If given a choice, Kathy Dibben’s customers would rather shop somewhere else. They would choose to forego the cancer diagnosis that led them through her doors.
Whether pre- or post-mastectomy, Dibben meets them where they are on their journey. To her, customers are clients.
The two-time cancer survivor opened Absolute Dignity in Smithville, Missouri, in 2007 to give options to women who have had mastectomies and provide supplies for others undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
“Because I’ve lived it, I am able to help other ladies, too,” says the owner, who struggled to find products in the Kansas City area after her bilateral mastectomy in 2002.
“It’s come full circle,” says Dibben, who also has struggled with colon cancer. “It started with me being able to give back and help others through this journey, and now my clients can help me.”
When a customer enters the store, Dibben learns what kind of treatment they’re receiving. If they’re undergoing chemo, she assists clients with headwear, such as turbans, head wraps, ball caps or wigs.
“We look for the softest material because scalps are tender during this time,” she says.
During radiation treatment to the breasts, Dibben, a certified mastectomy fitter, recommends a soft, cotton bra that can transition to hold a silicone prosthesis if surgery is required.
Immediately post-mastectomy, soft bras with fiberfill or foam (to keep pressure off the tender chest wall) and holes for drain tubing are best, she says.
Pouches to hold excess tubing also are useful, especially when showering, she says.
Members from Dibben’s church, Smithville United Methodist, make drain tube pouches and post-surgical chest pillows that are given to all of her clients.
Six to eight weeks after surgery, clients can transition to mastectomy bras or keep the initial bra and add silicone prosthesis. Pocketed camisoles can double as sports bras or summer tops and hold prostheses. Some of these also have holes for drain tubing, which make these another option immediately post-surgery.
Dibben also assists clients undergoing breast reconstruction with bras and prostheses as sizes can change along the way.
While the bras Dibben sells provide more coverage than traditional ones, she strives to stock a wide array of colors and materials to appeal to all tastes and help her clients feel feminine and attractive.
Dibben also says compression hosiery and lymphedema sleeves for women who have had lymph nodes removed are essential, especially if traveling, as flying can trigger uncomfortable swelling.
In addition, the store also carries swimwear year round. The styles are popular not just with breast cancer survivors, but with other women desiring more coverage while swimming, doing water aerobics and other activities. Most have pockets for prostheses also.
“I probably sell more swimwear to people who haven’t had surgery than those women who have had surgery,” Dibben says.