Breast cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer for women and the second leading cause of death from cancer for Canadian women, is often talked about in the context of battling or raising awareness of the disease.
But what’s less talked about is the day-to-day reality for women fighting or perhaps recovering, which often both take a toll on a woman’s body and confidence.
Diane Hayes started Kelly’s Mastectomy Boutique in 2003, which looks to fit women who have undergone various medical procedures involving their breasts, including mastectomies, lumpectomies and others, with various kinds of prosthetics and proper fitting clothing and bras.
A diagnosis is often devastating but Hayes said the boutique looks to make women feel as comfortable about their bodies as possible and that “they’re not alone.”
“For me it means everything that someone feels good and looks at herself and says, ‘oh my god, I didn’t think I could look like this again,” Hayes said.
“For many, when we fit them with the first prosthesis, there’s tears. It’s tears of gratitude, it’s tears of joys, it’s tears of them feeling good about themselves and it overcomes these fears and obstacles a lot of the had.”
The business does come from a personal place for Hayes, as it’s named after her sister-in-law Kelly Sauvé, who received a diagnosis of stage four breast cancer in 2002 at age 31.
After receiving the news about Kelly, Hayes went to work researching what she could to aid in Kelly’s battle, which included taking courses on being a prosthetic fitter.
She then went into business.
“I sent my brothers and sisters an email asking, ‘what should I call my new venture?’” Hayes said, adding the overwhelming response from her 11 siblings was ‘Kelly’s.’
Sauvé, who herself had a double-mastectomy, was able to see the first storefront for the store open but passed away in 2005, with Hayes noting her inspiration stays with her to this day.
“Having her name on the store is a constant reminder of why I’m doing this,” Hayes said.
“It’s not about me, this is about my client, the woman who lives with a breast cancer diagnosis, something she lives with the rest of her life.”
Hayes helps fit patients with a proper prosthesis that suits a patient’s particular needs, depending on whether they’ve had one or two breasts removed or a partial one, while offering customized clothing.
The goal, according to Hayes, is to make them invisible to the naked eye and give women a sense of confidence in their bodies, despite the emotional and physical scars present below the surface.
A recent client noted the most devastating part of the post-surgery process, was looking at herself in the mirror.
“We’ve seen gorgeous surgeries, surgeries that are okay, surgeries that are bad and some that are just really awful when someone has complications, but that doesn’t matter,” she said.
“It’s our job to make that woman feel like herself.”
The Canadian Cancer Society estimates just under 27,000 women will be diagnosed this year but talking about the struggles and reality post-diagnosis or post-operation can still be difficult, Hayes said.
“This can help overcome the fear and obstacles that a lot of them had,” Hayes said
Also aiming to help women upon initial diagnosis, Hayes began ‘The Kelly Project,’ as a first-step program for information, which is now being managed by the group Breast Cancer Action.
The project allows women to qualify for a certificate for Kelly’s Boutique for a post-operation garment, specially designed for different issues that can arise with procedures and transition after surgery.
With thousands of garments and products on hand at any given time, Hayes said the boutique offers a wide variety from undergarments and swimwear to every day clothes, along with other specialty wear.
Hayes said customers can be nervous coming in to the store or discussing what they’re looking for, so she tries to be as approachable as possible, even setting up her fitting room to look ‘nothing like a hospital room.’
She said for those who may be apprehensive about discussing the subject or next steps to give her a call.
“Don’t be afraid, we’re here to help. We have a lot of knowledge we can share and can advise you. There’s no question that doesn’t have an answer.”
Hayes suggests those who know someone who will undergo or recently underwent a lumpectomy or mastectomy to contact ‘The Kelly Project’ or the boutique itself for more information.