One on One: Mary Aframe, founder, The Women’s Image Center
Posted Jul 23, 2017
A former dental hygienist, Mary Aframe became certified in prosthetics/orthotics and founded The Women’s Image Center with locations in Worcester and Leominster about 18 years ago. The business specializes in assisting women undergoing image changes related to cancer treatment by selling products in its boutique such as wigs, scarves and hats for hair loss, compression garments and lymphedema sleeves and silicone forms to custom prosthetic technology for women who have undergone a mastectomy, lumpectomy or breast reconstruction.
Ms. Aframe is a Worcester-area native and an alumna of Quinsigamond Community College. She is a certified mastectomy fitter by the American Board of Orthotics and Prosthetics. The center’s seven employees travel between the sites and hours are by appointment only with evenings available.
How did you move into this field?
I grew up with a sister who has alopecia and my two sisters had hair replacement businesses in Boston so I was familiar with it. I always had a drive to be an entrepreneur and find a way to help women make their lives better so it sort of came together.
Usually, women went to a hairdresser for wigs and a pharmacy for prosthesis, neither of which were very private. I wanted to create a place with a nurturing environment where they could privately come in and get what they require to move on with their lives.
How do you get certified?
The regulations have changed from 18 years ago, but the two women who are fitters here got certified this year. They had to train under a certified fitter for 250 to 500 hours and pass a national exam as well as have graduate credits.
Can you describe the 3D technology that you use and what it does?
The American Breast Care 3-D white scanner, through computer assisted design (CAD), allows you to duplicate whatever breast tissue is lost to mastectomy or lumpectomy. The silicon prosthetic fits into the woman’s chest wall post-surgery like a puzzle piece and allows women to be symmetrical and have more options for clothing. It is lighter and cooler and matches skin tone better.
Before, the process involved making a plaster cast of the woman’s chest and using the mold to create the prosthetic. And, then you had to wait six to eight weeks for it to arrive.
What other services do you have?
We have a catalog business (www.womensimagecatalog.com) and our tried-and-true products are offered at a lesser price.
And we have these gift boxes, Ready, Set, Go, filled with treats for women going through chemotherapy. The boxes have things like a pillow, teas, lotion, cards, a journal. ... It’s like a hug in a box.
What about insurance?
We handle all the billing and back and forth and paperwork for insurance here so that the women don’t have to deal with it. We accept a lot of insurances and have a bank here in case someone is underinsured and cannot afford something. We make sure they get what they need. This work is more of a vocation than a job for me.
Are you active in other organizations?
I volunteer with the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program and on the board of Pink Revolution and a member of Essentially Women’s Buying Group.
Every year, Pink Revolution has a big event, “Lighting the Way,” at Hanover Theatre. It’s an evening of support where survivors come together. We want women to not feel alone as they go through treatment and also afterwards. This year’s event is Oct. 11.
I’m also following a bill (#HR295) through Congressman Jim McGovern’s office to get wigs re-categorized as durable medical equipment so that they can be covered under Medicare.
How do people hear about your boutique?
Referrals aren’t needed but we do get them from oncology departments at local hospitals and surgeons, doctors, nurse practitioners, etc. We’ve been in the area for a long time so we’ve developed great relationships with these people. We also have word-of-mouth business.
Have you personally experienced cancer and did it spark your interest in this field?
No, not yet. I just happened to find my little corner of the world and developed a great little business that has grown over the years. It feels good to help women get what they need and help to make their lives more comfortable. It’s fulfilling to be a resource for them.
-Compiled by correspondent Susan Gonsalves
This article has been modified from the original posted on Telegram.com