Meet Our Fit Specialist of the Month
Get to know your fitter! Amoena highlights a certified mastectomy fitter each month.
Jeanette Caligiuri, Faith and Hope Boutique
Abington, PA -- May, 2013
Fitter Jeanette Caligiuri understands more than her share about breast cancer, telling us with no hesitation, “Breast cancer has always been part of my life. It’s very hard to remember a day that we didn’t coexist. The disease has touched every female family member on my maternal side. I have childhood memories of spending Thursdays at Pennsylvania Hospital in outpatient chemo with my mom, who was diagnosed in her late twenties. I often assumed that everyone’s mom was bald and unable to hug too tightly because of her latest “boo-boo.” My mother was taken too soon, barely 35; her mother in her early 50s, and the chain continued to me when I was 39 years old.
“As the mother of three young boys (Ryan was 15, Nicholas was 9 and Dylan was only five) I knew I had to do everything possible to stay alive, but I also knew that my triple negative diagnosis wasn’t going to make that easy. I still cringe when I realize my two oldest sons were the same age as my sister and me when my mom died. I am so thankful each and every day for my husband Vince and my sons, because I didn’t think I was going to survive – and now I’m seven years out from my diagnosis. I know having them in my life helped me make it!”
Amoena: How did you become a fitter?
Jeanette: Necessity is the mother of invention, so after my mastectomy I went to an area shop and had such a terrible experience I left in tears and felt there had to be a better way. My sister, Bonnie Scalfaro, who co-owns the shop with me, is a pre-vivor. After I was diagnosed and discovered I had the BRCA1 gene mutation, she decided to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. When I told her about my experience at the shop, she was so distressed; she said we needed to do something to help other women in similar situations. We did our research and even went together to a shop that was run by survivors, which was a totally different approach from what I’d experienced. Bonnie and I decided it was time to build a better mouse trap! We opened our shop in Abington in 2007 and the University of Pennsylvania location in 2008.
Amoena: Tell us a bit about your Faith and Hope Boutique.
Jeanette: The way the store came to being was magical. After all my treatments – I had my ups and downs with chemo – we would try to keep moving to keep the pain manageable. Retail therapy is the best cure. We found these little angels that were hand-crafted, Faith and Hope. Bonnie bought them. She and I talked all the time through my treatment – picking out a wig or scarves or emptying drains. We would talk about the type of store we would have.
We got a note about some money that had been left by our grandparents – I wanted to do something to change the awful disease. Bonnie wanted to spend time with me, even if I didn’t have much. The store was born. We will never be rich, and I’m not a religious person, but we are put here to share and offer our story.
Amoena: What do you carry?
Jeanette: We carry breast prostheses and post-mastectomy bras. We really try to connect with the woman before her surgery, in part because Bonnie and I never knew post-op camisoles existed. When we were dealing with our surgeries, no one ever mentioned these were a great option while we were healing. We go after that person who has no idea what to expect, and what’s available, and walk them through the steps. A big portion of the store is pre-op and post-op care. We do wigs and head coverings, and we carry skincare products. We noticed something interesting in our shop at the University of Pennsylvania, Abramson Cancer Center. In addition to breast cancer patients, many of the mastectomy products are useful for other surgeries.We are located in the cancer wing, but are directly across from the lung center, and many of those patients use our services too since they have drains to deal with after surgery.
Amoena: What do you think makes Faith and Hope unique?
Jeanette: First, I think it’s because we are owned and staffed by survivors and have volunteers who are survivors who also work in our shops. We have people who have been in all stages of cancer. Our gal Lorraine is 23 years out. One of our other volunteers (Kristin) is just great, she’s amazing with the customers especially when it comes to reconstruction because she’s had some trials and tribulations herself, so she has a great perspective.
Amoena: Have the bras and forms changed much during the time you’ve been in the business?
Jeanette: I think they have. Our patient is generally being diagnosed at a lot younger age, so she is looking for something that isn’t the typical granny bra. Amoena has been terrific about realizing this and creating products that make women feel as close to their former selves as possible.
Amoena: What is your favorite Amoena bra and why?
Jeanette: My favorite bra is the pink Lara bra [the limited edition Lara Satin] with a “diamond” in the middle. Because it’s sexy – that’s what I love about it. I personally wear that bra and it makes me feel feminine and attractive just like anything I used to wear. It’s in the details. It’s the little diamond, the satin, the color – everything makes you feel so girly.
Amoena: What is your favorite Amoena form and why?
Jeanette: I think one of the things that I think is "cutting edge" is the Amoena PurFit form. That has worked out well because in our hospital setting, we see a lot of women with reconstruction. That was such an area where we didn’t used to have an arsenal to help them. They’d be going through this horrible expansion problem, and we’d have nothing to help. Now we can offer them a solution. I personally went through nine months of reconstruction when my son was just five. I wanted to go swimming and be active, and I would have to rig things to fit the bill. With the PurFit, women are able to change the size or just use the front piece in the water. This is certainly nothing like the silicone breast form my grandma had!
Amoena: What is your favorite part of being a fitter?
Jeanette: Definitely the women that I meet. I think that everybody has a story, and in our setting, when someone trusts you enough to share it with you, it’s amazing. Even on my worst day of not wanting to go to work or play hooky or spend time with my kids, I know thatI ’m going to meet someone who will share what she’s been through, and it will make me realize what a great job I have.
Amoena: What's the most important thing you've learned over the years?
Jeanette: I think the most important thing I’ve learned is hope. That really is the most important – never lose sight of that – the realization it can exist in many ways. When Bonnie and I decided to do this, my background was that breast cancer was constantly chasing me. Not only did I have the BRCA 1 gene mutation, no one in my family who developed breast cancer had survived before me. Just my sister and me were left. I do remember there was a moment when I thought what’s the point of all of this? And then I sort of came to the realization that if you confront your fear every day and slay dragons, you won’t feel as much fear.
Amoena: What do you think makes a good fitter?
Jeanette:I think what makes a good fitter, first and is foremost, before you even pick up the measuring tape, is having a conversation and knowing what someone is looking for. In this crazy economy we sometimes find ourselves thinking how many fittings do I have to do today to keep my doors open? But, what’s really important is having that first intimate conversation where you find out why they are there and what they hope to accomplish. This always needs to be your focus. Sometimes they are just looking for a comfortable bra. Or they may need balance, or something for a special occasion. Or maybe they are preparing for surgery and need someone to educate them. A good fitter needs to zero in on what can I do for you? If that’s the focus, everything else falls into place.
Amoena: In your time as a fitter, you most certainly have had memorable women come into your shop. Any inspiring stories you’d like to share?
Jeanette: I think one of my most memorable is a 75-year-old woman who decided to have reconstruction because she didn’t want to have to worry about keeping a form in her bra while she did yoga. She had gone through breast cancer many years ago, but when she had a recurrence, she knew she had to have a full mastectomy, and she was so intent about being sure she could do her poses. She was a delight. And a lesson: You can never assume what a woman will want to do based on her age!
One thing I find that upsets me is there are women who, either through the type of insurance they have, or culture, or doctors, have a mastectomy and then can’t find a form large enough to match their remaining breast. These women inspire me, because they remain so upbeat and actually joke about having to wear two forms, or using three socks to even themselves out. Although I admire their good humor, it bothers me no end because I really want to call the doctor and say what are you thinking? I’m appalled that when I talk to these women they don’t even know they could (or should) have had the other side reduced. I don’t understand why they aren’t told. This is something that really makes me mad. I also get upset when no one has told them about garments that help hold the drains and make things easier for them. I have women all the time ask me why didn’t anyone ever tell me about this?
Amoena: It sounds like your time is pretty well spent just taking care of your business. When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Jeanette: It goes without saying that family is very important to me. In fact, this year I’m trying to be more present in my kid’s lives. They are all at places where they need my input, so I feel privileged to be here in the role of a loving and supportive mom!
I also do a lot of volunteer work for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I’m one of their helpline volunteers. In the past, I was very active in the Young Survival Coalition as well.
Amoena: As a triple negative breast cancer survivor with the BRCA1 mutation, an overwhelming family history – and positive lymph nodes, Jeanette Caligiuri is most certainly our poster girl for what living with just a bit of faith and hope can do! We are so glad she is here to help the women in her community.