Staff Photo: Karen J. RohrNewton Medical Center Auxiliary volunteer Kay Goff displays a cover for a drain bag, made by St. Augustine Catholic Church volunteers, which will be donated to a breast cancer patient in need.
One of Kay Goff's first Hope Boutique clients kept a rolled up dish towel in her bra to conceal her missing breast, removed due to cancer. After Goff fitted her with a bra and a prosthetic breast, the woman dropped to her knees in front of the mirror.
"She said 'I'm whole again,'" Goff said.
Goff churns out emotionally wrenching stories like these one after the other, all generated from her six years spent as founder and operator of the Hope Boutique at Newton Medical Center.
Located in the NMC Women's Diagnostic Center, the boutique provides free scarves, hats, wigs, turbans, blankets, bras, prosthetic breasts, drain bags and pillows, make-up and educational material to breast cancer patients who have little or no health insurance.
Many of the items are handmade, and some are even imbued with prayer by the makers before they arrive at the boutique.
Goff volunteers her time to run the boutique, with help from other members of the NMC Auxiliary and NMC staff. Stock is either donated or purchased with money generated from fundraisers and donors.
"It's just the most amazing blessing to me to be surrounded by people who are as passionate about women's health as I am," said Goff, who added that the boutique won the 2008 Best Practice Award from the Georgia Society of Directors of Volunteer Services.
For Goff, the Hope Boutique is a ministry inspired by her own battle with breast cancer in 2003. She underwent a lumpectomy with chemotherapy and radiation. She remains cancer-free since the procedures.
Inspired by a Bible passage and advice from a friend, Goff worked with the NMC staff to obtain a start-up grant for the boutique four years ago.
"I realized that my mission was going to be to help others," Goff said .
Having cancer, especially breast cancer, gives her particular insight into what patients might be feeling and thinking, Goff said. Female breast cancer patients in particular must contend with the loss of two physical attributes accorded great importance in society, said the 67-year-old mother of seven and grandmother of nine.
"Women are defined by their breasts and their hair. They should be defined by their brains, but they're not, so when they lose both, they lose their way for a little while," Goff said.
The Hope Boutique has helped more than 300 women from Newton and surrounding counties since its opening in 2006. Goff said often times she is the first person to see a patient's body after the patient has gone through a mastectomy.
"It's an emotional thing for the patient to trust me," Goff said.
She keeps two wigs ready to break the ice -- a flouncy blonde one and a sleek brunette one.
"I ask who would you like to be today -- Dolly or Raquel?" Goff said.
Patients put on the wigs with Goff and they both have a good laugh.
Goff, who also helps manage the monthly breast cancer support group at NMC, said she provides women with educational material that covers topics like maintaining a positive attitude during the sickness, eating proper foods and, most importantly, taking care of themselves.
"Rest is hard. They are caregivers and when the caregiver is down, they won't accept someone else to care for them. The first thing I say is you must allow people to help. It will be a gift to them because you will relieve their helplessness," Goff said.
"Then I tell them to save your energy for what gives you pleasure."
Goff works closely with churches who volunteer to sew the items for the boutique, wash the wigs and provide donations such as scarves and hats. She also stays in close contact with prosthesis boutiques that provide discounts on supplies. Typically a prosthetic can cost between $300 and $500 and a bra about $60. Store owners alert her to special sales.
The Hope Boutique will hold its annual fashion show/luncheon fundraiser at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in the fellowship hall at the First Baptist Church of Covington. Tickets are $10 and include a fashion show with clothing modeled by breast cancer survivors, lunch and entertainment provided by a comedian, pianists Alice Walker and Becky Ramsey and a surprise celebrity.
Operating the Hope Boutique is becoming more of a challenge for Goff because she is battling Parkinson's disease. She's thankful for the set of new volunteers she is grooming to take her place.
But until that day comes, Goff will continue to devote herself to the Hope Boutique and the women to whom it offers a source of strength.
"A lot of miracles happen in this tiny room," Goff said.