Kay Kelly remembers being sent to a back room of a Glen Burnie pharmacy last year to search for the item she wanted to buy. She brushed aside dust, pushed past stacks of storage boxes, until finally, there it was.
Her new prosthetic breast.
"It was an archaic experience," she says. "It was just hard to believe that in this day and age women would still be fitted that way."
Her daughter Karen remembers their first trip to buy a wig:
"The woman took one look at my mother's hair color, brought out a wig and said 'This is for you.' That was that. And here you are not knowing whether or not you're going to live out your chemotherapy."
Barely six months after her mastectomy, 49-year-old Mrs. Kelly made up her mind that other cancer patients shouldn't have to go through similar trials. Last August, she opened A Special Touch, a store of wigs and breast prostheses, which she runs with her 27-year-old daughter in an office building in Annapolis.
"When we opened last year, I still didn't have any hair," Mrs. Kelly says. "People would come in and say 'Wow, you look good!' meaning that it didn't look as if I had been through some horrible thing."
The store has a variety of wigs, turbans and head coverings. But with purchases Mrs. Kelly also parcels out information. Many women don't realize, she says, they may need a turban to sleep at night because their heads will get cold -- or their new hair will often grow back thicker than it was before.
And she supplies the support of personal knowledge. "The first thingwomen have is the fear of the unknown. A lot of people come here before they start chemotherapy or radiation just to talk about it. They have that fear of 'How sick am I really going to be? and 'Will I get better?' "
The wigs range from $59-$150. The most popular prosthesis costs $225, the bulk of which is covered by most health plans. The store also carries mastectomy bras -- which have pockets to hold the breast form inside -- as well as mastectomy bathing suits and lingerie.
The Kellys also volunteer with the "Look Good, Feel Better" public service programs sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. The focus of the free workshops, usually held at hospitals, is on makeup and skin care for women who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.
(A Special Touch, 2086 Generals Highway in Annapolis, is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday with special evening, weekend and home appointments. Call: (410) 841-2580.