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Women on a mission

Before the doors opened at a new lingerie shop in Maryland, a woman stood outside, waiting to get in.

She wasn’t looking to buy anything. She just wanted to tell the new owners, “Thank you.”

Walk into Cherry Blossom Intimates, and it appears a chic but traditional lingerie shop. Lacy bras dangle from hangers, and seamless panties beckon from tables. The air smells sweet. But look closely at some of the bras, study the pink artwork on one wall or walk into a room in the back, and it becomes clear that the shop is more than just a place to find a new bustier.

It is probably the first store of its kind in the Washington region to offer women who have lost their breasts to cancer the chance to shop in a boutique-like atmosphere for everything from post-mastectomy bras to custom-made prosthetic breasts.

The store is made even more unique by the two women behind it: a breast surgeon and a beauty queen.

Jasmine Jones, who was Miss D.C. USA in 2016, and Dr. Regina Hampton, a Maryland-based breast surgeon, met two years ago because of cancer.

They showed up to support the same woman at a Susan G. Komen 5K run. Neither wanted to jog, so they walked and they talked, mostly about Hampton’s vision for creating an inviting place where cancer survivors could go after their surgeries and get what they don’t often realize their insurance plans cover: specialized bras, fittings and prosthetics.

That conversation led to several dinners and eventually a partnership that resulted in Cherry Blossom Intimates opening in the Woodmore Towne Centre in Glenarden a few weeks ago.

“I knew we were on to something when I told my mom about it and she started to cry,” Jones said. “She said she wished she could have taken my grandma to someplace like that.”

A picture of Jones’s grandmother, who had breast cancer and died nine years ago, rests on a shelf in the store. Near it sits a photo of another woman. She was Hampton’s childhood friend, and Hampton diagnosed her cancer, performed the needed surgery and then lost her in July.

“We call it our angel wall,” Jones said.

In that way (and others), loss remains ever-present at the shop. The pain of it. The fear of it. The defiance of it.

Cancer steals so much from people. It steals moments and lives and, even when it is survived, it steals a sense of security. That first hit me when I was in high school and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the first time. She survived it, and then five years later, when I was working at my first newspaper job, the cancer came back. I was sitting at my desk when I found out, and I made it into a bathroom stall before I cried.

The third time she was diagnosed, I was pregnant with my first son, and I envisioned bringing him home and not knowing whom to ask the most basic questions: How do I bathe him, how do I soothe him, how do I teach him to be a good person?

After a mastectomy and chemotherapy, she beat it again, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

But in the aftermath of her surgery, one thing that stood out to me — and hit me again when I walked into the new lingerie shop on a recent evening — was how women so often just make do. As my mom healed, she needed a comfortable bra, and instead of buying one, she used one of my nursing bras because even if it wasn’t ideal, it felt less constricting than the ones she had.

Hampton said recently a woman who had Stage 4 breast cancer walked into the store and was using a sock to fill out her bra.

“When she got in the bra and the prosthesis, it was like a different woman,” Hampton said. “A lot of women don’t know this is available, and I think that is a problem. The patients don’t know, and even a lot of providers don’t know, which is why that woman was walking around with a sock in her bra.”

When the idea for the shop first came to Hampton, she said she started researching what was available in the Washington region. The only comparable place she found was a medical supply store that uses a curtain to provide a private space for fittings.

At Cherry Blossom Intimates, the atmosphere is far from anything anyone might associate with the word “medical.” A wall of pink-painted, living moss sits behind the cash register. Fitting rooms are spacious enough to comfortably fit three people. And post-mastectomy bras are mixed in with traditional ones on the showroom floor so that people with cancer and those without can shop together. The store carries sizes that range from 28AA to 52N.

“I had one woman tell me, ‘Normally, I go into a store and people ignore me,’ ’’ Jones said. “She said, ‘Here, people took care of me.’ That’s exactly our mission, to make women feel loved on.”

Written into the employee handbook is a requirement that staff members treat each person who walks in as if she were their own mother or grandmother. Staff members also understand that emotions might run high, with laughter heard in one moment and sobs in another.

Jones said she hasn’t yet taken a client into the room where the prosthetics are kept and not seen tears.

On a wall outside the room are three framed pieces of artwork that appear to be abstract pink splatters. They are, in reality, a microscopic view of breast cancer cells, and more specifically, the cells of Hampton’s friend who died earlier this year.

Hampton does the prosthetic fittings. Women have two main options. One is an off-the-shelf form that feels realistic and can be held in place using a pocket in a post-mastectomy bra.

The other is a custom-made breast. It molds to the body in a way that can be worn under any bra. For it, women can choose their nipple size and even whether to add freckles.

The store also offers 36 flesh tones to pick from.

“I think a lot of people are excited that we have some brown options,” Hampton said. “Even white girls don’t look pink.”

Already, more than 30 women have signed up for a fitting.

One of them is the woman who knocked on the store’s door that day just to express her gratitude. She didn’t buy anything then because she is still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. But already, she is looking ahead to when she is done.

In January, she plans to return to the store.

A place where breasts come in 36 shades and the staff treats everyone like their mother, by Theresa Vargas of The Washington Post, November 2018

DR. REGINA HAMPTON, FACS

Dr. Hampton is the Medical Director and Founder of the Breast Center at Doctors Community Hospital, the first comprehensive breast center in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is a board certified general surgeon who has focused her practice on breast health and breast cancer. Her former private practice, Signature Breast Care, was the first breast surgery practice in the county.

JASMINE JONES

Inspired by her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer, Jasmine joined Dr. Hampton to create a unique experience for women regardless of their bra size or the stage of their breast cancer journey. Jasmine serves as Vice President of the Young Professional Council of Breast Care for Washington and as Founder of the Global Literacy Initiative.

About our store

CBI is the first retail store in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia to carry custom-made mastectomy breast prosthesis around the clock. Appointments begin in January. CBI also carries traditional bras, panties, shape-wear, and hosiery, along with a full-line of post-mastectomy products. The company’s mastectomy product line includes mastectomy bras, prosthesis, breast forms, pre- and post-surgical supplies.

A novel approach, not seen in any retail location in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia, CBI is unique in that the company carries a thoughtful collection of necessary oncology products, supportive services, and intimates that are not typically found under one roof.

CBI’s nationally certified staff has experience in fitting breast forms, mastectomy bras, post-surgical camisoles and other mastectomy apparel. Owner, Dr. Regina Hampton, is the most sought after breast cancer surgeon in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

We ensure that traditional bras fit, mastectomy bras fit and non-custom prostheses fit. Services are discreet and complimentary. CBI prides itself in being a safe space for women of the community.

Cherry Blossom Intimates

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