NEW YORK — No one really told Teresa Miller how life would be after her first mastectomy in 1980.
"I brought a pair of my son's socks to the hospital with me, and I thought after the operation I'd throw back on my bra, stuff it with the socks and be on my way," said Miller, now 52.
But for Miller, like many cancer survivors, putting her physical and mental appearance back together was more challenging than she imagined.
"It took weeks for me to look at myself, and then I would cry," she recalled.
Sixteen years later, society is more apt to discuss cancer openly, and many women are warned how their body may react to surgery or treatment--that they may lose their hair to chemotherapy and suffer other side effects. But that information alone may not help a woman who no longer feels like herself and who no longer recognizes the face and body she sees in the mirror.
So with breast cancer patients in mind, the American Cancer Society and several corporations put together a publication that's part catalog, part magazine. It's called "tlc," for tender loving care.
As a catalog, tlc offers women an array of hard-to-find products such as hats and scarves that help hide hair loss, as well as bras that disguise that they have lost a breast. The products can be ordered over the phone at discounted prices.
The 16-page booklet also contains articles that answer questions about surgery and that seek to reassure women that they can--and should--have sex after cancer.
"There was no other item like this on the market, and we felt there was a need that was not being met by anyone," said Angela Ryan, manager of breast cancer support programs at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.
"Women have a hard time admitting that they even have breast cancer," she said. "And many of them don't have access to stores that can supply them with the goods they really need."
There are more than 1.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today, according to the American Cancer Society. In 1996, 183,000 women will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer and 44,000 women are expected to die from the disease.
Like Miller, many women are uneducated when it comes to understanding what surgery or treatment will do to one's body. Besides coping with the devastating loss of one or both breasts and their hair, many women also suffer from gland swelling and hormonal abnormalities.
"Women go through different stages when facing cancer," said Dr. Avi Barbasch, a New York oncologist. "Their first concern is life . . . then they worry about what the treatment will be like.
"Then most deny the impact this will have on their appearance," he said. "But at some point women really need some place and some needs to maintain their femininity."
For patients and survivors outside major metropolitan areas, finding help beyond the doctor's office is sometimes difficult. Many rural communities don't have shops that sell prostheses, or breast forms, that can be used to give normal breast appearance.
J.C. Penney Co. does have a special catalog with breast forms and bras, swimwear and other clothes for breast cancer survivors. But accessories such as scarves, hats and hairpieces are much harder to find.
In addition, the disease leaves many women feeling too sick to leave their homes, and others are self-conscious about asking sales clerks for such products.
"I wanted women not to feel stigmatized," said Lana Rosenfeld, who founded tlc last year. "The whole thing [of learning about breast cancer and finding products] is so primitive. There had to be another way for women to get information they needed."
Rosenfeld, who does not have breast cancer, saw the need for the publication after she talked to friends and family members who have had cancer and realized that there was a market that wasn't being met.
But it took several years for tlc to become a reality. The hitch was attracting corporate sponsors that were willing to lend a hand in financing the nonprofit project.
Hanover Direct Inc., one of the country's largest catalog firms, produced the magazine as a public service and is providing distribution for tlc products at cost.
The members of the Weekhawken, N.J.-based company's staff also have volunteered to handle phone orders. Some operators are specially trained to help women who need fitting of certain products, such as prostheses.
"This cause is one that has touched so many people," said Debra Berliner, vice president at Hanover Direct. "Our employees were excited to get involved. We feel some fulfillment from the catalog."
Spencer Press of New York did the printing for free, and the hairdressers, photographers and makeup artists who worked on the catalog also donated their time. The models agreed to accept reduced fees.
Many of the scarves and hats were designed by a New York-based accessory maker, Glentex, and were created specifically for cancer patients. The products are sold to the public at discounted prices.