Care provider at breast cancer boutique imparts kindness and counsel
CRANBERRY TWP — The team at K&J’s Complete Woman, which began with a wish to offer apparel to women with cancer, knew the last place sick people wanted to spend more time was at a hospital.
The boutique, founded in McMurray by Kathy Garrison in 1990, opened a new branch last November at 665 Castle Creek Drive in Seven Fields. It offers prosthetic breast forms, compression and mastectomy bras, wigs, head coverings, bathing suits, and other apparel that aren’t generally available anyplace else.
“This doesn’t really compare to, like a doctor’s office or a hospital ... No, there’s nothing to compare it to, the experience of having breast cancer — so many emotions,” said Kathy Smith, a breast cancer survivor from Cranberry Township. “But coming here to K&J, because you know that you don’t have to worry about somebody telling you something’s wrong or whatever. You’re coming, very welcomed. Kelly takes her time, which is important.”
Kelly Graham is a certified mastectomy fitter who has served people in Butler County for 20 years. She joined K&J’s Complete Woman when the boutique opened its Seven Fields location Nov. 1.
She brought her services to the new shop after her past employer stopped carrying the supplies K&J’s provides. That news saddened her, she said, because she wouldn’t get to continue doing work she loved.
The surprise of finding new work with K&J’s highlighted the limited availability of the boutique’s services, since Graham assists women from both Butler and Beaver County. In Beaver County, she said, there is no boutique like hers, either.
“Every woman has their own story, and they’re all different, and you can’t rush anyone,” she said. “You have to give them their time. And when ladies come in without an appointment, if I can make it work, I make it work, because I know the emotional struggle.”
Graham has a family history of cancer herself, which allows for the kind of empathy for other people that only direct experience can bring.
One woman who visited needed 20 minutes in her car to cry before entering the store — she had just begun chemotherapy and was selecting her first wig.
Another woman, who was facing two different kinds of breast cancer, had just gone through surgery to remove both breasts. She had not yet brought herself to look at her scar — a shocking sight for many women with cancer.
But when Graham explained her own background, her own meeting with the surgeon and other connections the two shared, that client found the conviction to confront her scar. She was scared, but she didn’t cry, and, in the end, she laughed and gave Graham a big hug.
That, Graham said, was the greatest compliment she could receive.
“If I don’t have what a woman needs, I will order stuff in and I will bring her back,” said Graham. “I don’t ever want her to feel like, ‘Here’s a bra, here’s a prosthesis — out the door you go.’ I want her to feel like I took enough time and explained everything in a way that they understand, and they understand that I’m taking care of them, if that makes sense. So that’s a long battle.”
Graham said all women come to her with widely different needs, unique needs determined by their bodies and the surgery styles they have undergone. When surgeons perform mastectomies, some manage to leave more breast tissue behind. Other surgeons have to cut deeper into the tissue.
The hardest part for many women, Graham says, is the wait, since people with cancer must wait six to eight weeks following surgery before they see her. If they don’t wait, that can inflame swollen tissue.
Graham takes care to prevent the store from resembling a doctor’s office. Rustic wooden tables, cream-colored furniture and floral patterns glowed in warm lighting. A wooden witch’s hat, placed atop Graham’s reception desk, reads “the witch is in” to signal that the store is open.
Graham turns the hat to display its other side as 4 p.m. arrives and the store closes. “The witch is out,” the hat now reads.
“They just treat you like a human being here,” said Smith about the staff at K&J’s.
“Kelly is compassionate, she’s knowledgeable, and I can’t think of anybody who would do the job better. ... You just feel at home here.’”