Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
Verna Looney, certified mastectomy fitter at 1st America, knows all too well about the struggles that come along with breast cancer and surgery. After all, she’s been a certified mastectomy fitter since January of 2001.
“I had to take a test over all the different types of breast cancer and the treatments,” said Looney.
The certification — which is good for only five years and requires studying throughout all the five years to maintain — is not easy to achieve. It takes dedication, hours of studying and most of all, the passion for those you serve. For Looney, she serves who she refers to as her “friends.”
“My patients, I consider to be like friends,” said Looney.
Looney has a special connection with all of her roughly 500 patients.
“I make sure to call them about once a month to talk to them,” said Looney. “I want to be with them.”
Aside from a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, Looney also offers her patients a variety of products to help make their struggle with breast cancer a little easier and a little more comfortable.
“We have bras, swimsuits, prostheses and that’s for the mastectomy and the lumpectomy,” said Looney.
Whether you had both breasts removed, one breast removed or even just the lump taken out, Looney and 1st America have everything you need.
One of the latest products that Looney offers is called Impressions. It’s a state-of-the-art prosthesis.
“It pulls heat from your body,” said Looney.
The prostheses do get hot, she said, and the Impressions absorb the heat to make patients more comfortable.
Impressions is also more natural looking and feeling.
“You even clean and wash it like you would your skin,” said Looney.
They also carry what Looney refers to as an “everyday” prosthesis. It’s a featherweight and it’s more like foam.
“It’s more like an active one,” said Looney. “For women who like to work in their yard.”
Most prostheses, though natural looking, have to be worn with care. If it gets poked with a sharp object or torn, it will leak. The featherweight doesn’t have that problem.
There are three different shapes when it comes to determining what type of prosthesis you want.
First, there are the more perky ones that have a lot of fullness at the top. Second, there are the ones that have more of a droop for the older patients. Lastly, there is one that fits around under the armpit for women who have had lymph nodes removed.
Looney specializes in finding the perfect prosthesis for all her patients. Some may think after they have had one breast removed, they will never be able to return to a shape that looks natural. That’s just not the case, Looney said.
“Your natural breasts are never the same size,” said Looney.
The size between two breasts always differs by an eighth or one-half of an inch.
“We can match up very close to that,” said Looney.
Looney is such an expert at fitting her patients that she claims once they put in the prosthesis, you can’t tell they ever had breast cancer.
The prosthesis fits into special bras that Looney carries. The bras contain pockets on the inside where you slip in the prosthesis.
Looney said special breast cancer bras used to only come in three colors: White, nude and black. Now, 1st America covers a variety of colors and patterns.
1st America carries bras from three different companies that come in six different styles such as ones with underwires, ones that are lightly cushioned and more.
Some women like the fit of the bras so much that they wear them though they have never had breast cancer.
“I have about 75 patients that have never gone through breast cancer,” said Looney.
One of the most essential products that Looney carries is a camisole.
“Once you are diagnosed with breast cancer, most of the physicians will refer you to get a camisole,” said Looney.
It’s a tank top of sorts that has pockets on the inside for drainage bulbs. It is something patients wear immediately following their mastectomy or lumpectomy.
“You would take this to the hospital with you,” said Looney.
You can even stick your prosthesis inside the camisole to make your chest look natural immediately following surgery.
“I will go to the hospital to help get this on,” said Looney. “I do that quite often.”
Aside from the necessities, Looney also carries breast cancer flair. She has caps, hats, head wraps, support pins, socks, key chains, lollipops and more.
“I give all new patients a goody bag,” said Looney.
Looney also keeps a variety of breast cancer literature in her office. Sometimes, she sees patients who use their entire appointments to just talk and for her, that’s more than OK.
“Some people just need someone to talk to,” said Looney.
Looney has some patients who call her just to ask for prayers and Looney is always more than happy to oblige.
While most insurance, even Medicare and Medicaid, will pay for mastectomy products, there are those who cannot afford the things they need. That’s why Looney accepts product donations so that she can help every person that comes to her, whether they have money or not.
1st America is located at 212 Northside Drive. Looney works 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. To Schedule an appointment, call (229) 242-3060.
On Tuesday, Oct. 23 from
10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 1st America is hosting an open house to showcase mastectomy products.