The Brighter Side helps cancer patients, one woman at a time

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Cancer is invasive in every sense of the word. From the person diagnosed, to family and friends, it is a frightful and painful experience, often leaving patients feeling isolated, not knowing where to turn for help. But a small shop in La Mesa looks on the brighter side, creating an atmosphere of help for women battling this indiscriminate disease. And with huge success.

Cancer is invasive in every sense of the word. From the person diagnosed, to family and friends, it is a frightful and painful experience, often leaving patients feeling isolated, not knowing where to turn for help. But a small shop in La Mesa looks on the brighter side, creating an atmosphere of help for women battling this indiscriminate disease. And with huge success.

Kelly O’Donnell operates a boutique for women with cancer, The Brighter Side. Its non-sterile atmosphere, personal private attention creates a safe haven for women with cancer to come to and receive products that help them make it through the results of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and post surgical personal items created to help women survive the trauma of cancer therapy.

The Brighter Side first opened its doors in its boutique in Solana Beach and has successfully helped women for 20 years. O’Donnell said hope is the foundation of the businesses success.

“I have had so many women come in here saying their doctor gave them no hope for recovery but to just prepare for their funeral,” she said. “No. We have so many customers, clients and coworkers that have been diagnosed with fourth stage cancer and 20 years later they are cancer free and still here. There is always hope. And that is what we offer and we keep negativity outside these doors.”

With personalized services for every client, The Brighter Side offers custom cut and fitted wigs for hair loss, wraps, scarves and hats that look natural and provide a comfort to women in their daily lives as they battle cancer. For breast cancer patients, it offers silicone breast forms custom fitted for every woman and the bras, swimwear and athletic gear are all designed with pockets for the prosthesis. O’Donnell said this is not only important for appearance and self-esteem, but serves a medical function in providing balance, avoiding back, neck and shoulder pain. It offers products for every stage of post-breast surgery, whether or not a woman decides or is able to obtain permanent silicone prosthesis.

O’Donnell said The Brighter Side gets most referrals from oncologists, plastic surgeons, cancer doctors and most of the hospitals in San Diego.

“The shop is for profit and we have the Virginia Ann Scheunemann Fund that is non-profit, which is for women that are under-insured or have no insurance,” she said. “That way everyone that comes in here gets the products that they need.”

This is a safe place for women to come to, said O’Donnell. In most cases women that have gone through breast cancer, gone to a medical supply site and in many cases there is a man behind the counter that really does not help them fit prosthesis.

“There is a specialty in making that prosthesis fit, depending on the particular surgery,” she said. “I’ve heard women come in and tell me they just hand them the products, that is all they get and it is very impersonal. So we offer a very personal service. When they do choose to come here, it is a very nice comfortable feeling. The decor, ambiance and sense of privacy are really important to women. And our knowledge that we know what they are going through, as many of us have either survived or had family that survived breast cancer is helpful to them.”

She said they try to make the ambiance nice so it does not look like a medical facility. The Brighter Side is equipped with fitting rooms, and rooms to fit and cut the wigs with little touches that make it more personalized for women. She said the original owner saw the need to specialize a place to come to for women with cancer.

The Brighter Side is out in the community and provides information booths at most events. It is involved in the Race for a Cure and any other community event that it can promote its services. The Virginia Ann Scheunemann Fund was started with the Turkey Trot held in Oceanside every Thanksgiving morning and the motto is, “Move your feet before you eat.” 

“When it started, there were a few thousand people,” she said, “And now more than 10,000 people participate every year. It is a huge race, raises lots of money and Richard and Mary Muscio who is the owner that I work for started it.”

Its charity work is not limited to San Diego County, she said, having made trips to Mexico and Cuba to help mammographers by working with women to help fit them for prosthesis’, bras and wigs.

She said there are several needs for women that have breast cancer who had a mastectomy as some women choose not to have reconstruction, some that do, it did not go well and they still need something or radiation damage prohibits reconstruction.

“So that is why these products are available for them. Under the State of California, all of these products are covered through insurance,” she said.

O’Donnell said with all of the products and services they offer, they adopted the motto of one of their vendors that make scarves, founded by breast cancer survivors.

Don’t just survive, thrive!

The Brighter Side boutique is located at 5575 Baltimore Drive, Suite 105, La Mesa or go to www.mybrighterside.com for more information or to donate to its non-profit organization, the Virginia Ann Scheunemann Fund.

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