For some women, finding comfort in their skin, and in their clothing, after the treatment and surgeries related to a breast cancer diagnosis can be difficult. Pansy Dorling dedicated her life to serving the needs of these women, and left behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
Pansy’s Post Mastectomy Boutique, which was founded and owned by Pansy Dorling, opened in 2003. Though she was never diagnosed with breast cancer, she had a great love for those who were and felt she had a lot to offer them. After working for a company that offered similar products and services, Dorling decided it was time to branch out on her own and begin her own business.
The business was previously located in the Garden Lakes community in Rome, behind a real estate company. Though the building was small and often hard to find, the business thrived for nearly eight years before the woman who dedicated her life to serving the needs of breast cancer survivors in the northwest Georgia area passed away in 2010.
Diane Talley, a certified fitter who has been with Pansy’s for many years, and Ken Goewey, son of the late Dorling, became partners in the business and decided to continue with her dream of compassionate care. In July 2014, the new owners decided to move the business to its current, more prime location at 100 Redmond Road in Rome.
Pansy’s Post Mastectomy Boutique’s goal is to assist women in leading fuller lives after breast surgery. They offer a variety of post-surgical bras and gowns, breast forms and prostheses, camisoles, scarves, swimwear, sleepwear, wigs and skin care products.
Each customer receives a professional consultation and fitting and, despite the type of treatment they have received, the boutique is able to provide products and an enjoyable experience the customer’s will not forget. They want to treat each customer individually, providing personalized, one-on-one services to meet each of their specific needs and desires with privacy and confidentiality.
“We are primarily here to aid ladies who have been diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Talley.
Post-surgical products and medical products are available at Pansy’s. Sports bras are available for those who are having a lumpectomy in order to provide compression. They are commonly worn on top of each other and many doctors instruct the patients to place a bag of crushed ice between them to help relieve swelling. Specially designed camisoles are offered to mastectomy patients. These camisoles are designed with a shelf for the insertion of virtually weightless, fiber-filled prostheses and bags that attach with velcro to hold the drainage tubes and bulbs.
“They can put the camisole on and walk out of the hospital after their surgery and nobody can look at them and tell that they have had breast surgery,” said Talley.
In addition, women with neck and shoulder tension or lymphedema will find a selection of products to suit their needs.
For patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments, wigs are available at Pansy’s. Often, chemotherapy patients lose their hair within a few weeks of beginning treatment. The store is proud to be one of the few locations in the northwest Georgia area where women can choose from an extensive selection of wigs, hairpieces and extensions. They offer a wide variety of styles, colors and lengths for daily wear and special occasions and can also special order to meet the needs of their customers. Products to help their customers maintain their wigs and hairpieces are also available.
“I feel like if a women is diagnosed with breast cancer, and she’s going to have to have chemo, we can offer her everything she’s going to need,” said Talley. “If we don’t have it here, we can get it.”
Though many insurance companies do not pay for wigs, the boutique offers a line that begins at $129.95 and goes up.
After treatments and healing, the products that Pansy’s can supply their customers are endless. For women who have had a mastectomy, silicone and fiber-filled prostheses are available, ranging in size from 32AA to 48DDD. One-on-one mastectomy fittings are available to help women decide which is the best fit for them.
“We have prosthesis that go up to a size 18. If they want to be large, they certainly can,” said Talley. She helps her customers pick out which size fits their frame and makes them feel comfortable. All sizes are in stock for the customer to try on and see in person.
“If they have had a double mastectomy, I tell them ‘Hey, you can be any size you want to be.’ Often, ladies who have been extremely large all of their lives want to come down,” she continued.
For those who have had a lumpectomy, shapers are available.
“Sometimes, so much tissue is taken out that there is a noticeable difference in the size of two breasts,” said Talley. “The shaper fits over the breast after surgery to bring it up to the same size as the natural breast.”
There are many options for prosthesis wear available in the boutique. Feminine, fashionable and natural bras are available with molded cups, lift and support, or built-in lace camisoles if desired. They include pockets for the insertion of the prosthesis. Swimsuits of many sizes and styles and intimate apparel designed for beauty and reliable comfort are also available with either shelving or pockets, enabling the customer to wear their prostheses with them as well.
Fitters are fully trained and complete a certification process. They spend many hours observing, studying and training, and must also pass an exam. They are educated on how to measure and factor in the fullness of the breast and the size of the prosthesis preferred by the customer when suggesting sizes.
“I try to listen to my customers, because how they feel about what they’re doing is what’s most important,” said Talley.
She continued, “That commercial on television that says that 98 percent of all women in America wear the wrong size bra is right; they do. Most women will measure and think that’s the band size, but you have to add three to five inches to that to keep it from being too tight.”
The boutique accepts insurance for many of its items—its customers pay nothing upfront. The staff takes care of sending the prescription to the doctors and filing with the insurance companies. According to Talley, any doctor that has been treating the patients within the last few months and is aware of what they have been through can sign the prescription. This can include a surgeon, family doctor, or oncologist. They want to ensure a stress-free process for those they serve.
For those who do not have insurance, or insurance that will not cover the products, the boutique offers a selection of items in its Angel Closet. The Angel closet is well stocked with all sizes of bras, prostheses in every shape and size, camisoles, and a variety of swimsuits, all of which are given to customers without insurance at no cost.
“If anyone comes in without insurance, we just fit them right there and send them on their way,” said Talley.
Many items in the Angel Closet have been put away and forgotten about by other customers. They come in with tags still attached, have never been worn, or are very gently worn.
“The women who come in here are so good and understanding because of what they have been through; they understand how other women feel,” said Talley. “They donate to the Angel closet because they want people who don’t have insurance to have the same advantage that they’ve had.”
Talley also said that families are very thoughtful when loved ones pass away. They will bring in that loved ones items and donate them, often with tags still attached, in their original boxes, or in brand new condition, so that others who may not have insurance or the ability to pay for the products may have them.
The Angel closet also has some wigs that have been donated so that others may have the opportunity and self-esteem once given to patients that no longer need or want them.
There are no requirements to be fitted and receive items from the Angel closet, just show up and have the need.
“I get more joy out of fitting someone out of the Angel Closet, because they are so happy,” said Talley. “They came in here thinking they weren’t going to be able to get anything and leave with everything; they are just thrilled.”
Talley said that many of her first-time clients get emotional during their first visit after surgery. Prior to their fitting, women often feel that they will spend much of the rest of their lives feeling uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but become immediately more confident after they begin trying on items that fit them well.
“My favorite part about working with my customers is making them feel whole again—seeing what a difference it makes in the way they feel about themselves. How you feel about yourself effects how you feel about everything,” said Talley.
Linda Barlow, a resident of Rome and breast cancer survivor is a long time client of Pansy’s. She suggests that women who are in need of these products visit the boutique and ensures that they will be comfortable and cared for.
“I like the friendly atmosphere at Pansy’s,” said Linda Barlow. “It’s a good place for women to have and somewhere for them to feel comfortable going for their needs; women with our past history need a place like that.”
Talley feels that the specialty boutique offers customers and patients everything they will need.
“The swimwear, the lingerie, the leisure forms, the silicone, the bras—we try to accommodate each lady’s differences so that they can wear what they are accustomed to wearing. That helps them feel even more natural and comfortable, and that’s the most important thing.”