How to comfort breast cancer survivors

Environment key to post-mastectomy retail success
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Monday, October 28, 2019

Based on statistics from the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in American women. Sadly, most of us can identify close friends or family members who have been impacted by breast cancer.

While education, early detection, and advances in treatment have helped to decrease death rates since 1989, there is still a very high rate of newly diagnosed patients. This year, it is estimated more than 268,600 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. Meanwhile, more than 3 million women are among breast cancer survivors.

For many women, mastectomy surgery will be part of their treatment plan. Some women may have surrounding lymph nodes or chest wall muscle removed. Chemotherapy and radiation may be part of the treatment protocol. Some women will elect to have reconstruction surgery; however, reconstruction isn’t for everyone or may not be recommended until after chemotherapy and radiation are completed.

The alternative solution is a breast prosthesis. A certified mastectomy fitter can help a woman find solutions to ease the recovery process following mastectomy surgery, and if they choose breast prosthesis, the certified fitter can help find the right fit to match the profile they had prior to surgery. Breast prosthesis is a prescribed item, billable to third-party payers and Medicare plans.

Upon diagnosis, a woman will likely research her diagnosis and look to her physician and local support groups for guidance. Some hospital systems have a nurse navigator assigned to patients to help provide support and education during the treatment process. Having local resources available is key to providing comfort, support and guidance. A local certified mastectomy fitter is a valuable resource to assist women with their post-surgical needs. Meeting with a mastectomy fitter prior to surgery will help patients understand what options are available to help ease the recovery process.

The most significant element to remember for these patients is the environment. Creating an environment that is warm and comforting is vital. Breast cancer patients have already had their fill of cold, sterile surroundings and are ready for a place with soft seating and more of a boutique type atmosphere. The most ideal location to provide highest visibility and traffic is inside a hospital or cancer treatment center. The space should have the look and feel of a boutique and offer a variety of items for retail sale. These items include hats, turbans, skincare for sensitive skin during cancer treatment, robes, camisoles, and shirts that provide access for ports and drain tubes—all items that will help ease the recovery process and make her feel more comfortable.

When it comes to the setup, having a central retail space and private fitting rooms is essential. The space doesn’t need to be large. However, it should be enough space to offer the retail and related items in a central area with the more sensitive items such as wigs, hairpieces and external breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras sheltered from public view and located near the fitting rooms. If you offer wigs and hairpieces, the room should be well lit with a barber chair and mirror similar to a salon. A mastectomy fitting room should offer soft seating, a robe and a mirror.

Many third-party payers, including Medicare and state Medicaid programs, require a certified mastectomy fitter on staff to bill post-mastectomy products. Currently, Alabama is the only state that requires all employees who service mastectomy patients to be certified fitters.

It is also recommended to check with your accreditation agency to find out what is required to add mastectomy services. The most challenging part of completing the certification process is the clinical experience working under another fitter to gain mastectomy fitter experience. Women’s health is different from the general durable medical equipment product lines. Women are used to being the caregivers in their family, not the one in need. Finding a local resource with someone they can trust, who will listen and understand, is important. Women will appreciate those who take the time to understand their needs, and most are willing to pay for those items that are not part of a covered benefit plan if it helps make their life easier so they can get back to caring for their family. 

Nikki Jensen is vice president of Essentially Women, a division of VGM Group, Inc.