Thursday, October 26, 2017

Tina and Megan's Adventure to Georgia


"I was not sure what to expect when traveling to Marietta, GA to the headquarters of one of Thelma’s biggest suppliers, American Breast Care (ABC). After working with breast prostheses and bras at Thelma’s for the past 10 years, I honestly wasn’t sure what I would be learning about.  I quickly realized that I lacked an appreciation for the design and creation process of these products. It was also nice to learn more about ABC as a company and their passion for the industry in addition to meeting other mastectomy fitters and boutique owners from across the nation.

Tina and I had an early morning flight from Rochester that Sunday. After a quick layover in Baltimore we arrived at the Atlanta airport early that afternoon. ABC had a driver waiting for us with a Cadillac limousine to take us to the hotel. We felt quite spoiled especially after receiving a thoughtful gift bag filled with snacks at the hotel check in. After a quick rest we started getting ready for cocktails and dinner at Co-CEO’s, Jolly Rechenberg, gorgeous homestead. Jolly and Jay Markowitz (Chairman & Co-CEO) greeted us with a warm welcome at the front doorsteps. The remaining ABC crew greeted us inside with smiles and cocktails. This was the first chance we had to converse with the ABC employees and the 12 other boutique owners, managers and fitters.  We quickly fell to our common topics of how insurance companies are continuously making it difficult to run these small businesses, and the overall shrinking number of boutiques in our nation. Thelma’s is currently the only mastectomy boutique left in the Greater Rochester Area. Almost every other boutique owner and employee in attendance said that their establishments were the only ones located in their respective cities as well. After some chatting, Jolly led us on a nature walk around his property on the nicely groomed mulch path in the surrounding woods. Dinner was then served as a casual buffet style and was delicious. After some more wine, coffee and conversation we were shuttled back to the hotel to rest up for an early morning.

Monday was going to be an even busier day. We started off with a fabulous breakfast buffet (the hotel was a Mariott in case anyone was wondering), and then we took an 8am hotel shuttle to the ABC headquarters. I was expecting some sort of industrial looking factory, but it ended up being a typical looking brick office building. After an enthusiastic greeting from ABC executive assistant, Louise Pomeroy, we were offered more coffee and then escorted to the conference room. Jay and Jolly gave their welcoming remarks, and again I was blown away at the compassion and drive these men have for their company and breast care industry. They truly want to cater to their consumer and want our feedback as the fitters who work with these breast cancer survivors. After the welcome, we were split off into groups of five to tour all of the facilities in the ABC complex.

Tina and I were in separate groups so my first stop was the breast prosthesis factory to learn how a silicone breast form is manufactured. From the engineering/design to the final product there are more steps than I could count. We worked one on one with a factory worker to make our very own prosthesis to take home. Because of this I was able to experience being questioned by airport security on the way home as to what was in my carry on bag. I cannot believe that each prosthesis is handled so much by people and not machines. We also toured the custom breast prosthesis area, which until recently had been done with plaster. Thanks to technology, there is now a 3D scanner that is used to take images of the chest wall with an iPad. A designer at ABC then creates the pattern to make the mold to then make the prosthetic. The prosthesis is also hand painted to match the skin tone to give it an even more customized look. There is an incredible amount of detail put into all of these products that was more complex than I had ever imagined. The group then made our way back to the office building to meet the other employees in the finance and customer service departments. It was great to be able to put names to faces of those we frequently talk to when we have questions for the company. The last place to tour was the warehouse which contained shelves stocked from top to bottom with all of the products to be used to fill retail orders. This tour opened my eyes to the amount of dedication and work put into making these products available for our customers.

Lunchtime gave us another opportunity chat as a whole group. Everyone was so open about how their own business is run and willing to share the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry. It’s amazing the number of similarities there are between the different boutiques despite our geographic differences. Everyone shares a commonality in that we help women feel whole again after their breast surgeries. It is not uncommon for us fitters to hear almost daily about what a wonderful service we all provide. That honestly is the engine that drives these businesses. After lunch there was a significant amount of time spent with Jay and Jolly to discuss the ABC product line. They wanted to share some new innovative breast form design ideas. We were also able to vote on possible new seasonal colors for some of their most popular bras. Again, I was just impressed with how Jay and Jolly were genuinely interested in what we have to say, because we are the direct link to the women who use their products. It is nice to have a voice that is heard.

After the round table discussion, it was time for our trip to end. Tina and I packed up in the Cadillac limo again and started to absorb the information we just received in the past 36 hours. Overall, it was well worth the trip. Sandy had gone on this tour years ago, and I am grateful that she wanted to extend the opportunity to Tina and me. The breast care industry is unique in that there is a genuine desire to provide the best service and products to the customers. It was nice to be able to see that first hand.

When travelling to Marietta I was not sure what to expect, or what I would be learning. However, the value, and sense of worth, I witnessed being created in the environment of American Breast Care re-taught me the passion that people such as myself have when helping survivors of breast cancer."

Friday, October 20, 2017

Here's to The Good Days: Returning to The Old Me

“I have my own story, because every battle is different.”

Debi had thyroid cancer in 2001, and in 2014 began her fight against breast cancer. Anyone who has experienced an emotional and/or physical hardship can empathize with the monstrous wave of concern and fear that can consume us. One can only imagine the difficulties Debi came face-to face-with. Her admirable strength at this point in her life radiates, but she admits that due to breast cancer there were years of self-doubt, insecurities, and fear of never returning to her old self.

Debi gave us the raw truth to her battle because there wasn’t any other way to approach it. It was during a biopsy review, based on a mammogram, when the tumor was discovered and predicted to be cancerous. She knew she wanted to take immediate action. After the verbal confirmation of cancer, she was referred to a surgeon, and scheduled her appointment right away. Her surgeon informed her that the surgery would be a lumpectomy, with a need for 6 weeks of radiation. During her lumpectomy surgery, in early January, it was discovered there was more to the fight. Unfortunately, more cells showed up of which needed to be removed in her breast. The next step for her was a single mastectomy with no radiation. However, Debi decided she wanted a double mastectomy because she wanted to diminish the possibility of cancer returning to her body through means she could control. Her surgeon at the time advised against it and Debi got the reaction from others that her decision was drastic. To her, however, this was the only answer she saw probable. Debi then spoke with a social worker who respected her decision and advised her to get a second opinion. Debi found a new surgeon who researched her case and agreed to follow through her wishes.

Support from others is one of the areas Debi depended on for strength. She often felt confused and unsure during her experience, asking her doctors and family for answers to the decisions only she could make. Her husband and two daughters were the only support she desired at the time. As for others, it almost felt draining trying to keep people updated. She knew this hurt many people in her life, but she had to do what was best for her. When her immediate family came to terms with her decision on a double mastectomy, this was the best reassurance she could have received at the time.

Even with the support she needed, Debi still wanted to be sure she would feel like a woman again. She soon made the choice to extend her double mastectomy procedure, and have reconstruction surgery immediately after.

“If I had known then what I know now, I probably would not have done that.”

Debi had been unaware of places like Thelma’s, and the concept of breast prosthesis altogether, until after her double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. To her, you either had implants or had nothing. Debi had not known how strenuous the reconstruction process was going to be for her. She wishes she would’ve taken the time to let her mind and body heal before making a decision. There is nothing wrong with being patient with your body.

Debi lost the feeling of being appealing to her husband, although he told her he would always love her. This deeply troubled Debi because she values her relationship with her husband immensely. She says she still struggles with feeling pretty and confident, but the best advice she can give is to remember that with the bad days there will be good days. One must be patient and realize that recovering from this fight is a long process. Don’t look for a quick fix because one needs to be patient with their pain. The struggle is not what defines a person, and one must learn to carry themselves with new strength. 

Debi said choosing to attend various support groups at the Breast Cancer Coalition was one of the best decisions she made. She meets bi-weekly with women to talk about their experiences, or talk about life in general. It’s a moving and inspiring environment. The group re-instills the mindset that everyone has a different story, but they all have found a common-ground of strength.

Some time later Debi visited Thelma's as a customer. She said she felt such a welcoming environment that she wanted to be a part of the team. She started her employment at Thelma’s in the spring of 2017 as a mastectomy fitter. She takes pride in giving women the support they deserve. Although, she admits to feeling guilty in the regards of not being able to relate to the chemotherapy or radiation treatments some have endured. She still believes and demonstrates that she can relate to them, which makes her a positive asset.

Empathy is one of the most powerful gifts we as people can give. People often become engulfed in their own pain, assuming no one can relate to the extent they need. Debi had a life-changing fight like many, and the result of that fight is her beautifully giving the gift of empathy to others. While she knows that being alive is a miracle within itself, there is still a mental recovery from having one's pain publicized. This mental recovery should not be diminished because a positive state of mental health is the true component to being ones old self again. 

-MaryKate Frey, Social Media Consultant at Thelma's 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017



Thelma's Boutique is excited to announce the start of our new blog! Our goal of this blog is to create a community through open ended communication. This will be in regards to breast cancer and topics along said basis. 
We hope to also provide meaningful insight and and creative positive discussions. 

Updates will occur as news regarding our organization emerges, or events we feel are important propose themselves. Changes with our website and social media sites will also be mentioned on this page. 

Any suggestions, comments, and/or questions are encouraged, and we look forward to starting new discussions!