The women who greet Bev Keyes at their front doors are awkward at first. And scared. They stand with their arms across their chests, as if they are hiding something.
Keyes comes to their houses to fit them for a breast prosthesis following cancer surgery. Facing up to their need for a breast replacement, the women tell Keyes, is harder than the mastectomy itself.They worry that they will no longer look feminine. They worry that people will stare. They worry that they will no longer be able to exercise and swim.
But Keyes thinks she has something now that makes the adjustment less painful - an artificial breast that is custom-fit to the woman's body.
Old-style prostheses, she says, "came in two shapes and several sizes, sort of like shoes." Keyes worked for two years as a prosthetic fitter in a retail store, and she says she saw "the disappointment and resignation with which these women greeted the imperfections of conventional `bra-stuffer' breast prostheses."
One day, she says, she did a bra fitting for a woman from Kansas who had recently undergone a mastectomy. "She excitedly told me about her new breast prosthesis which fit perfectly, matched her remaining breast in color, size and shape, and could actually be worn adhered to the skin even when swimming. It sounded incredible to me."
That was two years ago. Now Keyes is the Utah dealer for the Image breast prosthesis. So far she has fit 12 women for the device.
According to statistics compiled by the American Cancer Society, there were 500 new cases of breast cancer in 1987 in Utah, and 130,000 in the United States. This week is National Breast Cancer Awareness Week, a time when women are urged, once again, to do monthly breast exams. And a time when Keyes wants to tell women about her alternative following breast surgery.
Because it can be adhered to the body with a surgical adhesive, the Image can be worn continually for up to a week, notes Keyes. It can be worn while showering, bathing, swimming, exercise and while sleeping. Because it takes on the body's temperature and simulates the missing breast's actual weight, it restores balance, she adds.
Keyes fits each woman for the device by making a plaster cast of the woman's chest. Because the artificial breasts are custom-made, the woman can even order a tan line. The prosthesis takes 10 to 12 weeks for delivery.
"This is not for everybody," says Keyes of the Image prosthesis. The cost is prohibitive for some women, running about $1,000, compared to $250 to $300 for a traditional prosthesis. Keyes says that most national insurance companies will pay about 80 percent of the cost. A few Utah insurance companies now also cover about 80 percent.
But money aside, the device still isn't for everybody, says Keyes. "This is for a woman who is active and very aware of her appearance."
Information about the prosthesis can be obtained through the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery, the YWCA's Encore program, the University of Utah's oncology radiology department or the women's centers at Altaview, Cottonwood and LDS hospitals.