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COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — For more than 25 years, Sandra Camp has been giving breast cancer survivors a new lease on life.
Camp fits women with "breast forms," bras that are worn by women who have undergone mastectomies. It's a venture her mother started in the 1970s at The Uniform Center in Columbus, the family-owned business.
"The way we got started selling breast forms was I had a friend who moved here in the summer of 1974," Camp said. "The year before they moved here, her mother had a mastectomy and she asked us to start carrying the Jodee products, the product that we carry on the breast prosthesis. We started carrying it and mother did all the fitting at that time and then I started doing the fittings a little later on. I've been fitting ever since."
The bras come in different sizes and colors and come with a surgical breast prosthesis. They can be fitted for women who have either a single or double mastectomy.
Camp, who has had lumps removed from her own breast, said having a mastectomy is "devastating" and women are apprehensive about being fitted for a new bra.
"It's a very devastating thing to have that kind of surgery," Camp said. "Most of the women, in all these years I've been doing it, will be so nervous and scared. It is nerve wracking to go in to be fitted and someone you don't even know is going to walk in the room who is not a doctor and not a nurse and fit you in this and see what had happened to you."
To put her customers at ease, Camp talks to them like she's talking to a friend.
"I tell them, 'Girl, I'm normal. Just come on in here with me. By the time you leave you've going to feel great.' And by the time they leave, it's wonderful. They come out with a smile and leave with it on."
Camp said the prosthesis is so natural it's impossible to tell a women is wearing one.
"A lot of time when I get through fitting them, I'll ask, 'Now which side was it?' because you can't tell. If you touch you can't tell the difference either."
Camp said she can see a noticeable difference in her customers' demeanor by the time they leave the store.
"It's just like excitement," she said. "A smile comes on their face and they're like 'I'm normal again.' It's like a whole different person by the time they leave."
Over the years, Camp said she has seen a change in the way mastectomies are performed.
"When I first started they would scrape down to the bone and then they would cut half of the bone out. It was awful. I don't see anybody now that has had that. It would take just huge amounts off of them. Then they quit doing that and would still scrape but now it's to the point where there is still some flesh there. They're usually leaving flesh now so that they can do some reconstruction."
Camp has fitted more than 800 women from the area over the span of her career. The women range in age from teenagers to women in their 80s.
While most women are opting to have reconstructive surgery after their mastectomies, some insurance providers consider the surgery and elective and do not cover it. Camp said she will fit women for a Jodee bra four to six weeks after their mastectomy.
"I will not fit anyone who has any swelling," she said. "By the time the fluid and swelling goes down, if you fit them during that, it's not going to fit properly. You have to wait until the stitches and staples are out normally. The doctor will release them and tell them when."
Once women have been released by their doctor, Camp said being fitted with a new bra can be a step to emotional healing.
"It makes a huge difference in the way they feel about themselves, their attitude and everything," she said. "They come in the door and they just don't feel normal. When they leave they say 'I feel so good now. I feel so good.'"
Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com