Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 3, 2013

Survivor helps women feel like themselves again

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — While treatment has helped survival rates of breast cancer increase significantly, treatment can often cause changes in a woman’s appearance that can be emotionally challenging, particularly for women who undergo partial or full mastectomies to remove cancerous tissue.

Women can still enjoy full, active lives following surgery and treatment, thanks to prostheses that provide a natural appearance.

“When you see their face go from sad to happy, you know you’ve done your job,” said Brenda G’Fellers, a certified fitter for mastectomy prostheses, herself a breast cancer survivor who underwent a lumpectomy 18 years ago. That’s one reason she has been drawn to helping other survivors in her career.

“I think it helps they they know I’ve been where they are,” she said, adding she tries hard to put women at ease when she sees them for a consultation.

G’Fellers has been working with women following breast cancer treatment for 20 years, with the past 17 years with Buckeyes Home Medical. She holds certification specific to fitting women with the breast prostheses, post-mastectomy bras and other specialized products. 

Women can be fitted for a prostheses about six weeks following surgery, after their body has had time to begin healing from surgery and there is no swelling present. They may be awaiting reconstruction or they may have chosen not to have breast reconstruction and are looking to prostheses to provide a long-term appearance solution. The first appointment can take 30 to 45 minutes and includes an evaluation, measurement and trying on bras and prosthetics. Most insurance providers offer benefits for breast prostheses.

The prosthetics are lightweight and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and even colors to better match a patient’s own body.

“We want to encourage the women that they’re going to look better when their products come in,” G’Fellers said. “When the bras and prostheses come in, we take another 30 to 45 minutes to try them on and make sure everything fits very well.”

While breast prostheses can help women regain their pre-surgey physique, they also help to protect the chest and surgical scars; balance posture; keep bras from shifting from side to side or riding up; and to prevent curvature of the spine, shoulder drop and muscular pain in the neck and back.

With a goal of helping women return to the quality of life they enjoyed before their cancer diagnosis, companies specializing in  mastectomy products are offering lighter, more natural prostheses that can be worn in a variety of activities, including swimming with specialized swimwear.

Buckeyes also offers a selection of wigs for women experiencing hair loss for any reason. These are not usually covered by insurance plans, but are reasonably priced, G’Fellers explained. Manufacturers are offering wigs that are lighter than the products of years ago, and that also allow for more breathability. A full-line of wig care products are also available.

“We try to help women look and feel as confident as we can,” G’Fellers said.

Breast prostheses do require a prescription from a woman’s physician, and the doctor can also order new prostheses should women experience significant changes to their body, such as gaining or losing a significant amount of weight.

To learn more, contact G’Fellers at 484-9001.