Diagnosed with breast cancer just six weeks apart, Brisbane sisters Margaret and Aisling Cunningham admit the shock still hasn’t worn off.
Mammograms, chemotherapy and surgery quickly became the norm with Margaret, 45, and Aisling, 49, telling 7Life they were overwhelmed with tears when they discovered their dual diagnoses.
“There was a lot of tears from us both,” Margaret says.
While some patients focus on recovery, these sisters wanted nothing less than to sit around talking about cancer all day.
Instead, the women thrust themselves into the beauty world launching an Australian first in the skincare industry claiming: “It truly did help us get through treatments.”
The youngest sister received her diagnosis first after discovering a dramatic change in her breast, then a mere six weeks later, Aisling went in for her routine breast exam – one she had been putting off due to the pandemic restrictions.
“When I had the ultrasound the medical staff were aware my sister had just been diagnosed, so I think it was a difficult situation when they found something and needed to do a biopsy,” Aisling reveals.
“Waiting a few days for the results friends and family tried to reassure me there would be no way something would be wrong with me too but I had a sense there was.
There were many days when we felt so ill from treatment and could do nothing but lie down all day
“I was actually at the same hospital having chemotherapy and was worried as her appointment was taking so long,” Margaret adds.
“We drove home from our appointments together trying to convince each other the biopsy would be fine, I really believed there was no way she could be diagnosed at the same time.”
But devastatingly the GP phoned Aisling a few days later with the Breast Cancer diagnosis
The good news was, both women seemingly caught the disease early and specialists were confident treatment would be successful.
Easing their mind somewhat too, further testing showed the cancer was not genetic as originally feared, but just a case of “bad luck”.
One thing was for sure though, the women wanted a distraction from the “all-consuming cancer conversations and appointments”.
A welcome distraction
In and out of hospital, the women decided it was the perfect time to kickstart their own business – Lula Eye Masks.
A few months prior to the pair’s diagnosis, Margaret discovered self-warming eye masks in the international market.
Unable to source the beauty product here, she began her quest to bring the gadget down under.
“Margaret just kept talking about these warming eye masks and how we should introduce them to Australia, she finally convinced me that it could be a great business idea,” Aisling laughs.
So once Aisling was brought around to the idea, the pair hit the gas on bringing Lula Eye Masks to life.
With numerous prototypes rolling though the door, the women became their own test subjects.
“We took them to hospital during our surgery stays and we used them on the days after chemotherapy when it was so hard to sleep despite feeling exhausted.
“These Lula eye masks have been thoroughly tested by us and proved to be very helpful!” Aisling says.
Various prototypes arrived by the minute.
“The first ones [prototypes] we created were warm but not quite warm enough, we wanted them to feel really comforting – and it was also very important that they were a safe temperature for the eyes and the skin, so not too warm! It was a fine balance,” Aisling laughs.
The technology behind the mask is a simple chemical reaction – each mask contains iron particles so when it comes into contact with oxygen the iron slowly begins to warm.
It wasn’t just the perfect warmth the sisters searched for it was also the scent.
A side effect of her treatment, Margaret briefly lost her sense of smell so when it came down to fragrance they enlisted the help of friends and family.
It truly did help us get through treatments
Finally finding the mask that was “just right” the duo launched with a bang and sold over 6000 in seven weeks.
As for the name, Lula means “warrior” which resonated with the cancer journey both women endured.
“Creating Lula Self-Warming Eye Masks really has brought so much joy to us in a very difficult time.
“There were many days when we felt so ill from treatment and could do nothing but lie down all day (with an eye mask!), but then there was also pockets of times when we felt good and we could be creative and be excited by Lula and not think about cancer for a moment,” the women admit.
Recently the duo also let out a sigh of relief after the doctor gave them the all clear, six months after their treatment ended.
Of course, they require regular scans with Margaret undergoing some related surgeries in the coming weeks.
Touched by their customers’ own reasons for supporting their business, Aisling adds: “We also see the joy our product brings to our customers, helping them slow down, relax and sleep or being a gift they can give to a friend who is going through a hard time.
“We’ve received some really lovely messages from our customers. Knowing our Lula Eye Masks are helping people stop and be calm for a while makes us very happy!”
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