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Boutiques help women restore their appearance during breast cancer treatment

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While undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, Carolyn Malone turned to a place where she found the time to laugh, cry and, most importantly, heal.

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Sherry Brooks (left), the manager of Image Boutique at the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center, and survivor Carolyn Malone discuss prosthetic breasts, which are placed inside a specially made bra.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Sherry Brooks (left), the manager of Image Boutique at the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center, and survivor Carolyn Malone discuss prosthetic breasts, which are placed inside a specially made bra.

The Image Boutique at Georgia Health Sciences University’s Cancer Center was a place for Malone to regain parts of her outer image that were lost during her bout with cancer.

Malone, now 45, lost her hair during chemotherapy, and reconstructive surgery after a June 2010 double mastectomy caused severe complications. Tissue expanders placed in her breasts became infected, fluid built up inside her and the expanders were removed.

Malone, whose three sisters also battled breast cancer, started looking like herself again with a new wig and post-mastectomy prosthetics.

Certified mastectomy and wig fitter Sherry Brooks helps several hundred wo­men a year find a new look during chemotherapy for several types of cancer.

In 2011, 1,588 cancer patients, including 170 with breast cancer, were seen at the boutique.

Many women say a fitting at the GHSU boutique,
managed by Brooks, helps them release pent-up emotions from the cancer battle.

“When I came to Sherry, I could laugh about it. I could talk about it,” Malone said. “Then I started feeling whole again.”

Malone’s doctor wrote her a prescription for the wig and prosthetics. Her hair has started growing back, but she continues wearing the prosthetics 24 hours a day, not even walking to the mailbox without them, she said with a big laugh.

This month, she consulted with Brooks about what options will be available when the prosthetics, which cost more than $300, need replacing in about a year.

Patients usually meet with Brooks before their surgery or hair loss. She listens to their story and learns about their activity level and medical needs to make the right fit. Often, she’s a friend to cry and laugh with.

“What if that was my mother walking through the door? What if that was my sister, my aunt, my cousin? How would I want them to be treated?” she said. “I want them to have fun in there, forget about their troubles for a while and make them feel good about themselves.”

Most insurance plans cover prosthetics and wigs, but for those who cannot afford the items, the American Cancer Society’s Augusta chapter offers free services to about 100 women a year.

“Wigs are very expensive, from $200 to $500. Sometimes many patients can’t afford to get that,” said Vivian Williams, an administrative assistant at the society’s Augusta office.

Williams sees many wo­men walk through the door who are uninsured or underinsured. The wigs, undergarments and prosthetics are donated to the office.

Diane Moore, a certified fitter at Cat’s Pajamas in University Hospital, began fitting women with wigs 17 years ago when she began wearing one herself. She helps about 50 patients a month, about 80 percent of whom are being treated for breast cancer.

“We want them to look as natural and normal as possible after they’ve had their surgery and are going through their recovery,” she said.

Moore can trim and style wigs, or consult with patients about the medical necessity of post-mastectomy prosthetics. Without prosthetics, women can experience shoulder and skeletal problems from an uneven weight distribution, she said.

“This is what I think the Lord has been preparing me for all my life,” she said. “To be part of their lives and a piece of helping them to restore an image of themselves.”

WE THINK PINK BANQUET

Anita Renfroe, an author, comedian and YouTube sensation, will speak at the Oct. 24 We Think Pink Banquet, which benefits University Health Care’s Breast Health Cancer Center. Tickets, which cost $40, are available at the following locations:

• The Chronicle News Building, 725 Broad St.

• The Columbia County News-Times office, 4272 Washington Road, Evans

• Online at wethinkpinkinaugusta.com

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nowhine
5373
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nowhine 10/14/12 - 09:46 am
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I sympathize with the cancer victims

I sympathize with the cancer victims and applaud their courage. I pray for their speedy recovery. Apparently men never get cancer because all you ever read about is the women victims.

Willow Bailey
20605
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Willow Bailey 10/14/12 - 08:19 pm
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As a cancer survivor, in my

As a cancer survivor, in my third year of my five year watch, I know first hand how receiving a cancer diagnosis changes your life and outlook forever. In certain ways it can be a very positive step in relational and spiritual growth and in others, it can hang over your head like a dark cloud on any given day.

I'm very supportive of the awareness, interest and focus that has come about with this campaign. However, I do think that it is also very important to validate both men, women and children who struggle with other types of cancers. We are really not hearing enough about them to bring about awareness and earlier detection and treatments.

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