, November 22, 2014 | More Post by

Not Another Appointment: Inside a Mastectomy Boutique

 

Teresa Kelly BrasThe women who walk through the door of the Silhouette Mastectomy Boutique in Newport News, Virginia, have lost so much to cancer – their sense of security, their self-confidence, one or both of their breasts. Teresa Kelly, manager at the boutique, considers it her job and her privilege to give back to those women what cancer has taken from them. Every day she puts her 36 years of experience in the medical field to work, giving women who face the ravages of breast cancer the power to feel normal.

More than a job

Working at the mastectomy boutique is more than a job for Teresa, it’s a calling. She remembers the fear and isolation her mother felt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1960s. When she works with women at the boutique she provides a relaxing, fun shopping experience to help them get the items they need that will also make them feel good about their bodies.

“All those years ago, women diagnosed with breast cancer did not have the support they do now,” Teresa said. “There were no stores like ours for them to buy prostheses and specially made clothing.”

Even though Teresa’s mother did not have a great deal of support or resources when she was diagnosed, she was a strong, determined woman who taught Teresa the meaning of surviving and thriving.

“The doctors gave my mother three months to live. She told them they weren’t the boss of her and she lived another 40 years,” Teresa said. “As a matter of fact, she outlived three of her doctors.”

Teresa acknowledges that doctors do the best they can but admits they don’t know everything. When she was in her 30s she underwent a lumpectomy to remove a benign lump. After watching her mother and going through pain herself, Teresa feels like she can be a trusted advisor to the women who come to the boutique.

“Most women don’t pull a blanket over their head and cry because they want to be strong for those around them,” Teresa said. “At the boutique they feel like they can let it all out because the employees understand what they are going through. We strive to make their new normal work for them. Most of the women want to make the most out of every moment post-diagnosis and we are able to put a positive spin on everything.”

Same war, different battle

Teresa has a long history of helping people regain what circumstances and illnesses have taken away. Prior to working at the boutique, she worked at an orthotics and prosthetics facility where she fitted men and women who had lost limbs with prostheses.

“When I worked at that facility it was more of a medical environment,” Teresa recalls. “People were there for all sorts of reasons. For example, a patient may have lost a hand, and once I fitted a nurse with a prosthetic index finger. The boutique’s atmosphere is different because it’s not another medical appointment. The women I work with are shoppers, not patients.”

Teresa pointed out that there are many similarities between the work she did at the orthotics and prosthetics facility and the boutique. In both cases she worked with individuals who had lost a body part and were learning how to live life differently. The boutique, however, offers an array of products and options for both cancer patients and non-cancer patients.

“Some of our customers come in for non-cancer related purchases,” Teresa said. “Others come in for custom-made wigs as a result of cancer treatments or unrelated conditions like alopecia, which causes hair to thin or fall out completely. We also sell bras that are more comfortable for a person who has had open-heart surgery or breast augmentation surgery to wear.”

A fellow survivor

Teresa knows better than most just how precious every moment of life truly is. In addition to her lumpectomy, she had surgery to clear a 98% blockage in her heart. She also had breast reduction surgery, going from an F cup to a C+ cup size.

“I know what women who have had reconstruction are going through,” Teresa said. “I visited vendors to try on bras and every one was painful. The exact spots where I had had cuts were where the bra would rub against my skin. There was no bra that was comfy for a woman post-reconstruction so I worked with vendors to design a bra that those women could wear and enjoy.”

Teresa makes it her goal to help every woman who walks through her door, whether she is in her 20s or her 80s. She knows that every woman is different and wants to make sure each one has a great experience at the boutique. She researches the newest prosthetic items, clothing, and wigs and keeps up-to-date on all of the new trends. She and her staff members are trained fitters who regularly participate in continuing education.

A healthy dose of laughter

Teresa has a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes from her years working at the boutique. She laughed when she told the story of the woman who had taken her breast prostheses out prior to exercising at the gym and placed them in a brown paper bag in her truck. Later she thought she had lost her boobs at the gym when, in reality, her son had borrowed her truck and tossed the bag into the backseat, not realizing that it contained his mother’s fake bosoms.

Then there was the older woman who had had a mastectomy 20 years prior but had never been fitted for a prosthetic. After her husband passed away she started attending a singles group and met a man. She came to Teresa because she didn’t want her new beau to discover what she kept in her bra in place of her breast – a sock filled with dried beans.

“When I fitted her with a prosthetic I told her she needed to tell her new boyfriend that she was a breast cancer survivor and that she had had a mastectomy,” Teresa said. “Later she told me that as she told him, he laughed and clapped his hands. When she finished, he told her, ‘It’s Ok. I’m an ass man!’”

Her favorite part of her job is when she sees the expression on the face of a woman who has been correctly fitted with a breast form.

“There is such a look of relief,” she said. “The right bra and forms can make all the difference. I love helping women regain their self-esteem and realize they are beautiful even in the face of illness.”

Spreading awareness

Teresa travels to different hospitals and clinics with her rolling suitcase to show women the latest in mastectomy designs and fashions. She also works with several support groups in the area, including Beyond Boobs!

“There was instant love when I met [Beyond Boobs!] co-founder Mary Beth,” Teresa said. “It is so different to have a group for younger women. I have met several of the members and it’s like having family, church, best friends, and a support group all rolled up into one.”

Teresa is a Beyond Boobs! Bustier and supports as many of the group’s fund-raising activities as she can, including events involving the Old Dudes Motorcycle Club.

“What I really love about Beyond Boobs! is that they care about people unconditionally. They realize that we are all fighting the same disease in different ways,” Teresa said.

The Silhouette Mastectomy Boutique is located at 12715-V Warwick Blvd. in Newport News. All of the staff members are trained, compassionate fitters. Many insurance plans cover the cost of items the boutique sells. If you bring a current prescription from your doctor with you to your fitting, the staff can call and determine coverage. If you would like to schedule a fitting session with one of the boutique fitters, call them at 757-930-0139.

 

Category: Blog

, November 14, 2014 | More Post by

Faith Unites Mother and Daughter

 

Joanne Cox was stunned when her daughter, Boober! and 2015 calendar model Donna Matherne, told her she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Donna fought to get a correct diagnosis for more than a year before she was diagnosed in 2009. Up until then the doctors had told her she had inflammation in her breast from nursing her newborn son.Joanne&DonnaCurrent

“The doctors had told her not to worry and that it was nothing, so that’s what I believed,” Joanne said. “Hearing her tell me she had breast cancer was scary.”

Joanne has always placed her faith in the Lord and she knew her daughter was a strong woman. “When Donna was diagnosed, she told us she was going to get better and that was all there was to it,” Joanne recalled.

All-American girl

Joanne’s husband Don worked for the government and Donna, her second child, was born in a British nursing home in Bangkok. “While I was pregnant I thought I was going to have another son,” Joanne said. “But I prayed for a girl and I was ecstatic when my daughter was born.”

From her earliest days Donna showed signs of growing up to be a strong, independent adult. “When she was a toddler, I would always tell her, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to be, but you’re going to be the boss of it,’” Joanne said. “Donna was very determined. She didn’t even bother with crawling. When she was 14 months old she just started walking.”

Being with her children always made Joanne happy. “It’s an amazing thing to think of a child growing inside of you,” she said. “When I was pregnant I would sing and talk to each of my babies and wonder what they were going to be like after they were born.”

Joanne described Donna as a quiet, observant little girl. As Donna got older she had lots of friends and was involved in several activities, including Girl Scouts and running track in high school. “She was a very involved, sweet girl,” Joanne said.

Conflicting roles

Donna’s first cancer diagnosis came as her father struggled with kidney failure. Joanne had retired from her job as a schoolteacher in Northern Virginia so she could care for her ailing husband. When her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer she felt torn in two directions. Should she stay with her sick husband or should she travel to Germany, where Donna and her husband Chris were stationed with the Army? Her daughter had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and she wanted to be with her child. However, her husband was battling a terminal illness and she wanted to provide love and comfort to him, too.

Joanne decided to make a brief trip to Germany to be with Donna while she was undergoing chemo. Donna also had her first mastectomy surgery in Europe after Joanne had returned to the States. Even though she wanted to be with her daughter when she had her reconstruction surgeries, Don had taken a turn for the worst and Joanne wasn’t sure if she could leave her husband’s side. Ultimately Donna came back to Virginia for her reconstruction surgeries and had the first one at Portsmouth Naval Hospital shortly before her father passed away.

Life after loss

For six months the whole family was together, and then Don decided he no longer wanted to undergo dialysis. Donna, her brother Carl, and Joanne sat with him at the house, talking to him and telling him what a good dad and husband he had been. When Joanne briefly let go of Don’s hand, he passed away.

“My children and grandchildren were my salvation after my husband died,” Joanne said. “They gave me purpose and kept me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself.”

When Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 2012 Joanne stayed with the family, helping Donna with housework and caring for her two sons, Nathan and Joseph.

“She is my baby and I wanted to do everything I could to help her,” Joanne said. “Donna is my hero. She felt so much pain and nausea during her cancer treatments. She lost a part of her body during her mastectomy and I just can’t imagine that.”

Lots of thoughts entered Joanne’s mind during Donna’s two bouts with breast cancer, but she placed all of her trust in the Lord and prayed to him for guidance and strength. “I pray for my family every day,” Joanne said. “I pray for each little issue in their lives and for their futures. I’m not young, but I am strong and I want to help my daughter in every way that I can.”

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, November 07, 2014 | More Post by

 

Cancer Diagnosis Can’t Diminish Couple’s Devotion

 

Mike Birgen and his wife Christy love each other so much they got married twice. They wed in December 2005, once on land by a Justice of the Peace and again on a Disney cruise by the ship’s captain.

Christy&MikeBirgen“Every year we celebrate two anniversaries,” Mike explained. “I give her roses both days. On the first day she chooses what she wants for dinner and I make a special meal for the two of us at home. The second day we go out and celebrate again.”

The couple met on Match.com. Mike saw her picture and read her profile on the site and decided to send her a message. The two hit it off and spoke on the phone every day. Mike lived in Virginia Beach and Christy was in Maine at the time so he would fly up to visit her every two months. After they got married Christy relocated to Virginia Beach. The couple has two teenage sons, Ryan and Jacob.

A heart-wrenching diagnosis

Christy was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2013. She underwent a lumpectomy and a mastectomy of her left breast. She had TRAM reconstruction surgery and is scheduled for more surgeries in the near future.

“My wife’s breast cancer diagnosis was heart wrenching,” Mike said. “She was at work when the doctor called to tell her the news and I told her she needed to come home right away. At that time we talked about what she was feeling and what her options were.”

Christy’s diagnosis was not Mike’s first experience with cancer. His grandmother was diagnosed and passed away when he was a teenager.

The couple decided not to tell their sons about their mother’s cancer diagnosis right away. They wanted to wait until after they had received more information from the clinic.

“The boys and I, all three of us, were wait staff for Christy after her surgery,” Mike said. “She had a phone by her bed and called the boys whenever she needed help. They didn’t complain and would drop whatever they were doing to help her.”

Mike admits that he often felt helpless during his wife’s cancer treatments and surgeries, but he did his best to be there for her and to hold her hand. “It was my job to be strong for her,” he said.

The darkest night

After her surgery Christy didn’t want to talk to her husband about her cancer. She would talk with him about other things, but whenever the subject of her cancer came up she wouldn’t discuss it. She told him that he didn’t understand what she was going through. Mike, upset and concerned about his wife, found Beyond Boobs! one night during an Internet search. He contacted the group and they called a few hours later to talk to Christy at 2:30 in the morning.

“I sat downstairs while she talked on the phone upstairs,” Mike recalled. “I owe so much to Shawni [Twyman] and Charlene [Cattoi] from Beyond Boobs! They gave me my wife back that night.”

Love after cancer

Mike feels that he and Christy have an even stronger bond after what they have been through together. “After her surgeries I still kissed her in all the same places,” he said. “I would kiss her where her breast used to be so that she wouldn’t feel the loss. I love her for who she is and her boob doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Mike advises other husbands whose wives face a cancer diagnosis to be there for their partners and to help guide them. “Be there for your wives however you can,” he said. “If you encounter problems, a cancer-support group can offer help. Beyond Boobs! is amazing and they have made all the difference in the world for us.”

 

 

 

Category: Blog