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One on One: Mary Walsh-Aframe, founder, The Women’s Image Center

Mary Walsh-Aframe founder of The Women's Image Center [Photo Credit: T&G Staff/Christine Peterson]

Mary Walsh-Aframe founder of The Women's Image Center [Photo Credit: T&G Staff/Christine Peterson]

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

Bill Helps Cancer Patients Pay for Wigs After Chemotherapy; Legislation Inspired by Worcester Resident

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Rep. McGovern Introduces Bill to Help Cancer Patients
Bill Helps Cancer Patients Pay for Wigs After Chemotherapy;
Legislation Inspired by Worcester Resident
June 22, 2017


 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced a new bill in the House of Representatives to help patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. Most private insurance plans already cover wigs for those undergoing treatment that causes hair loss. The bill would help cancer patients on Medicare, who are undergoing treatments, to pay for wigs not currently covered.
 
“Every cancer patient deserves access to quality healthcare that will help them undergo treatment with the support and dignity they need. For cancer patients who experience hair loss, a wig can mean so much, but is not always covered by their insurance,” Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) said. “This bill will help to change that and ensure that every cancer patient who loses their hair can afford a wig and undergo treatment with the dignity and respect they deserve. I urge all of my colleagues in Congress to support this important bill.”
 
Congressman McGovern’s bill was inspired by a meeting with Mary Aframe, who runs the Women’s Image Center located in Worcester and Leominister. The Women’s Image Center helps promote confidence in women undergoing image changes related to cancer treatment. Aframe has worked tirelessly to help raise awareness about the many women undergoing chemotherapy who have trouble affording wigs. Aframe said she has heard from many women who are looking for a wig due to hair loss after cancer treatment – specifically breast cancer. Many are on Medicare and struggle to afford a wig, sometimes even choosing different treatment paths to avoid hair loss.
 
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point. Nationally, expenditures for cancer care totaled nearly $125 billion in 2010. In 2017 alone, Massachusetts is expected to see 37,00 new cases of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
 
“This bill is so desperately needed. A wig is not only medically necessary as a part of a woman's physical recovery, but also for the emotional recovery that comes with going through cancer treatment, said Mary Aframe. “Feeling confident in your new skin during and post treatment is paramount to overcoming the challenges and changes women face after a cancer diagnosis”
 
Most private insurance plans already cover wigs for patients undergoing cancer treatments. Congressman McGovern’s bill would re-categorize wigs as durable medical equipment to allow Medicare to provide coverage if a doctor certifies that they are medically necessary. Wigs can cost thousands of dollars and are out of reach for many patients without help from their insurance provider.
 
The new bill, H.R. 2925, has been referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means, where it awaits further consideration.