Losing a breast to cancer not only changes a woman’s body, it can empty her pocketbook.
An artificial breast form, which in medical terminology is called a prosthesis, costs $200 or more. Mastectomy bras, which have a special pocket to hold the breast form, sell for $40 or $50 each.
If you lose your hair during chemotherapy, a wig can cost from $100 to $400.
But in the Capital Region, if a woman is short on cash she can get those items free from To Life!, a non-profit organization based in Delmar and at the C.R. Wood Cancer Center at Glens Falls Hospital.
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Both places accept donations of gently used prostheses and bras and then make them available to women in financial need.
“The donated product is a way of providing product for people who are uninsured or underinsured,” says Eileen Howe Bird, executive director of To Life!, which was founded in 1998 to provide breast cancer education and support services to women and their families. “No one gets turned away. And donated product allows us a way to serve anyone.”
To Life! accepts donations of used prostheses, bras and wigs during business hours at a boutique of breast cancer products in its main office in Delmar, and by appointment at a satellite boutique in Saratoga Springs. Donations must be clean and in good condition. Wigs should be washed. “I take in a lot of wigs,” says Bird.
Donations of prostheses and bras come in a couple of times each month.
“Most of the product we take in, we ultimately do turn around and donate back out. Sometimes donated product is used temporarily until people can get fitted for a product,” says Bird.
“We get calls after someone has passed or after someone has had reconstruction or done something that they don’t need the product anymore. There are some insurances that may replace things every couple of years.”
Breast prostheses, which are made of silicone gel, are quite durable and may last several years.
At the C.R. Wood Cancer Center, two or three breast forms are donated every month, says Vickie Yattaw, oncology resource nurse.
“As long as [the forms] are in good shape, with no obvious rips, tears, nothing oozing out of them, they can make a donation right here to me or drop them off with the receptionist,” Yattaw says.
“I have a warehouse of gently used items that I can give to women who have expressed a need. Breast forms, I probably have three dozen, all different shapes and sizes. Mastectomy bras, probably 50 or so.”
Donated wigs go into the center’s boutique.
“Our beautician looks at them. She wants ones that are classic or current styles, in good condition. She washes them and styles them right here and then gives them out to patients who need them.”
At To Life!, providing products to women who can’t afford them is part of the mission to offer support and information.
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she can come to the Delmar office for a free consultation to discuss surgical choices, such as whether or not to have reconstruction.
“Life is about choices and so is chronic disease treatment, including breast cancer. People need to make an informed choice,” says Bird.
“It’s our mission to serve and that’s why we’re here.”
For more information about To Life!, go to www.tolife.org or call 439-5975. The main office is at 410 Kenwood Ave., Delmar. For more about the C.R. Wood Cancer Center, visit www.glensfallshospital.org or call 926-1000.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.