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Lindy Snider is a woman with a mission -- and not a predictable one for a person who delved into theater and Oriental Studies at Ithaca College and the University of Pennsylvania.
The only hint of her destiny may have been Snider's penchant for whipping up "concoctions" in the family kitchen as a child. Decades later, she has turned that experimental bent into a company with a remarkable and focused mission: to help cancer patients facing the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation deal with a frequent and unfortunate byproduct of life-saving treatment: painful and sensitive skin.
Snider is the founder of LindiSkin, a company that has developed products specifically geared to help ease painful skin problems in cancer patients whose needs had somehow been ignored by major companies.
Her "Eureka!" moment came when a good friend, singer Lauren Hart, who was being treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma several years ago, commented about the complete lack of skin-care preparations for an epidermis ravaged by disease treatments.
"I thought about how incredible that was," acknowledged Snider, "especially when I talked to other cancer patients about it and got the same response.
"There were wigs for hair loss, support groups, alternative and complementary approaches to cancer. But skin is so basic, and there was evidently nothing out there to help soothe it during treatment."
A determined sort, Snider believes she has inherited her father, Ed Snider's, entrepreneurial genes. She left her job in special projects at the Wachovia Center and set out to learn all she could about potential help for people struggling not just with a diagnosis of cancer, but also with skin so ravaged by the newer treatments that sometimes, those treatments had to be interrupted.
"I had a lot to learn, and I took my father's advice about concentrating on your own strengths, but also surrounding yourself with the best experts around."
As she sought information, Snider also became aware that a common side-effect of radiation therapy can be "radiation dermatitis" -- a type of burn that can range from a mild reaction to open, weeping sores. Chemotherapy, she came to know, could lead to rashes that were mild, or could take the form of painful, debilitating pustules.
Said Snider: "I also realized that oncologists were dealing with survival issues, so the issue of skin damage wasn't their primary concern."
For several years, she gathered information, ran focus groups with patients and turned to her then-fiance and now husband, Dr. Larry Kaiser, an oncologist and chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, for his insights.
The 'A-Team' of Advisers
Snider's team of scientific advisers included oncologists, pharmacologists, dermatologists and even psychologists to ensure that whatever products LindiSkin developed would be safe and effective.
"We are not a drug company, and I am not a doctor," said Snider. "There were lots of limitations in what we could produce -- we're always aware not only of what should be in our products, but also what shouldn't be. The search was always worth the effort."
Ultimately, the company ended up using plant oils, botanicals, glycerins and silicones to create soothing benefits.
Even the packaging became a critical issue. "In focus groups, patients let us know that they wanted something pleasant but not frivolous, classically elegant but not too frou-frou. And we also wanted something that looked gender-neutral, because men need these products, too."
Snider ended up with a logo in the form of a shield, the ancient symbol of protection and defense, with elements including an oak leaf to symbolize great age, and a star as the enduring symbol of hope, worked into the shield.
By May 2004, LindiSkin had sold its first products on its Web site. Today, the company has 14 products that are being used in more than 50 hospitals, and are being sold in about 100 stores, many of them affiliated with cancer centers and hospitals.
Genentech, Inc., the biotechnology company, has already purchased thousands of LindiSkin sample products to distribute to patients using its new lung-cancer drug, and in the next several months, a national drugstore chain may be offering the LindiSkin line.
Products include skin coolers, sunscreen, a soothing balm for dehydrated areas of the skin, a bath soak, lotions, washes, a face tint for brightening and reviving skin tones and a lip balm, among other products for face, body and eyes.
The cost of the various products, which use the finest of ingredients, ranges from $8 to $38.
But best of all, the LindiSkin products are wonderful for general use, particularly for people with sensitive skin and/or allergies. Snider's 99-year-old grandmother, Shirley Gordon of Bala Cynwyd, insists that the ingredients are working wonders on her skin.
"She keeps telling me that my products are making her look years younger!"
As exciting as the company's growth is, Lindy Snider would rather focus on its deeper meaning to her.
"I've never been involved in anything that had this kind of direct impact. I have a much deeper sense of mission and purpose because I'm actually having a tangible effect on people's lives."
Snider, a mother of four who range in age from 10 years to eight months, in addition to two stepsons, still manages to find time to read and answer every letter she gets.
"So many of them are enormously touching," she explained.
"People have stories of such struggle and courage. Even if I lose my shirt with this business, it will definitely have been worth it."
LindiSkin products can be found locally at Salon Jade Plum in Bryn Mawr; Ilona's in Wayne; Aesthetica Salon and Spa in Northfield, N.J.; the Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; Crozer-Chester Medical Center; and Fox Chase Cancer Center.
For more information, log on to: www.lindiskin.com.