At 17, when Akriti Gupta was busy preparing for her 12th grade exams, life threw her a curve ball. She had to take care of her father who had been diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer.
In an interaction with His history, Akriti says: “My father was losing hope because the doctors had given him a 10% chance of survival. However, he wanted to keep busy and kept a blog that would document his experience to help other patients. He had a different twinkle in his eye every time he talked about it. In that same hospital room, I decided to work for cancer patients.
Today Akriti, 24, launched Canfema social enterprise helping breast cancer survivors. The platform offers various products and services to help them have a better quality of life.
Canfem’s product is endorsed by leading cancer institutes like AIIMS and Tata Memorial Hospital, and has been piloted on over 2,200 patients with a 93% satisfaction rate.
Akriti shares, “My father had lost his job due to chemotherapy. This inspired me to start a financial rehabilitation initiative connecting cancer patients and their family members to the nearest skills development center, helping them find jobs. »
During a visit to her father in the hospital, Akriti met several breast cancer patients and learned about their difficulties, especially in finding an affordable and quality breast prosthesis in the market.
Through her detailed research, Akriti understood that breast removal in cancer patients creates bodily imbalance and harms their physical and mental health. It also impacts their body image and self-confidence, often leading to social isolation.
Moreover, since most women cannot afford expensive silicone prostheses, they resort to harmful alternatives, including stuffed animals or baby diapers, which is a blow to their dignity.
This prompted Akriti and her mother, Kavita Gupta, to take the entrepreneurial route and start Canfem, which provides affordable quality breast forms and mastectomy bras for breast cancer patients and survivors in India.
“Our priority was to take care of our father’s health. Whatever little time we had at home, my mom and I researched, found materials, tried different fabrics, developed 15-16 prototypes, and had them reviewed by doctors,” shares Akriti.
The mother-daughter duo consulted doctors for each modification and spoke to breast cancer patients in hospital until they came up with a minimum viable product (MVP).
They started distributing it for free in the hospital until they were approached by a team of doctors from the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
Akriti says, “They approved the product and we started distributing the prosthesis at AIIMS. We were very lucky, and it felt like God wanted us to do this.
In 2018, Akriti pursued her Masters in Social Entrepreneurship at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, where she says, “I did my dissertation on issues faced by doctors, nurses and patients serving cancer patients, and I learned how our organization could help.
Make other women’s dreams come true
Today, Canfem has affected more than 6,000 cancer patients across India since its launch in 2016. Available in three sizes in three shapes (triangle, round and drop), its breast forms cost between Rs 499 and Rs 1,999.
Canfem’s manufacturing facility, based in rural India, also trains underprivileged women to manufacture its products, helping them to become financially independent.
Finally, Akriti advises women entrepreneurs to build a strong team and empower the women around them.
“At 17, I had to face a lot of disapproval from people around me. I was advised to find a stable job later. I was very lucky to have a family that supported me. Channel your energy productively and choose your battles wisely,” says Akriti.
She adds, “We have incredible power to make other women’s dreams come true.”