Survivor draws on personal experience

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In 1984, Ellen Tassone was diagnosed with breast cancer, which reoccurred two years later. In need of a prosthesis, she found Fran's Nu Image in the phone book--and discovered her calling. Tassone befriended the store's owner, volunteering in the shop. She took over the business in 1991 after the owner died. In December, Tassone was named Amoena's "Fitter of the Month." HME News spoke with her recently about bonding with her clients as they struggle with their diagnoses.
HME News: How does being a breast cancer survivor yourself help you when working with customers?
Ellen Tassone: The woman who is newly diagnosed comes in and we take time to sit down and talk. They may have some discomfort about showing the scar, or disrobing for the fitting and I tell them, 'Look, I know exactly what you are going through. I've been there, I've walked in your shoes, I wear a prosthesis. I look like you.' That gives them a feeling of comfort and connection. Being a 22-year survivor is helpful as well. I remember at my first diagnosis, when you hear that word--cancer--you don't hear anything else except you are planning your funeral.
HME: How has the industry changed for women over the past two decades?
Tassone: We see wonderful selection in the products, more feminine styles and different colors that we didn't have 22 years ago. The younger woman wants a bra that looks like a Victoria's Secret bra. The companies that are providing these products have come a very long way in creating some innovative new products. When I was diagnosed, there was a choice of three styles. Now, you can really match up breast forms to the remaining breast.
HME: How do you advertise Fran's Nu Image?
Tassone: We do some newspaper advertising. I also write a monthly column in a local health magazine about breast cancer, be it about new forms, new treatments or reasons why one should wear a prosthesis. The magazine goes out to doctor's offices, hair salons, libraries. It's a fantastic opportunity to get your name out. I had someone come in with an article that they'd saved for 10 years. They'd kept it just so that if they ever needed it, they would have the name of the company. I thought that was wonderful.
HME: You're a one-woman show. How do you manage?
Tassone: I am the CEO, the CFO, the fitter and the hand holder. I've stayed very focused on one thing--the mastectomy woman. I didn't want to spread myself so thin that you lose sight of what you are doing. We carry wigs, swimwear, a variety of forms and bras and that's it. It's a formula that works for me.