Pink Ladies have teamed up with Cancer Focus NI to offer a community based bra fitting service across the North West.
The service will officially be launched in January across all of the outreach facilities in Derry, plus five new locations - Limavady, Eglinton, Strabane, Donemana and Castlederg.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’, Maureen Collins of the Pink Ladies said: “For us, historically, the Pink Ladies were set up to bring services into the community, that people know exist in a hospital setting, but might not want to go to the hospital.
“The other thing about it is affordability and the cost of some of the stuff needed.”
Maureen said that Pink Ladies staff had previously been trained in bra fitting for the Bogside and Brandywell area, but due to budget restraints and austerity, they weren’t able to continue the service.
However, after being awarded £500,000 in Big Lottery funding earlier this year, the group, working along with Cancer Focus NI, is now able to provide the service in communities across the North West.
“The focus of the funding project is to enhance the staff and to look at what we would call ‘cold spots’ across the north and close to where we are.
“At the end of the day, we lobbied and campaigned for the North West Cancer Centre, which is much bigger than Derry and Strabane,” said Maureen.
After some research, the Pink Ladies found that there was no similar service in the Causeway Coast area.
“We spoke to Diane Ratfield in the Roe Valley Community Education Forum and having been a cancer thriver herself, she wanted to develop a model similar to ours if not the very same, overseen by the Pink Ladies.
“That got the wheels in motion, that got the wheels spinning,” she said.
Limavady, Donemana, Eglinton, Strabane and Castlederg were identified as areas that were lacking in community based support services such as a listening ear, coffee morning, programmes, activities.
“When cancer focus endorsed the opportunity to bring the bra fitting service into the community, we were overwhelmed that the attitude was the same as ours.
“While it’s about the charity, it is more about the person and getting the service to the person.
“They are big advocatesfor what we want to do, and that’s what will solidify the partnership even more,” added Maureen.
Debbie Lesley is the Service Co-ordinator at Altnagelvin with Cancer Focus NI. She has been working alongside Pink Ladies recently, bringing bras to the centre to allow service users to try them on.
“Michelle McLaren contacted me a few months ago to say they have a support group starting in Limavady and would I go there? I thought that if we worked in partnership with the Pink Ladies we will provide the bras and training and they can do the fitting with all of their outreach groups.
“We will be working together to provide the service, because I’m based in Altnagelvin, but they are more free to move around.”
Dervila Kernaghan, head of care services CFNI, added: “We are keen that we support women wherever they are, and they don’t have to travel too far, so they don’t have an additional impact after diagnosis.
“We work in partnership with local groups such as Pink Ladies to try and provide more services to people.
“We want to show that wherever you live, you can access a good quality service on your doorstep.
“After a cancer diagnosis the last thing a patient needs is travelling, parking and the added cost and expense.
“If we can deliver services more locally to people then it’s much better.”
The new service will allow ladies access to a wide range of bras, swimsuits, bikinis, nightwear and T-shirts all at cost price.
“You will be getting them at factory price, we don’t make any profit, it keeps it more manageable.
“You can buy them in stores, but they’re twice the price. Having been a bra fitter for years, the quality is there. They are specially made for people with breast cancer.
“We’re not trying to sell the ladies anything, it is a service that we have, there is no presure to buy.
“We can give an hour for each fitting and they are free to try on as much as they want, look through catalogues. Even just sit and chat, offload. It’s about providing a safe, secure enviroment where they feel comfortable,” added Debbie.
Michelle McLaren from Pink Ladies went through a double mastectomy and has first hand experience of trying to find a suitable bra following surgery.
“There isn’t a lot on the high street and it’s disheartening, when you do go out and nothing is suitable for you.
“With this service, everything we will bring will be suitable for that lady.
“It’s about boosting confidence because it is knocked through surgeries. It’s that bit of extra care, where you’re aware what the lady had been through.
“This is just the next stage to moving on, getting a well fitted bra, feeling back to yourself again
“It’s easy to talk about it, but it’s going to be even better that we can provide it there and then. We know women who have been sitting with the same prosthesis for 20 odd years, because they didn’t know how to get refitted, and women that have never gone into to get a bra. You can see the excitement, because you think you’re limited, but you’re not.
“There’s no waiting time or going anywhere. We can move about into the different areas and promote the service that will be on the doorstep,” she said.
From January, three members of Pink Ladies will bring the service to coffee mornings in different areas, as an add on to the service they already provide.
“We will be able to do a fitting, and we can meet the person and bring a range for them the next time. If we gauge it well, we will have a good range we can bring with us so we will be able to open the door and bring out a selection for ladies,” said Michelle.
The first meeting in Limavady was held last week, and the group will move into Strabane later this month. “Any areas we’re going into do programmes and activities, the offer will be there.
“The service will officially start in January. Three people are currently trained and that should be enough to get it rolling, but essentially Michelle and Debbie will continue to train others,” added Maureen. For more information on this service, contact Pink Ladies on 07710025494.