Shop for breast cancer patients helps customers heal

For breast cancer patients, going through a mastectomy is often a traumatic and emotional experience. After the surgery, even a seemingly small task -- like finding a properly fitting, post-surgical bra -- can be difficult.

That's where Chris Wilhite comes in. The breast cancer survivor beat the disease 15 years ago and now manages the "Friend to Friend" shop in San Francisco -- a store that caters specifically to breast cancer survivors in various stages of recovery.

Chemotherapy patients can shop for wigs and scarves. Post surgery, it's a place to find comfortable undergarments.

"I'm sure 20 years ago, you didn't see this kind of design," Wilhite said, pointing to a mastectomy bra. "And they're feminine."

The store doesn't sacrifice style for comfort -- shoppers can still find their favorite lacy looks -- but it does emphasize soft, supportable, breathable fabric with no underwire, something essential for her customers' comfort, Wilhite told CBS News.

She explained that for mastectomy bras, fasteners should be in the front, with inside pockets for prosthetics or soft forms. Some patients may opt for a sports bra that has these key components.

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Chris Wilhite, manager of the "Friend to Friend" shop in San Francisco, shows off mastectomy bras specially designed for women after breast cancer surgery.
CBS News

Breast cancer specialist Dr. Laura Esserman, director of the University of California San Francisco Breast Cancer Center, said that it's an emotional time for patients and she recommends buying their bras prior to surgery.

"People feel that their whole body's violated so having something soft and comfortable [can] just kind of ease you through it," she said. "Sometimes, little things can make a big difference."

Wilhite also recommends finding a supportive, nurturing place to shop. "It's very important for women to come in and chat, talk, buy themselves something," she said. "It's like therapy."