A good fit


Northampton Woman Helps Breast Cancer Patients Feel Better About Themselves

By Cindy Mindell

Judith Fine

Judith Fine refers to Breast Cancer Awareness Month as “Breast Health Awareness Month.”
The Northampton, Mass. resident started a local shop called The Gazebo in 1978 as a way to sell her hand-sewn, one-of-a-kind lingerie. Over the last 34 years, the enterprise has evolved into an intimate-apparel shop specializing in bra-fitting for all women.
In the early ‘90s, Fine became a certified mastectomy fitter. “My ex-husband is a colon-cancer survivor and once cancer enters into your family and becomes part of your lexicon, you realize that you’re dealing with a scary, scary, thing,” Fine says. “The support system and family around you are vitally important to your getting better. As a lingerie store, we were already comfortable with women’s bodies, and our job is to make a woman feel good about herself with a properly fitting bra. Working with women after breast-cancer surgery was a natural next step for us.”
Fine is now one of three fulltime certified mastectomy fitters on staff and is also a licensed mastectomy fitter. The shop creates custom forms and bras for breast-surgery survivors and sells products from outside vendors. “We work with a woman until she is satisfied that she has the balanced silhouette that she desires, feels good, and her dignity is restored,” she says.
In 1994, Fine extended The Gazebo’s reach when she launched the non-profit Breast Form Fund to help defray costs on post-breast surgery prostheses and bras for underserved Massachusetts women with no or insufficient health insurance. The Breast Form Fund has helped some 150 women every year with grants of $100 and $300, raised through the Paradise City Arts Festival silent art auction, and the Show Us Your BRA! “art bra” auction and calendar. The Breast Form Fund is a founding member of the All4One Alliance, a partnership of four non-profit organizations that raise funds to support underinsured and uninsured women throughout the country.
The Gazebo gets back many of the breast forms it creates, returned when a former client passes away or when a woman requires a different-sized product. Those products continue to change women’s lives in surprising ways, Fine says, and in far-flung places. She was recently interviewed by two women who were part of a Brazilian study tour focused on women’s issues. One of the women had undergone breast surgery and had never heard of post-mastectomy products, as the Brazilian medical community promotes reconstructive surgery over prostheses. Fine and her staff packed up 30 items for their visitors to take back with them to Brazil and distribute to women in need. The Gazebo also provided post-surgery products for a woman in Iraq in time for her daughter’s wedding. It was the woman’s brother, now living in the U.S. after his family was killed by a roadside bomb, who approached Fine and helped her ship the package.
Fine is insistent that women be proactive about their health. “Women need to remember to do breast self-exams,” she says. “Get to know your breasts when they’re healthy and you will notice any change, take action, and save your own life.” Mammograms are a must, she says; there is a 99-percent cure rate when breast cancer is caught early. Her mantra: “Don’t be scared; be smart.”
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