Jill Meyer-Lippert of Manitowoc knows how devastating diagnoses of cancer can be. Her father died from Hodgkin’s disease in 2005, and her mother is a cancer survivor. As a caregiver, she saw firsthand the side effects involved with their treatments.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same time that I got my first job at a dental office,” Meyer-Lippert said. “Immediately, I started seeing the effects. She suffered terribly with mouth sores and dry mouth and she didn’t receive any help. It sparked an interest in me; there was a need here that wasn’t being met. I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could.”
What she discovered was surprising. A lot of people who received chemotherapy and head and neck radiation had similar oral side effects. These side effects affected the quality of life for patients and could compromise their ability to beat cancer.
“In the beginning, I wanted to acquire the knowledge to deal with it on a small level with the people I worked with at the dental office," said Meyer-Lippert. "I asked questions and learned from survivors.”
The small level grew along with her experience. Now a registered dental hygienist for 20 years, she works full time at Shoreline-Legacy Dental in Manitowoc and is recognized as an authority on the oral effects of cancer treatments and ways to avoid or control them. She has a certificate in Oncology Management from the University of Southern Indiana, created a volunteer program providing oral care kits from 2006 to 2012, and started a business in 2013.
Side Effect Support, LLC (sideeffectsupport.com) was founded because Meyer-Lippert wanted to have a self-sustaining business instead of having to rely on donations to provide oral kits and information. As the daughter of business owners, she said she always felt like owning a business might be her calling.
“I went to some SCORE seminars and was very fortunate to have family and friends who helped me and gave me suggestions," she said. "My husband, Ty, was my sounding board and he was always there in the trenches with me; helping me to make agonizing decisions.”
They used a whiteboard to write down ideas, and Ty helped with the business plan. When it came to the competitive analysis part of the plan, she was surprised that they couldn’t find any comparable businesses.
“There isn’t another business that I know of that is like mine," Lippert-Meyer said. "I looked a lot because I thought that this was such a need there had to be something, but while there were a few directed toward treatment, none were focused on the oral aspect.”
When the plan was finished, Side Effect Support had the goal of “helping cancer survivors manage short-term oral side effects and long-term damage to oral health associated with chemotherapy, radiation to the head and neck, and some targeted therapies.”
The business is a source for patient education and offers products to help reduce oral symptoms caused by treatment. Lippert-Meyer also provides professional education to medical and dental staffs and is accredited to provide training to dental offices for continuing education credits. The business is growing as she uses social media, education and writing to get the word out.
“It is about understanding the need," she said. "This business is something that I love; I love every part of it. I get up early, run home from work at noon, and work on weekends, but it is never a chore to me. My goal is to have the business be my full-time focus.”
In the interim, she says it is a learning process, and along the way there are struggles that every business experiences.
“I realize that even though I’m trying to stay true to my goals, everything doesn’t happen the way you expect it to," she said. "It is a roller coaster and you have to learn to go with the flow. A mistake is merely a learning experience.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.