By the nature of its side effects, cancer treatment can make a private battle a very public affair. For a woman with cancer, having a bald head, pale skin or a missing breast can make her feel like she's being targeted by a bright spotlight and a banner that says, "Cancer patient."
But now more than ever, there are resources for women that will put the spotlight back on their work, their accomplishments and their life—and change that banner to simply read, "Woman."
In Merrimack, Amanda Thomas Boutique, in the Harris Pond Plaza on Daniel Webster Highway, specializes in making women feel beautiful in the face of cancer.
Owner Jackie Staiti is a certified prosthetic fitter for women who've had mastectomies. Staiti's boutique sells everything from bras and scarves to wigs and prosthetics, both standard and customized.
"We do our best to restore personal image and confidence in women dealing with cancer," Staiti said.
Having a good-fitting, natural-looking wig helps women to blend in in when they may feel like they are in the spotlight, she said.
Staiti began the Amanda Thomas Boutique in 2003 and moved to Merrimack a little over a year ago. She came into the boutique business from the corporate world, burnt out and needing a change and wanting to "help solve a problem."
She originally planned to open a boutique to help women find the right fitting bra, but talking to Stephen Keskinen, owner of Stephen Marx Salon in Milford, she was introduced to wigs.
"I was shocked at the need, the number of women fighting cancer that needed wigs," Staiti said.
After going to wig school and selling wigs for a period of time, she started to grow her boutique to other items. She sells bras for all women but has an extensive collection of bras that fit prosthetics. She also sells bathing suits, t-shirts, hats, scarves, loungewear, compression sleeves and more.
"People are surprised to know they can still have pretty things," Staiti said, pointing out a lacy, floral bra. "To be able to have things that are fashion-forward, that aren't their grandmother's bras, makes them feel pretty."
Staiti said the nice thing about coming to a boutique for a prosthesis and fitting is that it doesn't feel clinical or like your in a hardware store among wheel chairs and other medical equipment.
Find Staiti today at the Bra Bank at the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester with a display of prosthetics and other products she sells.
She has fitting rooms like you'd expect in a boutique and displays of bras and wigs that are more aesthetically pleasing.
The boutique also has a licensed salon where someone losing her hair can go in to get buzzed and return to have her hair styled when it's growing back in.
"They are already facing a difficult cancer diagnosis, so we provide a fashionable and comfortable environment," Staiti said. "This should be the easy part of what they're going through."
For someone who still feels self-conscious about visiting a boutique or a salon, Girl on the Go provides private or in-home wig consultations for women with cancer, with locations in 12 states, including Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
Breast cancer survivor Sheril Cohen started the business after her own struggles with hair loss that were matched only by the frustrating process of getting a wig.
"Wig shopping was awful," Cohen shares on her website. "[The attendant] tried to sell me this wig. I thought it was a cute cut, but I thought it made me older and unattractive. I cried. I felt sexy with my long hair. With this wig on I felt like a suburban fortysomething-year-old soccer mom. I was successful, single, a thirtysomething NYC woman. I wanted to retain me—not become someone I did not recognize."
Now Cohen proudly sells wigs of all kinds—synthetic, hybrid, human hair—to women all over the country, providing, as one of her clients says, privacy.
"I felt so like myself in my wig," said Ellen, a client. "No one knew. People who knew I had been diagnosed but did not know much else used to come up to me at events and ask when I was going to start chemo or if I had chosen a doctor yet. I did not have to tell anyone anything I did not want to tell them."
As women in chemotherapy treatment discover, hair loss isn't limited to their locks. It means no eyebrows, no eyelashes and, as Cohen points out, one bright spot—no shaving.
Women can visit a lash studio to get back that feminine flutter of the lashes, and maybe even amp up their look with a few sexy, extra-long lash extensions.
Adopting a new look during treatment is about more than simply feeling good for the moment—it can be another weapon in a woman's arsenal against cancer, giving her a deep well of positivity to sustain her.
TELL US: We want to know what matters most to you, whether it's lashes, lipstick or lingerie. Share in the comments section below what aspects of a makeover makes you feel the most beautiful.