Giving breast cancer survivors a bit of their lives back

Certified mastectomy bra fitter receives service award for helping women regain confidence.

When a woman comes to Abby Parrish, she’s ready to reclaim her life.

Abby is a certified mastectomy fitter. She works with women who’ve had mastectomies and are ready for prosthetics called mastectomy bras. While many women choose reconstruction after their initial breast cancer surgery, others find the thought of additional surgery too much to consider.

“When they come through the door, they are scared to be there to begin with,” Abby said. “When they leave, they hug me or they are crying with excitement and thanking me.”

Abby gives women some semblance of their former selves.

“It’s so humbling to be able to help someone go out into the world again and not feel like they are being stared at,” she said. “They tell me they can go shopping or they can go swimming. All of these things that you take for granted.”

Women can get prostheses typically six to eight weeks after surgery.

Many women want to avoid more surgery

When the Norton Cancer Institute Pat Harrison Resource Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, added its prostheses and bra program, Abby saw an opportunity to reach more people, particularly women.

“I’ve always been in the medical field,” Abby said. “I just thought this is a better way of how I want to take care of people.”

In an era of advanced reconstructive surgery, Abby still finds that many breast cancer survivors simply want to move on after extensive and sometimes painful cancer treatments.

Many women who choose to forgo or put off reconstruction find themselves seeking alternatives, according to Abby. They want to reclaim their lives in a way that feels normal to them.

Because the services Abby provides are done in a clinical setting, they are typically covered by insurance. She noted that boutique fitting options are available in the Louisville area, however boutiques usually charge clients up front since their services generally aren’t covered by insurance.

The prostheses alone can cost more than $300, with additional costs for adjustments to get the right fit. If the insurance company doesn’t cover a fitting at a boutique, the cost can run beyond $1,000, according to Abby.

To be able to provide a service she cares deeply about is meaningful for Abby. She knows the prostheses help women feel better about the way they look. They also help maintain good posture to avoid back and balance problems.

Norton Cancer Institute

Five Norton Cancer Institute Resource Centers offer patients and their families a place to turn for support, assistance and education.

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Spirit of service

“I look forward to getting up out of bed every morning and coming to work knowing that I get to help someone,” Abby said.

In November, she was awarded the Marc A. Lehmann Spirit of Service Award. According to the Lehmann Foundation, the award is given “to identify and recognize physician, caregivers and support staff whose careers encompass long-standing service to patients and their families in the areas of hematology and oncology.”

Receiving the award was touching for Abby.

“It caught me off guard,” she said, adding that she doesn’t do her job for awards or recognition. “I was humbled to receive such an award for something that I do on a daily basis.”

The award is named for Marc A. Lehmann, a young man who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia soon after graduating from high school. Before he lost his own battle with cancer, he knew that he wanted to recognize those who had helped him and leave a legacy for those who continue to fight alongside others with cancer.

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