AIKEN - Patsy Taylor knows losing a head of hair during a battle with cancer can be an emotional shock, so she's helping patients fight back.
Ms. Taylor, who owns Designed by Nature, a boutique in Aiken Regional Medical Centers' new cancer complex, sells wigs, prosthetic breasts and other items to help cancer patients cope with the ravages of the disease and the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
As patients wait to receive treatment, they can browse any product a cancer patient might need, including the store's hottest seller, a bathing suit with pockets to hold prosthetic breasts. Ms. Taylor also sells aluminum-free deodorant, which must be used when receiving radiation treatment.
"I think it's nice they can come in here without feeling embarrassed and find something that makes them feel better," said Ms. Taylor, who lost a sister to breast cancer 15 years ago. "The physical effects of cancer treatment can be traumatic. The fact that we are in the cancer center allows people to browse before or after their treatment with other people in similar situations."
According to the Board of Orthotist and Prosthetist Certification, there are about 60 boutiques across South Carolina for cancer patients and almost 200 in Georgia.
Most boutiques are free-standing, but Ms. Taylor said she has seen a trend of opening more inside hospitals.
Ms. Taylor opened a similar store in Greenwood eight years ago, but said she saw a need for an Aiken shop when she noticed many of her customers were being treated there.
Dr. Ahmad Gill, an oncologist at Aiken Regional's cancer center, noticed patients traveling to Greenwood and contacted Ms. Taylor about opening a boutique.
"New technology is really helping patients fight the physical effects," he said. "Being in the world of treatment and having Patsy work so closely with the patients, I think it's really comforting to patients."
In addition to providing products, Ms. Taylor's shop has a resource library, complete with an Internet-wired computer for patients who want to learn more about the disease and different treatments.
"Most people want to find out what to expect from their treatments, its side effects and what questions to ask their doctors," Ms. Taylor said.
"Everybody has questions, and this also helps them get in touch with support groups."
As Donna Tarasawa, 57, browsed the items in the store Monday, she said she was impressed with the selection.
"Hopefully I won't need any of this stuff," said Mrs. Tarasawa, who is fighting a rare blood disorder and visits the cancer center for treatment. "But I think it's great to have this here, and I know a lot of people are using it. Most people don't know where to turn when they get the disease; now it's right next door."
Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395. or firstname.lastname@example.org.