One Thing Medicare Covers that I Didn't Know About

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I start to worry that I talk about nakedness too much or maybe I just talk too much about the parts we don’t talk about.  I’m also starting to realize that I’ve talked with a lot of older women about their breasts. Maybe I’m thinking along these lines because it’s probably my eighth time ever in Nordstrom’s and, out of those eight times, at least two have been to ask about someone else’s situation -- which seems even more unlikely given that I’m in the bra section.

“Do you work with women who have had a double mastectomy?” I ask the rep.

When she says yes this brings up a whole conversation about implants and prosthetics where honestly -- surrounded by lingerie -- I feel I can actually hold my own (not literally).  But no one talks about this stuff and I had a client tell me as a side comment to things I could help her with that, “No one even helped me with these!” and she grabbed her blank chest through a baggy sweater.

“These being…..your breasts?”  I instinctively grabbed mine.

“Yeah, they didn’t do a damn thing after they took ‘em and that was 10 years ago!”

“What!? You need some of these!”  I was still grabbing my own. “....if you want them, of course.”

She nodded.  “Are yours…..?  No, your’s aren’t, are they?”  I shook my head no.  

“Mine are still real,” I told her.  “But I think that getting you some would count as something medical because technically they are prosthetics.  Maybe Medicare would even cover it. Can I check for you?”

She nodded again.  And that was how I found myself in Nordstrom assisting -- not for the first time -- with another woman’s breast situation.

Often, when you are very poor or have severe mental health taking up all of your mind-space, people don’t tell you what you’re eligible for -- like, for example, this fact that I recently learned: Nordstrom can bill Medicare for both the bra and the prosthetic breast if you’ve had a mastectomy.  I know! It’s amazing -- I’m so glad I asked! But how many women don’t know about this? A-hem, keep abreast of these kind of situations?

As it turns out, there are several options for women after they’ve had a breast (or two) removed.  I don’t pretend to know all of the options but, if you need a prosthetic breast -- a “form” as they call them -- Nordy’s may be the place for you.

According to the Certified Fit & Prosthesis Specialist I talked to, you can come in for a fitting and see how a “form” looks on you.  (They look and feel very natural!) You pay up front (so to speak) for the bra and the form which fits into a pocket sewn into the back of the bra.  Then Nordstrom orders bra and form, makes sure it fits you when it arrives, and submits a claim to Medicare. Most, if not all of the cost is reimbursed to you.  You tuck in the form and <relief> you have your tatas again. If that’s what you want. The specialist I talked to said she’d been doing this for two years and still did not consider herself an expert because it’s such an art to fit people back into their bodies with a prosthesis, not to mention the emotions that come when you get a part of yourself back, I’d imagine.  

If we took a poll, I wonder how many people would say their moms, once they get quite older, are shopping less.  And I wonder how many would say that the bra situation has become a real rub, so to speak…which is why another client of mine didn’t want an underwire bra.  She was convinced that if the wire poked her, insects would hatch out of her skin. There were some mental health issues but these were not a bother or concern to her so let’s keep going.  

I took her to Nordstroms because I learned early on that if you need legit bra advice, this is the place to go.  So there she was in the dressing room with the bras that her recent fitting said would maybe be a match. Except that she lacked the dexterity and range of motion necessary to put them on.  Finally she called for me. When I joined her in the dressing room, the bra was mostly fastened but she had the clasp (and her arms) behind her back.  

“Why don’t you fasten it in front and then turn it around to the back?” I suggested.

She shook her head, “Never.  This is the way I’ve always done it and I’m not going to fasten it in front.  Not sexy.”  

Great, I thought.  Does that mean I’m not sexy?  It’s amazing what stays important.

“Okay, well how do you want me to help you?”

She turned her back to me so that I could help her with the clasp.  Except her breasts weren’t in the bra.  

“I’m not sure that’s how it’s meant to be worn.  That looks uncomfortable.” We were both smiling but she just shook her head and raised her palms like, Now what?  

“Here, lean forward and see if you can get them in that way.”  She leaned forward but then they were dangling in front of her, way too much for one hand to manage.  So I did what any good social worker would do and asked if she wanted help.  

“Fine,” she said.  

“Okay, you hold the bra open and I’ll tuck them in.  Lean forward.” 

Holding the bra open with both of her hands, she leaned forward.  

“You ready?” I asked.  She nodded. I knelt down and tucked each breast into place.  

“There, that should do it.  Too tight?”

She let out a big sigh and nodded.

“But look at how great your cleavage is!”  She agreed but told me to get her out of this thing!

Eventually we found a bra that worked for her.  The Nordstrom specialist pulled out all the stops as we talked about lace versus satin, plain versus bows.  She felt dotted on and proud, as she should for finding something that worked and made her feel special.  

We walked out of Nordstrom with her new bra delicately wrapped in tissue paper and nested in a bag.  We linked arms and walked past racks of clothing. She loved touching the silks and brocades and lace so much.  Anything delicate grabbed her attention.

Once we got to the parking garage, she leaned over and pointed her finger as if confiding a life lesson I should never forget.  She made sure I was paying attention.

“And that,” she said, shaking her finger at me. “....is how you shop for a good bra.”  

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Western Care Partners guides families who are struggling to figure out options for someone who’s getting older or who want to know how to plan for themselves.  We explain resources and services, facilitate family conversations and support you through the difficult situation of someone needing more help. Call or send us an email for more information: 720-675-9902 or www.westerncarepartners.com.

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