"Retail Therapy” Takes on a New Meaning

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The premise that one’s self-image positively impacts the recuperative process isn’t a surprise to us — Look Good…Feel Better is based on that very concept. However, few people realize all that ways that cancer and its treatment impact your life until they are smack in the middle of it.

In addition to the million other ways cancer treatment changes your life, it may also render your current wardrobe inappropriate. A woman suffering from lymphedema may want a blouse that fits properly yet disguises her swollen arm; a woman undergoing treatment for colon or ovarian cancer may need something that discreetly hides a colostomy bag or other medical apparatus. Or perhaps a woman can no longer lift her arms over her head after a mastectomy and is in search of shirts that accommodate her.

Shop Well with You (SWY), a non-profit program launched in June 2001, is here to help. SWY helps women with a history of cancer improve their body image and quality of life by using clothing as a means toward wellness. Through education, outreach, and personalized services, SWY focuses on the woman, not the cancer, in order to provide support and promote survivorship. All programs are offered free of charge.

SWY was launched by Emily Spivack, who watched her mother, a four-time cancer survivor, cope with her illness by dressing in a manner that was both comfortable and stylish. “She didn’t want to be reminded that she was sick and have people treat her as if she was sick just from her exterior appearance. Feeling good about her body-image helped her to maintain her dignity,” Spivack says.

Christine Punter, one of SWY’s clients, shares Spivack’s belief in the healing power of the right outfit. “You may have cancer but you can still feel like a whole different person,” she says.

Female cancer survivors take advantage of SWY’s One-on-One Service by filling out a “resource request form” or calling SWY directly for an in-depth interview to discuss their specific needs. A specially-trained SWY consultant then compiles a “resource packet” tailored to the client’s size, financial resources, fashion sense, and medical condition. The packet includes everything from lists of fabrics and styles that work after various operations to store return policies. The Web site (www.shopwellwithyou.org) also provides a clothing guide including a cancer-specific clothing directory, body-image articles and books, and related services. If you live in the New York area, you can also attend a “Fashion Your Own Sense of Self” group class. SWY programs are available nationwide to any woman who has had cancer in the past or who is currently in treatment.

Cancer is a life changing event, but there are many organizations out there to help women restore their sense of self — and that is something to make you feel better.