A special fit
Kayte Griggs stands in a dressing room with floral curtains. A light, squishy object is in her hand. She stands before a gallery of bras, which hang from a pink wall. The bras are not fancy—mostly white and cream-colored with a little lace here and there. Their style is more Maidenform than Victoria’s Secret, but many of the customers who come here aren’t terribly fussy about fashion—they’re just glad to be alive.
The object in Griggs’ hand is a silcone-gel breast form. Available in teardrop and heart-shaped styles, it slips into the pockets of mastectomy bras, and it’s a more than passable representation of the human breast. Bras Plus, 1563 S. Virginia St., sells them along with bras and swimsuits for patients who’ve had mastectomies while fighting breast cancer.
Griggs’ grandmother, Ardelle Cayette, opened Bras Plus in Reno 15 years ago. Cayette had gotten her start in the business years before. She’d been making custom-fit bras in a small town in Utah when she noticed a significant number of her clients were women who’d had mastectomies. They needed something special. Cayette decided to make a living out of this niche market, first for 12 years in Las Vegas, then later opening the Reno store with her daughter, Trudy Harper. Cayette has since retired, but Harper remains, along with her daughter, Kayte Griggs.
But unlike most lingerie buyers, customers need a prescription to purchase a mastectomy bra at Bras Plus.
“The whole mastectomy process is not just a couple of days,“ explains Griggs in her friendly but professional voice. After surgery, there are draining tubes, swelling and numbness to deal with before the doctors give the go-ahead to start wearing a mastectomy bra.
It costs $320 for a breast form and $39.95 for a mastectomy bra at Bras Plus. Most insurance companies will cover one breast form and two mastectomy bras. In addition to Bras Plus, mastectomy bras can also be found locally at J.C. Penney and Renown Medical Center.
Griggs and Harper have gone through a course offered by the bra companies, making them certified to fit mastectomy bras. Part of that training deals with the potentially emotional and awkward experience of the fitting itself. Many of their clients walk into their shop because they’ve just had to give up a part of their body—one tied largely to their sense of femininity and identity—to cancer.
“We have women just grateful they’re alive,” says Griggs, her brown curly hair pulled back in a ponytail, her manner calm, matter-of-fact. “Other women are completely cold and rude, and they blame us for it. A few women try to do the process before they’re ready.”
To help make that experience more comfortable, Harper and Griggs employ a tactic often used by gynecologists: “We tend to talk a lot—focusing on you, not focusing on the process.”
It’s a Thursday, and Bras Plus has fitted four mastectomy bras this week. Griggs has noticed more younger women coming in recently for the bras, perhaps because of more early detection, she says. But most of their clients are more than 65 years old.
“We have women come in who are going to do reconstruction, and my mom and I just shake our heads, thinking, ‘You’ve been through so much already. Why go through more?’” says Griggs. “But until you’re in their shoes, it’s hard to know what they’re feeling.”