At Mercy Boutique, women who have undergone a mastectomy or breast surgery can find everything they need to outfit them for their “new normal” … and, in boutique certified mastectomy fitter Cindy McCrae, they find an encouraging and compassionate friend who has walked in their shoes.
“I was born to do this job.”
Cindy, a Massillon native, was diagnosed with breast cancer 25 years ago at just 35 years old. A mother of two young children at the time, she had a single mastectomy and reconstruction surgery.
While working as a pharmacy technician at a local pharmacy that offered mastectomy fittings, she enrolled in classes, logged hours of practical education and took the exam to become a certified mastectomy fitter. She’s been with Mercy Boutique since 2011.
As a breast cancer survivor, Cindy knows that losing a breast or breasts to cancer can be devastating.
“Some women come in crying or mad, and I get that,” Cindy said. “I tell them, ‘It’s going to be OK, but you’re going to have a new normal.’” She’s even offered women her cell number, so they can call her at home if they have questions or concerns. “There’s nothing worse than not having someone to talk to who understands.”
Over the years, she’s made good friends and knows many customers by name. “One time, I ran into a customer at the mall who introduced me to her husband as ‘my breast lady’,” Cindy said, laughing.
Glamour in an unexpected place
First-time visitors to Mercy Boutique quickly realize that the atmosphere is much more women’s specialty shop than clinical medical supply store.
“It’s a fancy place with chandeliers and a matching dresser and armoire set,” Cindy said. “The ambience, as well as the privacy, helps to put women at ease and to reassure them that we can help them feel good about themselves again.”
Mercy Boutique offers a full line of breast forms and prostheses, mastectomy bras and post-surgery camisoles, as well as wigs, turbans, skin care products, compression products for lymphedema, and cancer awareness gifts.
“When women come in before surgery, they’re scared. I go over what they can expect. I know, because I’ve been there,” Cindy said, adding that she has bared her own post-mastectomy breast countless times to reassure women that it will be OK.
She advises women to already have a post-surgery camisole at the hospital for right after the surgery, so they can be comfortable as they begin the healing process.
“Six weeks or so after surgery, when the swelling is down, and the doctor gives the OK, they come back in and we go over breast forms, bras, and figure out what they need,” Cindy said.
Typically, physicians write prescriptions for their patients to be fitted with breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras. While there is some variance among insurance companies regarding the prosthetic devices and number of mastectomy bras allotted, most will cover the costs.
Mercy Boutique also has a Cameo Collection that is an option for uninsured women or those whose insurance doesn’t cover their needs. “People kindly donate gently used prosthesis, mastectomy bras and wigs to our boutique. We clean them and make them available free of charge to women who don’t have insurance or aren’t able to pay,” Cindy said.
Will I ever look normal in clothes again?
“When people know that you’ve had breast surgery, that’s where their eyes go,” Cindy said. “It’s human nature. But with a proper fit, breasts will look symmetrical with an even contour, so no one will be able to tell that you’re wearing a prosthesis.”
Cindy, who has fit hundreds of women over the years, said that like each woman’s cancer is unique, so are her needs and wants when it comes to boosting self-image and confidence. The type of surgery and reconstruction matters when it comes to finding a comfortable, natural-looking prosthesis.
Through one-on-one conversations, Cindy explains the features of the various prosthesis the boutique carries, including shapes, densities and weights.
Some women are concerned that their lingerie options will be limited post-surgery. “It’s a relief when they see that they don’t have to be stuck with ugly bras,” Cindy said. The options are plentiful, including sports bras, molded-cup bras, with or without seams, lace, strapless bras, and bras that come with built in prosthesis, support and lingerie bras.
At Mercy Boutique, women of all ages can find the comfort and confidence to thrive after breast surgery. “We have very young women come in and we have women who are in their 90s,” Cindy said. “A lot of them are recent post-surgery, though some had their mastectomies 50 or 60 years ago.” Many women are repeat customers who visit to adjust sizes or replenish their lingerie wardrobe.
“The best part of my job is when a woman looks in the mirror and says, ‘I feel like me again!’”
Mercy Boutique is open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with other times available by appointment. Parking is available at the 12 Street entrance. Most insurances are accepted.