Next month, Alicia Vargo, the proprietress of Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie in Englewood, will open a new outpost of her much-lauded house of bras and panties with an unlikely address and a noble cause. The boutique, to be called Pampered Passions Care Wear, will cater to the needs of women who've undergone mastectomies. The location? Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver.
"Every hospital wants to be a one-stop shop for patients," Vargo says. Post-mastectomy lingerie boutiques, she says, "are almost a natural progression, so the doctor can just refer someone from the seventh floor to the first floor."
But they're not common -- yet. Vargo says she believes Pampered Passions Care Wear will be the first such boutique in Colorado, though she's in talks with several other hospital management companies, including Exempla and HealthONE Cares, to open as many as eight more next year. The shops will sell prostheses, post-mastectomy bras, post-surgical camisoles and post-operation pajamas, which Vargo says are the newest trend.
Vargo is not a breast cancer survivor herself. Her journey toward helping women who are started in January 2003, when her store in Englewood had only been open two months. One day, Vargo says, a woman "with fear in her eyes" walked into the shop. When Vargo asked her what was wrong, the woman said she'd just been diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer and was having a double mastectomy the following week. "I need answers," the woman said -- but Vargo didn't have any. So she made a promise.
"That was the last person that was ever going to walk into our store that we could not nurture and care for and give answers to," she says.
Within a month, Vargo had hired her first certified mastectomy fitter and started carrying post-mastectomy bras and prostheses. Now, eight years later, Pampered Passions has seven mastectomy fitters, including Vargo, on staff. In that time, Vargo says they've fitted thousands of women. She remembers one day in which her clients included an elderly woman without health insurance, a pregnant mother and a young girl who was being made fun of in the locker room because she'd undergone a mastectomy.
"Fitting breast cancer patients offers a different perspective in my life," she says.
As such, Vargo has tried to give back. Several area hospitals now offer newly diagnosed patients a Pampered Passions information bag that includes a copy of the Colorado Breast Cancer Resources Directory, information about the store's pre-op and post-op services, as well as a pretty scarf and, Vargo says, "other goodies."
In early 2010, Vargo was dropping off some bags at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers when she noticed a woman in the chemotherapy waiting room dressed as a pirate, complete with a fake hook and parrot. "I said, 'What are you doing?'" Vargo recalls. "And she said... 'I'm not going to walk the plank. I'm stealing my life back.'"
Her attitude inspired Vargo to start a peer-to-peer breast cancer support group called Breast Cancer Pirates that pairs survivors with newly diagnosed women -- just like the woman who walked into her store looking for answers had inspired her years earlier. Once Pampered Passions's post-mastectomy department was up and running, that woman returned and became the first person they ever fit for prostheses.
"It came full circle," Vargo says. Now, she hopes the circle will keep growing.
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