Jacky Roth with some of the dresses she designed
I would like to share with you the story of a close friend of mine, Jacky Roth. Jacky, with her dauntless spirit has managed to use her own experience of going through a very severe illness, which has fundamentally changed her life, to help other people in a similar situation. Her message - that you can make something good out of something bad – turns her trauma into a heartwarming story from which we can all learn.
Two years ago, Jacky, 62, a qualified nurse and mother of four adult children, got up one morning and discovered to her horror that one of her nipples was bleeding. This led to the discovery that she had breast cancer and six weeks later she underwent a mastectomy. Her life was totally and permanently changed.
One of the most significant moments after the procedure was when she became aware that, in addition to being uncomfortable and suffering from pain, she was very asymmetrical. Her body had changed so drastically that the clothes she had previously worn no longer fitted her new shape and now she would have nothing to wear. This was especially true during the first few weeks, when the scarred skin was still so sensitive, and nothing that she had in her wardrobe was tolerable on her body.
It took little time for her to realize that there were no specially made clothes in the shops or even available on the internet. This made her start creating suitable clothes for herself.
“After the mastectomy it took me a long time to recover”, she said. “I lost a lot of confidence in my external appearance, and at the same time I had to deal with the pain combined with numbness in the skin on my chest. Dealing with the pain and discomfort took time. Before the mastectomy I had felt very feminine. Despite having breastfed my babies for many years I suddenly found myself with only one breast. I felt shapeless, disappointed and sad.”
The process of turning a negative experience into a positive one started during the first days of Jacky's recovery. "In those early days after the operation, I lay in bed feeling very sorry for myself, and the first question I asked myself was how was I going to be able to face people and receive visitors. How could I go out like that? I really wanted to look normal. In the hospital they gave me a small pad to put in my bra – it helped but it wasn’t a satisfactory solution. Later, when I was up and about, I started thinking how to design clothes which I could go out in, and feel comfortable in and look balanced.”
Within two years, what started as a personal project stemming from a personal need has turned into a real boutique, with a collection of some 60 items of clothing – all of them designed for women who have had mastectomies and who have elected not to have reconstructive surgery. In the past year, between chemotherapy treatments and another operation, Jacky has been busy designing unique clothing that blurs the body lines and returns symmetry to the outward appearance. Jacky's boutique also has prostheses and bras imported from Europe and even unique swimsuits for post-mastectomy women. “Last summer I went to the UK and looked for the best prosthesis that there is”, she says. “I found an advanced design with a technology that makes the prosthesis adhere to the chest wall, and I sell them to other women with the same special needs as mine. They aren't real breasts, but in my opinion, if you need a prosthesis they are very comfortable and look quite natural.”
She meets with her customers personally and in the intimate environment of her home so as to protect their privacy as much as possible. “I developed sensitivity to these things through my own personal needs,” she explains. “In the first days after surgery there is a drainage pipe coming out of your chest that drains off secretions so at first, you can’t put anything on the operated area except a loose shift, and you certainly can't wear a regular bra. You have to wear something that isn’t figure-hugging. On the other hand, you don’t want to look odd with one breast hanging down and a surgical drain on the other side. It took me a long time to design a suitable garment that would be soft and comfortable. When I finally felt that I had succeeded, I wanted to share my discovery with other women.”
Jacky says that when the women come to her home they are usually still in the shock stage that is common right after the procedure. As a result, the meeting between them is more than the regular meeting between customer and vendor. In addition to fitting a garment, bra or prosthesis, Jacky talks to them in her living room, gives them tips from her own experience to help them through the difficult time they are having, and sometimes acts even as a spiritual guide. “In breast cancer there is something very difficult,” she says. “Apart from the fact that it isn’t a simple disease and that it affects the whole family, there is the problem of facing your femininity and mortality. The shock is so great that all you want to do is to get rid of the disease immediately. When I discovered the disease I felt that my body had betrayed me, because up to then I had been very healthy. I was a vegetarian and involved in sports activities, and so it came as a total surprise that I had cancer. I got the news and couldn't believe that it was happening to me. It was like a nightmare.”
The desire to help others is Jacky’s second nature. Born and educated in England, she volunteered during the Six Day War and left her nursing training in Edgeware, London, to work in Afula Hospital. On her return home she raised money for a kidney dialysis machine which was sent to Afula Hospital. She was all of 19. Jacky made aliyah with her husband at the age of 21. She worked as a nurse in Tel Hashomer Hospital whilst her husband was serving three years in the I.D.F. The Roths moved to Arad (where our families became friends) and Jacky, in between running her husband's dental clinic, set up a group for the encouragement of breast feeding. This led to antenatal groups, groups for helping mothers after birth, and young parent groups. “At that time I was a young mother and wanted to breastfeed, but found there was a lot of ignorance on the subject. I wanted to share my information with as many other women as possible. Whenever I was in a stressful situation I looked for a way to help others – and of course, I found that I learned much from the other women and that helped me,” says Jacky.
When Jacky found out she had cancer, one of the things that helped her to find her way out of the nightmare was the knowledge that she had the ability to help other women who were in a similar situation. “One morning my whole world turned upside down and to help myself get back on my feet I needed to try to help others" she says. “Up to now, I haven’t been able to do everything that I want to do, but I’m slowly getting my strength back. My recovery has been helped by my wonderful husband Maurice, my children Ido, Gil'ad, Shirah and Avital. My mum, who came from London to be with me for three months was amazing and my brother Eddy's visit bucked up my spirits no end. The love and support of friends and acquaintances gave me constant encouragement and the strength to keep on fighting.”
A few weeks ago Jacky opened the website for her boutique. She has a large collection of bras, prostheses, swimsuits and clothes all under one roof and all for women who have undergone mastectomy.
Jacky Roth’s website is: www.jr-butik.com. Her phone number is 08 651 0403.