Shop sells clothes designed for breast cancer patients
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We speak to the owner of Can-Care, a one-stop shop for breast cancer patients to rediscover their inner beauty
It is a little shop for the soul, inconspicuous among the glitzy shops selling luxury goods and the latest threads in neighbouring shopping malls.
Can-Care, on the sixth storey of Orchard Shopping Centre, caters to female breast cancer patients.
The shop sells everything, such as wigs and headwear for chemotherapy patients and silicone prosthetic breast forms for those who have had a mastectomy.
The store's managing director, Ms Serena Wee, 47, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "The treatment causes patients to lose parts of themselves that make them who they are, the parts that make them feel beautiful.
"So much of it gets taken away from them, and we want to help them realise that life should not be any different."
The shop also sell bras, dresses, and swimwear specially designed for breast cancer patients.
Can-Care, which has been around for nearly 20 years, is open six days a week. Ms Wee says the store receives about 15 customers daily.
She says: "But when there is a sale, things get really busy. There was one Saturday where we served 46 people. Everyone loves a sale."
Customers get a personalised fitting before buying a breast form. It cost between $198 and $308, and Can-Care carries more than six brands of breast forms, each with their own set of sizes.
Ms Wee says: "Everyone's shape is different and customers will want to find the right fit for their body."
The Can-Care team is made up of 16 people, and most of them come from a nursing and healthcare background. The staff see themselves as care consultants whom patients can turn to for support.
Says patient care manager Doreen Tan, 38: "We are more than just a store that sells these things. We listen to what their concerns are, help to reassure them, and clarify any worries they might have before, during and after their treatment."
Miss Tan runs Can-Care's awareness programme, Look Good Feel Better, which is conducted at eight hospitals here.
Women are taught make-up techniques to conceal hair loss and other changes, such as dry skin and rashes, that are caused by cancer treatment.
Miss Tan says: "The damage done to a woman's self-esteem is great. Many of these women only remove their wigs during these sessions."
Blinking back tears, she adds: "It is hard to see their hurt sometimes."
Ms Wee co-founded Can-Care in 1997. At that time, an aunt had just had a mastectomy and Ms Wee was searching for a breast form for her.
She says: "I remember going to Tanglin Shopping Centre and asking a man over a counter if we could inquire about such products... It was as if it was a simple transaction. He leaned over the counter and just asked us, 'What size?'"
This spurred her on to start Can-Care to help patients like her aunt, who want a comfortable environment to shop in.
Can-Care, which started as a three-person outfit, is now a multinational company.
There are 10 shops across various South-east Asian countries, including Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
But expanding so rapidly has not been easy.
Ms Wee says she has contemplated throwing in the towel because of the stress and the nature of the disease. But the patients keep her going.
"I do it for them. Everyone here does it for them. These people's stories, they stick. And I think, if not us, then who?
"No one chooses to have cancer and they should not have to live their lives any differently," she says.
Breast cancer stats and numbers
The number diagnosed with breast cancer a year, for every 100,000 women
1975 to 1979
1980 to 1984
1984 to 1988
1990 to 1994
1995 to 1999
2000 to 2004
2005 to 2009
2010 to 2014
Source: National Registry of Diseases Office