Image Boutique helps empower women battling cancer

Published: May. 19, 2017 at 6:00 PM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 / Friday, May 19, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The numbers are staggering.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. When you're going through the grueling treatments, it's hard to feel like yourself, but a local store is helping patients fight one of their biggest battles: the one in the mirror.

Any doctor will tell you a good mood and a will to fight helps the healing process. A small store tucked inside Augusta University's Cancer Center is giving women the strength to find themselves even when disease tries to strip that away.

Past the artwork of cancer survivors is a place where the healing of souls begins.

"They come in crying because you can imagine what it's like losing all your hair or losing your breasts, everything that tells a woman she's feminine, and it's gone. So, my job is to build it back up," licensed cosmetologist and mastectomy bra-fitter Sherry Brooks said.

Tucked in a hallway to the right of the Cancer Center's first floor sits a little gift shop called the Image Boutique. It's stocked with things like wigs and scarves, mastectomy bras and skincare, everything to help a woman through treatment.

"They are instructed to get a prescription from their doctor for a 'cranial prosthesis.' Once they get that, they make an appointment with me and it's private," Brooks said.

After trimming and customizing the wig to fit their face, licensed cosmetologist Sherry Brooks will teach them how to wrap a scarf or fit them for the perfect bra. It's a one-on-one retail therapy session reminding women of who they are and it's going to be OK. Just for a moment, cancer fades into the background.

"It's a very comforting place, the Image Boutique," cancer survivor Meryl Edwards said.

It was Mother's Day 2010 when Edwards got her diagnosis. Months later, she was here to buy a wig.

"Honestly, I didn't think she would make it," Brooks admitted.

But, she did. Now cancer-free, Edwards volunteers at the boutique to help other women through the process.

"I have been through already what they're getting to go through, and I can answer some questions," she said. "I can relate to them, to the hair loss, so if they have questions about how the scalp is going to feel when the hair falls out or how to take care of a wig."

"I see the transformation in their face. They just lighten up. They feel better, they cry a little bit, and then before you know it, they're giggling and laughing," Brooks said.

Women walk away feeling whole, focused on one message when they leave. On the wall across from the door, it reiterates the message inside: "people heal here."

The boutique is not just for people who are being treated at the cancer center. Anyone can come in. Along with products like compression sleeves, hats and breast prosthesis, there is also an abundance of jewelry and inspirational plaques. Many times, people will go in there to buy gifts for someone they know.

The Image Boutique at Augusta University's Cancer Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

University Hospital also has a store like this, too. It's on the 2nd floor of the professional center on their campus. It's open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.