Shawnee Mission Faces: Liz Benditt, founder of The Balm Box and four-time cancer survivor

Liz Benditt’s startup, The Balm Box, is functional gifting and self care for cancer patients. And it’s really taken off since she launched it during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a survivor of four separate bouts of cancer, Benditt understands what her customers actually need during treatment.

Originally from southern California, she earned her bachelor’s in broadcast film communications from Boston University and earned her Master of Business Administration, focus in marketing, from University of Southern California.

Benditt has worked in many marketing executive roles for several companies, including Hallmark, Barkley and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. She also teaches marketing classes at the University of Kansas.

In her spare time, Benditt enjoys running with her girlfriends and getting coffee with them afterward. She also volunteers with Education First-Shawnee Mission and participates in National Charity League with her daughter. 

She lives in Leawood with her husband of 18 years, Dave Benditt, their two children and their yellow Labrador. Here is the last chapter of her cancer saga.

I was just not prepared for the side effects. I was not prepared at all.

They really thought I would breeze through radiation treatment and it would be no big deal. They kept saying, you’re 45, you’re so young, you’re in good health — and certainly, when I compared myself to other women in the room, that’s true. I’m not obese, I’m not 85, I don’t have other health complications. So I scheduled all my radiation appointments for 7:45 in the morning so I could get into the office between 8:30 or 9 and work a regular work day and it was going to be this nuisance appointment.

I really thought because I was so young and healthy that I would get a pass on the side effects and that was not the case. At all.

My skin burned to a crisp, I was in a lot of pain. It wasn’t just red, it was purple. Just the weight of my arm on my side hurt, so I was constantly putting pillows or soft things under my armpit to keep my arm away from any friction on my side. Wearing a bra was out of the question.Trying to figure out a bra alternative that was wire free, that was soft, that provided some amount of support but that also didn’t chafe, that was impossible.

There were just so many things that you need going through radiation that are not prescription. It starts with the fact that you can’t wear regular deodorant. You have to wear aluminum-free deodorant. My Secret, I’ve been using it since I was 12, it unfortunately has aluminum in it, and that’s probably what makes it so effective. But there’s something technically with if you wear aluminum and you do radiation, it affects the amount of radiation you get.

I needed lotion up the wazoo, and all they give you is Aquaphor, which is basically Vaseline, so yes, Aquaphor technically keeps the skin moist, but it does nothing for the pain. Ice was the only thing that I found that was even somewhat effective at numbing the burn pain.

So I was constantly swapping out, looking for the right size of ice pack that I could stuff in my shirt that would be not super noticeable but then not sweat through. I was coming up with all these homemade contraptions. The deodorant alone, I spent easily $200 on different deodorants that were aluminum free to see if they would actually work.

Where do you find this stuff when you need it immediately? At that point, money didn’t matter. I just needed a solution.

You don’t know what you’re going to need until you’re right in the middle of it. And then when you’re right in the middle of it, you need it right then. And there was no central resource, no There was no support. And so then I started going down this research path of how do you get rid of the pain and burns, because I was in so much pain.

And what the doctor gave me were knockout drugs, I couldn’t drive with them. I had to be home to take the Vicodin. I couldn’t be at work because it made me loopy. And I didn’t want to be addicted.

Having to make those decisions, I kept thinking, what is the solution? Is there something that will just knock out the burn and not my brain? So I started doing research, and it turns out that there’s actually a fair amount of really interesting medical research that has shown some correlation between the use of calendula root and alleviating the pain in burn victims.

So I then looked for a lotion that had the highest concentration of calendula root, and it was super expensive, and I bought it, and it so helped. It made an enormous difference. I was able to cut back enormously my Vicodin when I got the right lotion. And I feel like this is crazy. Why are they giving you Aquaphor when this is what actually works? There’s all this stuff that you need, and it’s not there.

In the meantime, you have all of these friends and family that want to help. And so what they do is they bring you food, mostly, and it’s great. It’s lovely to be thought of. Maybe they send you flowers or a fruit basket. To me, it’s the thought that counts, genuinely.

However, I kept thinking these are two things that could be put together. Why can’t gifting be functional? Because genuinely, people want to help. They’re putting all of this time and effort into making this homemade meal that my son won’t eat, so wouldn’t it be better if they could bring me something that I’ll actually use and be helpful to me? I would rather have had 10 bottles of that lotion, and it would have been cheaper for people, even in terms of making meals.

That’s what I kept coming back to: 1) Where’s the self care for radiation relief (because it doesn’t exist)? and 2) Why can’t gifting be functional?

So that was the seed for The Balm Box. That was in 2017. Of course, in the moment, I had no energy to deal with it. I was exhausted. And it took me some time to recover from radiation. But that was the seed in my mind, and that’s when I started developing the business plan.

There’s nothing worse than feeling out of control when you are a cancer patient. And to me, having resources and tools to help you with all of these inevitable side effects is so empowering.

I want people to feel like they have taken control of their disease, illness, sickness, whatever you want to call it, and I think, personally, having some semblance of control is so palliative. It’s a relief. Because if you feel like it’s completely out of control, then that’s terrifying. But if you feel like you’re in control of your treatment and your path, then you can muscle through anything.