By Heather Cabot, The Well Mom
Breast cancer is no laughing matter. But Kim Newlen couldn’t help herself from trying to lighten the mood for her family, even as she recovered from a mastectomy and embarked on months of chemotherapy and radiation. She told everyone she was a new member of “The Bald and The Breastless,” took her daughter wig shopping and came home sporting a Shania Twain “do” and set her energies on maintaining normalcy for her family.
“One of the best things (for your family) is if you can at least look better than you feel. And that was the most important for my family. If mom looks okay, then it is some therapy,” says 51-year-old Newlen whose surgery took place less than a week after her diagnosis five years ago.
While Newlen says her faith helped her keep a sense of humor, she found it difficult to look the way she wanted. Getting dressed after the surgery was a challenge, especially the first week home from the hospital.
“I wore my bathrobe home because I had nothing to wear. I did not want to go anywhere because I had nothing to wear. I certainly didn’t feel like shopping. I ended up wearing an old swimsuit under a dress for my first outing,” she recalls.
Newlen was desperate to buy clothing that was loose and modest enough to be comfortable, yet fashionable enough that she could actually feel good wearing it out of the house. And she wanted something that was easy to slip on and off through all the seemingly endless trips to the doctor for her cancer treatments.
“It would take me longer to get dressed (after an appointment) than it took them to radiate my breast,” she laughs.
The industrious mom, who says she tirelessly drew on her eyebrows and applied lipstick every day during treatment, didn’t want to wait around. Instead, she designed exactly what she needed – a pretty camisole that could be worn under a blazer or alone, that could be easily taken off and could even comfortably carry the unsightly post-surgery drains that often frustrate mastectomy patients. The brand name was simple: “Look Better Than You Feel.”
After a neighbor helped her sew a rough prototype, she enlisted the help of a Broadway costume designer to develop a product to take to market. She and her husband invested their life savings into the business that is now serving breast cancer patients and hospitals in and around her hometown of Richmond, VA. The Look Better Than You Feel costs $75 and can be billed to Medicare and insurance companies as a post-surgical garment.
“You can wear it hospital to home, street to sleep and every doctor’s visit in between,” says Newlen who also spends time running the Christian service organization she founded, SweetMonday.
Newlen just went through her second reconstruction surgery and says she still wears her camisoles. She has been heartened to hear from other survivors who are using the garments. She says the sweetest reward is knowing that she is helping to make women’s lives easier when they are down in the trenches and trying to be strong for their families.
“As a mother, your hear your cancer diagnosis and you hear it for your children and your family and you realize, now you have to add on a whole new job to your life,” she says, “I want to simplify things for those moms.”