lives of people through health innovation. This month we are shining a light on ChezLeon, a MedTech Actuator startup that designs & manufactures patented DP-TX Massage Wear that helps relieve pain and reduce swelling from fluid blockages. Fluid blockages can be caused by a wide range of conditions including lymphoedema, mastitis, oedema, heart & vascular conditions, major surgery, injuries and post-breast cancer treatment. By treating the blockage rather than the swelling, DP-TX products help patients regain their freedom and quality of life.
The journey from fighting cancer to founding ChezLeon
Cheryl Pollock came up with the idea for her startup ChezLeon after going through cancer treatment and dealing with lymphoedema herself.
“After undergoing cancer treatment involving the removal of all my lymph nodes in both groins, I started to experience pain and swelling caused by the blockage to the lymphatic system. I tried everything on the market and found that the current treatments were unsatisfactory and were causing more issues”, Cheryl Pollock, CEO and Founder of ChezLeon Pty Ltd.
With a background in mechanical engineering, construction and studying remedial massage and the lymphatic system, she realised that the current treatments were not addressing the problem which is the blockage caused by the surgery and lymph node damage.
The current treatments for lymphoedema focused on the outcome – the swelling; they were not suitable for everyone, particularly in the hot Australian climate. Using her engineering skills, Cheryl designed a clothing insert using differential pressure to gently massage the site of the blockage providing immediate relief. ChezLeon DP-TX massage bra inserts for Breast Cancer, gently massage the area of the blockage, helping to break down scar tissue and to move the fluid around the blockage. It helps drain the limbs or prevent build-up in the limb or associated area. Soon Cheryl was approached by other patients suffering from various fluid blockage conditions asking for help. Seeing patients dealing with pain and swelling for several years and finding immediate relief by wearing the product is what drove Cheryl to do more.
“I was able to help women with golf-ball size swelling and pain due to lymphoedema lead a pain-free life with the ability to return to work and regain their quality of life”, adds Cheryl.
Bringing the product to market
The startup journey has been challenging for ChezLeon, particularly in finding a manufacturer, and a supportive community. Existing manufacturers were reluctant due to a lack of capability and skills. After spending months finding the right manufacturer locally, in the end, ChezLeon had to rely on outsourcing manufacturing for the product.
Being a solo female founder in her 60s, it has been a hard road to find funding for ChezLeon. Due to the nature of its product, bridging the funding gap between the Minimum Viable Product (testing) to commercialisation (market launch) has been complicated due to the costs involved.
In spite of these challenges, ChezLeon is breaking through these barriers and making significant progress in bringing high-impact health products to market. Cheryl advises startups on a similar path to focus on their passion and the impact their product can have on patients when facing difficult times in their commercialisation journey.
“I started as a patient and then worked with patients gaining a real understanding of what they were experiencing and what they wanted. I developed my products with and for the patients. They gave me the passion and determination to get through hard times, they picked me up and kept me going. Being a medical start-up is one of the most difficult paths to go down. Without passion and people to motivate you, it would be extremely difficult. Deeply understand what your patients need by listening to their pain and addressing the cause; you will find helping them the most rewarding and grateful experience”.
MedTech Actuator Accelerator Experience
ChezLeon joined MedTech Actuator Accelerator Cohort 5 in 2020 with the hope to gain networking, support and funding opportunities. Since then ChezLeon has been able to get private investment and get sample runs manufactured and trialled with hospitals such as Liverpool & Campbelltown Hospitals, GenesisCare – Gold Coast, Breast Cancer Physio-Gold Coast and Oncology Recovery Service-Sydney. The company is also engaged in the planned clinical study of head and neck Lymphoedema at Mater Hospital Newcastle.
“I recommend joining the MedTech Actuator Accelerator early to set the foundation and map out the pathway as this will save a lot of time and energy in the long run. The MedTech Actuator gives you a great foundation to navigate the difficult pathway through the development of medical products. Their connections and networks give you access to specialists in their particular field worldwide so you get the latest information from the source”, Cheryl.
Breast Cancer Awareness
“Everyone’s cancer journey is different. From my experience, going through cancer treatment is very scary, as you go through a range of emotions. It’s as if life stands still, nothing matters except your family and getting through this. Then you are told that due to the treatment you could end up with lymphoedema, a debilitating swelling of a limb/s with no cure. ‘You have just survived a death sentence only to be given a life sentence’.
As with cancer, early detection is the key to a successful outcome, the same applies to lymphoedema. Early intervention, and taking a preventative approach help with the long-term management of fluid build-up. As it can take from 3 to 30 years for swelling to develop enough to be diagnosed, patients need to take a proactive approach to manage their condition from day one. From breaking down scar tissue to encourage lymph growth and strengthening lymphatic pathways to self-massage, exercise, skincare and deep breathing. Also understanding their condition, their body and what works for them. There is no miracle cure, no one-off treatment, it is a condition that has to be managed for the rest of your life therefore any treatment has to be maintained. The most important thing is to have a positive attitude, have some fun and laugh as often as possible. This not only helps you but also those around you who are on the journey with you”, Cheryl on breast cancer awareness.
Learn more about the lymphatic system, lymphoedema and how to manage it on ChezLeon’s website and follow their journey as they create awareness about Breast Cancer.
Expression of interest is now open for MedTech Actuator Accelerator 2023.