At first glance, the Beautiful You Boutique at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center might appear to be like any other retail clothier.
But while most boutiques offer fashion and flair, Beautiful You offers much more — compassion, recovery, dignity and confidence to those experiencing cancer diagnoses.
Opened in December 2018, Beautiful You is part of the hospital’s Cancer Support Services and provides a comfortable and relaxed environment offering products for women (and men) including mastectomy products, wigs, hair and skin care products, and lymphedema garments to cancer patients.
The boutique is located in the main lobby at Piedmont Athens Regional’s Medical Services Building on King Avenue and is open from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Joel Siebentritt, Piedmont Athens Regional’s manager of Cancer Support Services, said Beautiful You not only provides products and services to cancer patients but the boutique is also a critical facet of recovery.
“We identified a clear need, particularly for women in this community who were diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and were seeking specialized products and services that are so essential in recovery,” he said. “And not just recovery medically speaking, but recovering their lives, in their sense of self-identity, in their confidence. These mastectomy prosthetics, wigs and specialty clothing items are all very much essential to the cancer services continuum of care, particularly for women post-mastectomy.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of establishing a stand-alone place and a provider of specialty durable medical equipment for this important purpose.”
Natalie Strickland, the mastectomy boutique coordinator, works with patients for fittings, while Robyn Albeke handles the store’s retail component and helps with medical billing. Strickland said patients’ first visits often begin with discomfort but wind up with patients leaving in a much better frame of mind.
“We get a whole range of emotions and it’s a beautiful thing to get to experience those things with the patients,” said Strickland, who estimated she works with between 20 and 30 unique patients per month. “A lot of times, especially with first-time mastectomy fitting patients, they’ll feel very overwhelmed and defeated because they’ve been going through treatment; they’re tired; they have all kinds of questions running through their brains; and they’ve been provided all this information they can’t possibly retain.
“Having them come in and be able to talk about what they can expect … is really a helpful thing, I’ve found. A lot of times these ladies come out smiling and they come back feeling beautiful and feeling more themselves, which ultimately is what it’s all about.
In addition to the fittings provided, Beautiful You has an array of gifts and cancer-awareness items available.
“It’s similar to a hospital gift shop but more cancer-related,” said Strickland. “We have items such as car magnets of ribbons for the different types of cancers, all the way to jewelry that women can wear that might have the pink ribbon, or items like turbans for patients who have had hair loss. We have a full range of items including books, inspirational items, angels, baubles. We’re creating a space that helps women feel a little more comfortable, a little more relaxed and helps them feel uplifted after the diagnosis they’ve received.”
Siebentritt said he sees the boutique’s upcoming third anniversary as both a celebration and a milestone.
“As anybody in new business knows, the make-or-break years are the first three or four,” he said. “Natalie and Robyn have made this program a success despite the typical and unique challenges that come with developing this particular service. There are very few of these in our region, much less the state. So to me it is just a great milestone for us.
“And it compliments a continuum of care that starts pre-diagnosis … Having the boutique is saying to our patients that we care about you, even after the procedures are done, after the chemo is finished and the radiation is complete, and here is one of those very visible, concrete services that say, ‘We understand cancer, and recovery from cancer is much more than just eliminating the tumor.’ It’s taking care of our patients long after as they re-introduce themselves to life beyond cancer.”
With regard to the future of Beautiful You, both Strickland and Siebentritt were adamant about their goals for the boutique going forward.
“I would absolutely love for us to get fully in network with every insurance company, so we can see the full range of patients throughout this area,” said Strickland. “There is a huge need for these patients to be seen and I can definitely see further down the road we would probably need another fitter to maintain the demand that we have.
“Part of the future vision in my mind is that the Beautiful You model is one that Piedmont Healthcare can take across the enterprise at strategic geographic locations so that what we’re doing so well here for these patients is replicated elsewhere in the way that personalizes our care and addresses these unique needs across our enterprise,” said Siebentritt, who added he hoped men who could benefit from the boutique’s services – primarily for lymphedema garments – will become customers as well.
For more information on the Beautiful You Boutique at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, call 706-475-4811.