LAURIUM - For certified mastectomy fitter Denise Draves, seeing a smile on a new patient's face is indescribable.
"They come to the realization that it's not over," she said. "There's so much more to look forward to and they can move on. The greatest thing we can do is make somebody smile when they're leaving and feel good about themselves."
Draves, who works in Aspirus Keweenaw's Elegant Solutions Boutique, offers solutions and services for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery. The boutique carries a large selection of post-surgery garments, mastectomy bras, breast prostheses, enhancers, among many other products.
Denise Draves, certified mastectomy fitter for Aspirus Keweenaw’s Elegant Solutions Boutique educates a patient on product choices during an initial visit to the boutique.
"When a woman first has her surgery, generally we will see them shortly thereafter for a post-surgical camisole," Draves said. "It's similar to a regular camisole you wear underneath your clothing."
The camisole comes with adjustable poly-fil breast forms, which fit in pockets and provide a gentle way to restore shape, Draves said.
The camisole can also be equipped with pockets for drains.
"They velcro into the inside of the camisole," she said of the forms and drain pouches. "That way they stay in place and hold the tubes."
When patients arrive for their first visit, Draves said it's important to sit down with them and talk about their interests and daily activities.
"We get to know our patients a little bit first," she said. "We ask about hobbies and ask questions that helps us to decide what would be the best type of garment for them to try. For example, maybe they need something more sport oriented."
Elegant Solutions Boutique offers a comfortable atmosphere where patients can feel secure and discuss their situation privately. The boutique is tucked away from heavy foot traffic, which provides additional privacy.
For additional support, patients are welcome to bring along a friend or family member.
Once the patient is fitted with a post-surgical camisole, the next step is the bra fitting. The bra fitting typically occurs 6 to 8 weeks post surgery when the wound is healed. During the bra fitting, a series of measurements determine the cup size for natural shape.
"Then we fit a prosthesis according to the shape, size and weight of the natural breast," Draves said, explaining the prostheses fits into a pocket built into the bra. "We have all different sizes and shapes and they're made to feel like a natural breast."
Bras are available in different styles, sizes, shapes, fabrics and colors.
During the first visit, patients are educated on a number of concerns including proper product care, insurance coverage, proper usage, warranty information and they learn how to detect a defective prostheses. All products are under warranty.
"We also talk about lymphedema and we do have resources to refer patients if necessary," Draves said.
Elegant Solutions Boutique is open one day per week (Wednesday) by appointment. The room is wheelchair accessible. Home visits have also been provided on occasion.
Patients typically undergo a bra fitting every six months. If the patient has drastic weight gain or loss and their prostheses no longer fits with their natural breast, the patient's provider will be contacted.
Draves, who also works as office manager for Aspirus Keweenaw, said they keep a detailed record of each patient visit, not only as a requirement, but to better serve patients when they return.
"We always try to stock enough so that we are able to offer supplies that fit correctly," she said. "The goal is that you could come in and make your purchase and not have to wait, although occasionally we special order for our patients."
What separates Elegant Solutions from other boutiques, Draves said, is their level of customer service.
"There are very few places that actually have a service where you can have a personal fitting, try your selections on and leave with them in hand," she said. "It's not just a walk-in walk-out, nobody cares. We care about you."
Through Aspirus Keweenaw, Elegant Solutions participates in community events, offering bra fittings for wellness fairs. The boutique has participated in the annual women's conference in Copper Harbor and had a product display during Finlandia University's wellness fair.
With Women's Health Month approaching in May, Draves said Aspirus Keweenaw will be working in conjunction with the health department to provide exams for women that are uninsured or underinsured.
"We're working on the dates for that now," she said.
Support from the community in the form of donations has also allowed the clinic to help women who are either underinsured or uninsured. A number of items, from prostheses to wigs, have been donated.
"When we have somebody looking for a product who may not have the resources to pay for them, we have a donation closet," Draves said. "It's gently used things."
The nursing staff also coordinated a campaign in which participants handmade scarves and hats.
Draves said her interest in the medical field developed at a young age. Growing up in the Detroit area, her mother operated a medical supply business.
"I was 18 and very young and she didn't think I was mature enough to see surgical scars or understand the emotional aspect of that kind of loss," she said. "Before I was actually old enough to see something like that, she sold her business."
Since then, she was intrigued and eventually pursued her certification.
Becoming certified entailed 500 hours of documented patient care, in addition to product in-services and training courses. Prior to taking the required exam, Draves had to submit her resume to the governing board, which is the Board of Certification/Accreditation, International.
The board decides if you're ready for the exam, she said.
"I had to travel to Green Bay to take the exam," she said. "Then you wait six to eight weeks to find out if you've been certified, and I was."
Apprenticing under Draves is Gail Ongie, a Licensed Practical Nurse for Aspirus Keweenaw.
Draves said she's proud to provide women the services they offer at Elegant Solutions.
"This is a great service to offer our patients," she said. "There's nothing else like it here in the Copper Country."
For more information, or to make an appointment, call Denise Draves at 337-4187.
Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Elegant Solutions Boutique of Laurium. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.