Northeast Joco

A helping hand for cancer survivors

Clair Keizer and Terry Levine, co-owners of Clair de lune, started the First Bra Foundation to help breast cancer survivors.
Clair Keizer and Terry Levine, co-owners of Clair de lune, started the First Bra Foundation to help breast cancer survivors. Special to The Star

The words “breast cancer” conjure many thoughts of doctors, hospitals, chemotherapy and more. But what many people don’t think about is how survivors adjust to how their bodies have changed.

That’s where the First Bra Foundation steps in to help by giving a free bra to breast cancer survivors.

After a lumpectomy or mastectomy, it takes a while to heal, and once the bandages come off, bras don’t fit like they did before surgery. Clair Keizer and Terry Levine, co-owners of the Clair de lune lingerie boutique at 5053 W. 119th St. in Overland Park, found that many of their customers who had survived breast cancer didn’t know where to start.

“We saw what the survivor’s challenges were when she would come in to get a bra,” Levine said. “Something had happened to her body that was not her choice, and because of that she was having to find something different to accommodate her new body.”

Some have prosthetics, while others have concave areas they wanted to disguise. Levine said some women wear sports bras for years, because they don’t know what to do or who to ask about it.

Any survivor of breast cancer can fill out a small form for the foundation and get a certificate for a free bra. You can be a recent patient or someone who’s several years removed from surgery.

The free bra isn’t just a piece of lingerie — it comes with a fitting, full of advice for how to adjust to your new shape. Women can choose a more comfortable post-surgical bra or any other type of bra the shop offers.

One recipient told Keizer that getting the free bra and fitting got her over a hurdle in her recovery and reclaim her femininity.

“So many people think about all the health issues and the hair, but just to have someone take the time to make you feel comfortable in your skin was one of the biggest draws to me,” said Connie Russell.

Russell, who lives in Topeka, is a breast cancer survivor who heard about the program through a friend. After her lumpectomy, she found that her shirts didn’t fit right over her new shape.

“I was very glad that they were able to fix that for me,” Russell said. “I never thought about a padded bra because I had never worn a padded bra, so that’s one of the first things they did.”

The foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, separate from the boutique, but the boutique is where the survivors come to get their free bra. So far, the foundation has handed out about 315 certificates, and 110 people have already redeemed theirs in the foundation’s first year.

“Part of what we feel is attractive about the program is that the woman can make her own decision about when to use (the voucher). If she wants to hold onto it for two years, because she’s not ready to come in and take that step, that’s fine,” Levine said.

To get the word out, they’ve partnered with St. Luke’s East Hospital, the University of Kansas Cancer Center, Menorah Medical Center and Mercy Health System in St. Louis.

The only geographic limitation to the program is that survivors have to visit a Clair de lune location in person for a fitting, and there are only two, in Overland Park and St. Louis.

Keizer said they’ve received requests from all over the country and the world, and they’re hoping to get other lingerie stores to sign on to the program.

To reach Beth Lipoff, send email to bethlipoff913@gmail.com.

On the Web

To donate or request a bra voucher, visit www.firstbra.org.

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