One pair of Pennsylvania sisters whose lives were turned upside down by breast cancer have dedicated themselves to helping other women get through the painful process of recovery.
At Faith and Hope Boutique in Philadelphia, women can shop for gifts and cosmetics, browse wigs and scarves, get fitted for breast prostheses and try on sexy lingerie designed specifically for women who have had mastectomies. It’s become a safe haven for both breast cancer survivors and patients, and one of few “mastectomy boutiques” that provide women an alternative to stale medical offices.
“Our idea was to have a boutique setting, some place similar to a Victoria’s Secret, where women would know we had been through what they’re going through,” founder Jeanette Caligiuri, 48, told TODAY.com.
Caligiuri, a breast cancer survivor, opened the boutique outside of Philadelphia in 2007 with her younger sister Bonnie Scalfaro, who underwent a prophylactic mastectomy and calls herself a “pre-vivor.” The disease runs in their family: The sisters’ mother and grandmother both died from breast cancer.
“By the time I was 17, I had lost everybody,” said Caligiuri.
She and Scalfaro, 43, went through surgery and reconstruction around the same time, and said their experience is what sparked the idea for Faith and Hope.
“We went to several medical-type stores to get fitted for regular bras and post-mastectomy bras,” Caligiuri said. “The selection was awful. It was very medical. You felt like you were going into this hospital-type environment. Bonnie was almost treated like a second-class citizen, because at the time, when you did the surgery prophylactically insurance didn’t cover anything.”
Scalfaro says the environment makes a bad experience even worse.
“You already feel like you’ve already lost everything that makes you a woman,” she told TODAY.com. “You’re losing your hair. You’re losing your boobs. You’re losing your ovaries.”
Shortly after opening, the sisters moved the boutique into the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, a partnership that makes processes like billing insurance companies easier to navigate, Caligiuri said.
“There used to be a lot of specialty-type shops like this,” she said. “But the amount of red tape you have to jump through to operate is crazy.”
Customers say the sisters’ commitment is what makes the boutique so special.
Phoebe Resnick, a breast cancer survivor of 22 years who visits the shop about once a year for bras and prostheses, told TODAY.com she appreciates that Caligiuri and Scalfaro know what she’s going through.
“The patients who come in to shop there know that they understand—and that they’re doing well,” Resnick, 78, said. “That they, too, are going on with their lives.”
“They can’t be the doctors, but they can certainly help with this,” she added.
Since opening the shop, both sisters quit their successful careers—Caligiuri was a real estate agent and Scalfaro a respiratory therapist—to run the store full-time. It’s not a lucrative job, but a fulfilling one, they said.
“Sometimes the reward isn’t money,” Caligiuri said.
“It’s a journey to go through and it sucks,” Scalfaro added of the fight against breast cancer. “But I think when you can make them smile when they’re sitting in a chair with no hair, it’s very fulfilling.”