The Women’s Image Center Helps Breast Cancer Survivors Feel Beautiful

The Women’s Image Center Helps Breast Cancer Survivors Feel Beautiful

The Worcester boutique stocks clothing, wigs, and prosthetics for women going through cancer treatment.

By Jamie Ducharme, Boston Magazine, PHOTO PROVIDED TO BOSTONMAGAZINE.COM

You will not find a single hospital bed or wheelchair in Mary Aframe’s healthcare boutique. Instead, the Women’s Image Center is a shop dedicated to helping breast cancer survivors feel beautiful—and like themselves—again.

The 15-year-old store, which has locations in Leominster and Worcester, carries garments, wigs, and prosthetics specially selected for women undergoing or recovering from mastectomies and lumpectomies. Its goal, Aframe says, is to help women rebound both emotionally and physically from their cancers.

“The two things that make you feel most like a woman are your hair and your breasts, and in many, many cases, both can be affected by the medical treatment,” Aframe says. “What we like to do here is help a woman get through the treatment confidently and be able to feel comfortable with her new skin.”

Aframe, a former dental hygienist, says the boutique is set up to feel comforting and personalized; shopping trips are by appointment only to encourage privacy, and Aframe and her staff talk with each woman who comes in over a cup of tea, in an effort to determine exactly what she’s looking for. “Quite frankly,” she says, “sometimes women just need someone to listen and maybe have a little hand holding.”

The boutique’s product list spans everything from post-surgical camisoles to custom wigs and high-tech prosthetics, and most items are covered by insurance. Six months ago, Aframe began using a machine that scans a post-op woman’s chest and, using computer-assisted design, makes a custom-fit prosthetic of lost breast tissue, with no surgery required. In addition to Women’s Image Center boutiques, women can be fit for the prosthetics in Charlestown. “It’ll actually fit the chest wall like a puzzle,” she says.

Earlier this month, the Worcester Educational Development Foundation gave Aframe a 2015 Distinguished Alumni & Friends of the Worcester Public Schools Achievement Award to recognize her contributions to the community. But for Aframe, the biggest reward is seeing women start to feel confident again.

“For years, a woman who needed products post-mastectomy or lumpectomy would go to a medical supply store. If you needed a wig, you’d go to a hair salon,” she says. “I wanted this to be a special place where women could come and get what they needed to help them feel better while they were going through their treatment.”