In March 2006, doctors gave their colleague Dr. Deb Kimless-Garber a clean bill of health. After a double mastectomy and the requisite rounds of treatment, Kimless-Garber was officially cured.
But she still had to deal with two problems.
“Pain and aesthetic,” said Kimless-Garber of West Chester. “A lot of women experience something similar to phantom limb pain after a mastectomy. There’s all of these nerves in the breast, so why wouldn’t they experience pain.”
Then, there are the aesthetics.
“A reconstructed breast looks very different after a mastectomy,” said Kimless-Garber. “Any type of breast reconstruction is a very different procedure than a breast augmentation.”
She added, “What you get is what looks like flat plateaus or mounds instead of a perky, shapely silhouette.”
That’s when Kimless-Garber went to work.
“What I was suffering from is called post-mastectomy pain syndrome. Almost 50 percent of women who have surgery on their breast experience it, and it’s kind of a deep, dark, dirty secret,” Kimless-Garber said.
Kimless-Garber is an anesthesiologist by trade, so she started working on ways to reduce the pain.
“If you stub your toe, what’s the first thing you do after you swear? You’re going to grab your toe and squeeze,” Kimless-Garber said. “As an anesthesiologist, I would look for ways to reduce pain, not just pharmacologically. One of the proven ways is through pressure.”
“I was in the store one day looking at a pair of Spanx, and I realized that if you turned it upside down and cut a hole in the crotch it would basically be a shirt,” said Kimless-Garber.
She spent the next five years basically reverse engineering designs to come up with a shirt that would alleviate post-mastectomy pain while providing breast cancer survivors with a more shapely look in the bust.
That’s when Red Thread tops and breast shapers were born.
“My clothes didn’t fit right, and the pain wouldn’t go away,” Kimless-Garber said. “So, I started to study fibers and began creating patterns. It’s really a feat of engineering."
The shirts look like a fashion top, except that sewn in underneath the top is what looks like a sports bra.
“Inside is a fully functional bra,” Kimless-Garber explained. “But it has a stretch component that also compresses."
The bra also has pockets where a woman can insert one of Kimless-Garber’s custom-made silicone breast shapers.
“The cool thing is that they won’t fall out, and they act like a kind of enhancer,” she noted.
She also said that the breast shapers provide a very natural look because they are isolated in separate pockets.
“This prevents ‘uni-boob,’” Kimless-Garber joked. “A lot of women wear support bras, and they don’t look natural. They look like they’re carrying a loaf of bread around in their shirt. Because the breast shapers are isolated, that doesn’t happen.”
After a mastectomy, doctors insert a silicone implant under the chest muscle to give the look of a normal breast. However, the chest muscle can squeeze the implant so that it can lose its integrity. This leads to the “mounding” that Kimless-Garber described.
A similar problem can occur after a woman has a lumpectomy. Although part of the original breast remains intact, doctors remove the cancerous area and sometimes leave a big defect.
“My breast shapers come in different sizes,” Kimless-Garber said. “Women can place them in the shirt in any way they want in order to get symmetry. Every woman has a different need."
According to Kimless-Garber, “A traditional cotton bra can feel like sandpaper to those with post-mastectomy pain. My shirts are made out of a polyester-rayon spandex that’s soft but constricting and has a great feel.”
She added, “I’ve had women call me crying because they don’t know what else to do. One woman was sitting in her kitchen naked because wearing clothes hurt too much.”
“I looked around, and found no existing solutions to the problem,” Kimless-Garber said.
Five years in the making, she thinks the answer -- her answer -- has arrived.
For more information about Kimless-Garber and Red Thread tops and breast shapers, visit www.redthreadbydrdeb.com.