NEW YORK--The woman shyly lifted her sweater, and in halting English apologized for her old brassiere. The left cup was stuffed with a towel where her breast used to be. She had come to Cancer Care, Inc. in Manhattan for help.
A breast prosthesis costs about $250. In many states, Medicaid and Medicare pay for prostheses and bras, but patients are not always told that, and this lady had been walking around for 4 years with a towel in her bra.
But in a few minutes she would be smiling and standing taller looking at herself in the mirror. Wearing a new red satin "Rendezvous" Maidenform bra, the color lovely against her caramel skin, the left cup filled with a new pink 36B breast prosthesis, she was transformed.
Once a month, women come to Cancer Care's New York office for the "All You Want to Know About Breast Prostheses" clinic, given by Carol Art Keane, owner of Underneath It All, a post-breast surgery boutique in Manhattan. Ms. Keane herself had a mastectomy 4 years ago, and started the business when she realized how few stores carry products for women who have had mastectomies.
At Cancer Care, Ms. Keane alters and fits bras, and gives away bras and prostheses to poor women who are not covered by Medicaid or Medicare. She also helps those who are eligible to apply for their Medicaid or Medicare allowance for these items.
Every big bra manufacturer in New York City--Maidenform, Playtex, Lovable--donates to the program, she said. They give "beautiful lingerie, not irregulars, often with panties to match." Equally pretty surgical bras--bras with cups for the prostheses--are donated to Cancer Care by Coloplast/Amoena and Natural Wear by Camp.
Fitting the bras and prostheses, which have a polyurethane exterior and silicone interior, Ms. Keane works like a couturier. "Looks pretty good. It's just a little more projection than I would like," she said, stepping back to assess a fitting.