For Bella Riewaldt and her sister, Julia Riojas, the news was a one-two punch.
On Sept. 30, 2013, Riojas, 60, of Eugene, Ore., learned she had breast cancer. Two days later Riewaldt, of Billings, was told that she, too, had breast cancer.
“I think I was in shock,” Riewaldt said. “This can’t be happening.”
Less than three weeks after her diagnosis Riewaldt opted for a mastectomy rather than undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.
“It was an instant decision,” she said.
On Thursday, Riewaldt, 54, became the first customer of Eva’s Boutique, a specialty store for breast cancer survivors.
The shop is housed in the Yellowstone Breast Center in the Yellowstone Medical Center West, making it convenient for breast cancer patients to shop for
bras and prostheses without
leaving the building after seeing their physicians.
The boutique is named for a 48-year-old woman who was diagnosed several years ago with breast cancer. Through early detection, her cancer was successfully treated. Since then, her philanthropic efforts have helped start a program that offers free digital mammography screenings to women age 40 and older who are uninsured or underinsured.
Her gifts have also helped launch the St. Vincent Healthcare Mobile Mammography Coach, which serves women across Eastern Montana, including Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribal members.
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Riewaldt said had it not been for the convenience, privacy and comfort of shopping at Eva’s Boutique, she most likely would not have opted for a prosthesis.
“Here, I get to see what it will look like and feel like,” she said. “I feel like everyone has done this just for me.”
Some 12,288 patients were examined at Yellowstone Breast Center last year; 98 of them were diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those diagnosed, 40 patients opted for a mastectomy.
Of all mastectomy patients, 90 percent will use an external prosthesis either permanently or while waiting for breast reconstruction.
“It’s crucial that we have this, and it needed to be housed here at the breast center,” said Ella Dugan-Laemmle, a breast health navigator at St. Vincent Healthcare.
“This is a safe zone. When I see patients get fitted, their whole demeanor changes. They smile with tears running down their face. They just feel complete.”
Funding for the new, $50,000 Boutique came from both St. Vincent Healthcare and the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation.
Breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women. One in eight women will get breast cancer during their lifetime. To get rid of, or prevent its spread, a mastectomy is often performed, which removes some of or all of the breast.
An added bonus at Eva’s Boutique is that insurance generally covers the items.
A mastectomy bra costs, on average, $42; prosthetics can cost $300 or more. Medicare covers the cost of bras and prostheses as medically necessary. Most insurance companies cover breast prostheses and bras, but each insurance company is different.