Ribbons of Hope founder Carrie Heideman, right, and office manager Shelly Duncan help provide breast cancer survivors with everything from wigs, scarves and skin lotions to prostheses and bras.
In shades of green and pink, Ribbons of Hope Boutique sees exclusively female customers. Women looking for moral and physical support. Women looking for a sense of normalcy. Women looking for breasts.
Carrie Heideman, founder of Ribbons of Hope in Pinellas Park, worked as a technician at BayCare Health Systems and watched women with breast cancer leave the hospital after a mastectomy with no idea where to go next.
“The compassion just wasn’t there,” Heideman said.
So in 2008, after losing her corporate job, Heideman decided to start Ribbons of Hope, a boutique where women can go post-mastectomy to buy bras, bathing suits, wigs and skin care lotions.
Heideman and her office manager, Shelly Duncan, begin working with many of their customers soon after the breast cancer diagnosis. Ribbons of Hope sells wigs, scarves and skin lotions for women going through chemotherapy, then prostheses and bras four to six weeks after surgery.
Duncan, a seven-year survivor of breast cancer, has worked at Ribbons of Hope for almost a year and said that her job has been her most rewarding experience.
“I have a job that allows me to give back,” Duncan said. “I get to encourage women just being diagnosed, and I’m encouraged by 25-, 30-year survivors.”
Barbara Burke brought her first mastectomy bra from Ribbons of Hope in 2010 and has been returning to the shop ever since, for bras and bathing suits and shampoo.
“Carrie and I have become great friends over the years,” Burke said. “I’ve even gone to several breast cancer events with her.”
All of the Ribbons of Hope’s bras are made with whipped silicone implants, a spongy material that feels as close to natural as possible.
“They have to pass the hug test,” Duncan said. “We want them to feel normal.”
Design-wise, Heideman said she tries to keep her boutique as friendly as she can to make her customers feel safe and at home. She doesn’t want her customers to think of Ribbons of Hope as a medical clinic. Burke said that’s part of why she keeps going back.
“It’s more intimate,” she said. “Like getting together with the girls.”
And intimacy is just what Heideman wants.
“We’re building a lifelong relationship with our customers as we walk the journey with them,” she said.
And her customers come back, for bras and wigs and donuts and coffee. After facing breast cancer together, the relationship is more than buyer-seller.
“We’re giving someone her symmetry, her balance, her physique back,” Heideman said. “We’re putting them back together.”