"Real superheroes might not exist, but witnessing your child fight for their life is as close as it gets." In 2019, Jodi Harouche was told the four words that every parent hopes they will never hear — your child has cancer. At 15 years old, her son Jordan was diagnosed with an extremely rare and very aggressive form of brain cancer.
At a time when Jodi felt as if she had absolutely no control, she decided that she could at least try to make her son feel more comfortable. So she reconstructed one of his favorite shirts to give doctors direct access to the IV line in his chest. What she didn't realize was that Jordan would take this simple idea and turn it into something that would make a difference in the lives of thousands of children going through the same fight.
I spoke with Jordan Harouche, JZips founder and CEO, along with his mom, Jodi, co-founder and charity President, about their initiative to empower kids with cancer. This is their story — and how their charity, JZips, came to exist.
JZips Origin Story: Not All Heroes Wear Capes
A rite of passage that typically comes with a pediatric cancer diagnosis is the implantation of a mediport (a semi-permanent IV line) into the child's chest for chemotherapy. To access this port throughout their treatments, patients must regularly change into a hospital gown for their chemotherapy sessions. This can leave them feeling exposed and can serve as a representation of their disease. The JZips shirts remove the need to change at all.
"Knowing that we were going to be in the hospital for at least a year, and getting treatments over multiple days at a time, having one T-shirt was not an option. So his grandma and I said, "'Why don't we just take his T-shirts, his favorite T-shirts, and just put a zipper on them?' And that's what we did. That's kind of how the idea of it started," Jodi explained.
After Jodi and Jordan's grandmother made the first JZips shirt for him, all eyes were quickly on Jordan, with other parents eagerly asking him where he got the shirt and if they could have some made for their child. This is where the story gets good.
Jordan Chose to Give Back During His Cancer Battle
Jordan, a teenager whose life had just flipped upside down in an instant and who was going through aggressive cancer treatments, decided to turn his mom's brilliant idea into an opportunity to bring comfort and joy to those around him.
"I kept getting gifts from people because that's the thing people do when you have cancer. I started asking people to give me T-shirts instead. My grandmother was staying home to take care of me, so she would sew the shirts and then I would go to the clinic and distribute them to the other kids at the hospital," Jordan shared. This is how JZips was born.
Within a month, they were registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and sending pediatric cancer shirts to kids all across the country. Fast forward less than four years later, and Jordan is cancer-free, but he isn't done fighting. As the CEO of JZips, he aims to continue expanding his charity so that more children can have confidence and comfort throughout their cancer journeys.
To date, the charity has distributed over 8,000 JZips to kids across the globe and works with 36 hospitals across the United States that distribute JZips to the kids undergoing treatment in their facilities.
They Aren't Just Shirts, They're a Feeling
JZips' stated mission is "to provide children and young adults undergoing cancer treatment with normality, comfort, and dignity." In reality, they do so much more. They give these cancer warriors a persona to embody.
"I'm a big Disney person. I associated my character with Ironman. Ironman has the arc reactor. I had my mediport. I looked at this character as someone who had been through something similar," Jordan explained. This is what makes JZips so special. Each shirt represents strength, confidence, and bravery for the child wearing it.
"We have parents tell us 'My son or daughter doesn't want to take off the shirt when they get home.' The reason they don't want to take it off is because they're proud of it. It's something that they know they're doing, and they're being strong, and they associate it with strength. The kids feel like superheroes. They feel like princesses. Wearing the shirt allows these kids to relate the characters [on the JZip shirt] with their cancer journey, which makes [the shirt] feel very important to them," Jordan said.
The Unique Design Brings Comfort & Control to Pediatric Patients
Having a JZip shirt allows a child to get dressed for the day, go to school, go out with friends, and then go straight to their treatment, with no one the wiser. This is thanks to their very strategic design: the two zippers at the top of the shirt look just like shirt seams.
Their coloring also complements the shades of the designs on the shirt, which makes them appear to be an intended part of the apparel. Plus, it's something they can keep forever.
"A JZip allows someone to feel a sense of calm and a sense of normalcy. It's something that is their own. It's not something that has been worn by 500 people in a hospital and washed and then recycled back to them. It is something you own and take home. It smells like home, it is home," Jordan said. These are qualities that you can't get with a hospital gown.
Another powerful aspect of these chemo port shirts is that they serve as an icebreaker before treatments begin. "Instead of a nurse just coming to them with a needle, they will compliment them on the shirt. This gives the child control. When they're ready to have their port accessed, they can unzip," Jordan shared.
From Donations to Empowering Kids: The JZips Process
The components of a JZip are pretty simple — a shirt and two zippers. Despite the simple design, though, JZips puts a lot of effort into the process. It starts with shirt donations in fun, inspiring designs that will uplift kids.
From there, Jordan and Jodi's team of seamstresses follow a specific design to ensure that the openings in the shirts align at the right spots for mediport access. The seamstresses then add tags with the JZips label.
The next step is packing and shipping the shirts. The shirts are delivered to the hospitals JZips has partnered with, and then the shirts are distributed to kids undergoing cancer treatments. Rather than having to wear the hospital gown, kids can wear a shirt that encourages and empowers them.
Adding the zippers correctly is crucial because the alignment needs to be just right to provide that port access.
How You Can Help Kids Feel a Little Stronger
The whole enterprise is dependent on the generosity of others, and you can get involved and support this incredible charity yourself.
Donate or Create Your Own Fundraiser
JZips is always looking for donations, and 100% of its proceeds go into the cost of making the shirts and shipping them to the kids who need them. Donating is easy. You can click on the "donate button" directly from their website or you can check out their Amazon Wish List to select fun shirts that will be made into these chemo port shirts. When using this second option, just make sure to select the JZips shipping address when you checkout.
For those looking to donate their time, Jordan and Jodi suggest setting up a social media T-shirt drive using their wish list to help them collect more supplies. This is extremely simple because the shirt selection is already set up, and once purchased, the shirts are shipped directly to JZips. You just ask people to give.
The average cost of a JZip shirt is $30. This means that if you give up your Starbucks once a week for a month, you can make a difference in the life of a child fighting cancer.
Consider Giving Back This Holiday Season
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, "Every day, 42 families learn that their child has cancer [and] globally, approximately 400,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year." Jordan likes to remind people that "It's the little things that make the big things easier." A little donation can spark a colossal change in a child's outlook throughout their cancer journey.