Q&A: Women's health

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The last 20 years have been quite a ride for Linda Jackson and other breast-cancer survivors. When Jackson had her first mastectomy 25 years ago, the environment for women was "degrading." There were very few bras, prosthetic breast forms or other post-surgery products. Adding insult to injury, following a mastectomy, doctors showed little empathy for a patient's feelings of lost femininity. Most expected women to be happy just to be alive. When Jackson had her second mastectomy, she took matters into her own hands and created the Softee, the first recovery garment for women following breast surgery. Since 1990, her company, Ladies First, has continued to pioneer products for breast cancer patients and survivors. Jackson recently talked to HME News about how the market for these products--and the women who need them--has evolved over the past 20 years.

HME News: Compare the environment 20 years ago to how things are today?

Linda Jackson: Twenty years ago women didn't talk about breast cancer. You didn't have a resource. You didn't have the Internet. You didn't have breast cancer support groups. It was a generation of women who did what they were told. Things have changed, and a big part of that is breast cancer coming out of the closet. Women are becoming active partners in their health care. They want to be part of a team. They want to know what is going on. And if they want something or need something, they ask for it. That has driven the introduction of all these new products.

HME: There does seem to be a large selection of products for women with breast cancer.

Jackson:  Absolutely. Twenty years ago you didn't have many choices in prosthetics or bras. You didn't have very many places to go for fittings and that has all changed because women are being heard. For my first bras, I had a choice, white or beige. That was it, and there were just a few styles. Now there are hundreds of colors and styles so that most women can pretty much wear the same garments they did before surgery.

HME: Is the provider community doing a good job of addressing the needs of this market?

Jackson:  They are doing an excellent job. Most of them understand the customer base and are there to make sure they get what they ask for. Fifteen years ago, providers had few options, and didn't specialize in these products. They didn't have a certified person to do the fitting. They were limited.

HME: The retail stores for women's health products that I've seen seem very nice, sort of like specialty clothing boutiques.

Jackson: That's what women need: to go somewhere they are going to feel comfortable and to know they are going to be helped by someone who is trained and experienced. They need to know they are going to have choices and that they are going to feel good about the way they look. That was not a priority 20 years ago.