Member Spotlight: Perseverance Through a Death Sentence

Published in Women's Health on April 13, 2021

Jacqueline CromityJacqueline Cromity has been around breast prosthetics her entire life, but until you need them, you don’t understand the full impact they can make on a person’s life.

Jacqueline’s story is one of perseverance. Not only does Jacqueline have a corporate career leading a team at Cisco, but she has a family, has three Survivor Friendly locations in N.C. and is still expanding. Survivor’s Friendly’s purpose is to create a one-stop-shop committed to improving the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors, throughout their journey. She is an advocate for prevention, healthcare reform and awareness. Her boutique provides breast cancer services in Cary, Winston-Salem, and Shelby, NC. 

The Cancer Journey

Cancer caught her as she was at the peak of her corporate career and what wouldJackie Cromity Timeline seem a tragedy, she turned into purpose by helping hundreds of women. She has had six cancerous tumors and has undergone at least eight surgical procedures and many rounds of chemo and radiation to fight her battle.

Her family history of breast cancer and her own breast cancer thriver journey has made her a passionate advocate for the modernization of the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act. After a mastectomy, all women should have all breast reconstruction choices available to them, whether that be to go flat, surgical reconstruction, off-the-shelf prosthetics, or custom prosthetics.

“My mom died of breast cancer when I was 8 years old,” said Jacqueline Cromity, owner of Survivor Friendly in Cary, NC. “I saw my first breast prosthesis when I was a child and I didn’t even realize it.”

Given her family history of breast cancer, in her 20s Jacqueline received yearly ultrasounds, and by her 30s her doctors advised her to do mammograms every two years due to changes in technology and screening protocols.

“I went in for my regular annual appointment, they did a check, and everything was fine. But later, I did a self-check, and I’ve never done a self-check in my entire life, and I felt something but didn’t think it was anything since I had just seen the doctor.”

After taking matters into her own hands to get a diagnostic mammogram and also formulating her own oncology team, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer with two tumors. She underwent chemo, a lumpectomy, and radiation and was declared cancer-free for the first time.

More cancerous cells were found in tissue samples taken during surgical reconstruction. Ultimately, Jacqueline decided to have a bilateral mastectomy after testing BRCA 1 positive and an MRI-guided biopsy found yet another tumor.

After her lumpectomy, her breasts were uneven so she decided to have a breast reduction.

“I didn’t even know it was an option to get prostheses to make me even and I was having back problems,” said Jacqueline. “[Custom prosthetics are beneficial for] more than just matching your skin color. It has an effect on your posture. And if you’re not balanced or if you’re not even, it can cause your equilibrium to be off and it can cause posture issues, which has other impacts. So, I proceeded to go and have plastic surgery to make my breasts even.”

To achieve symmetry by surgical reconstruction, many measurements and meetings are required with a plastic surgeon to get everything right.

“And let me tell you, [reconstruction] is not as easy everybody says it is,” said Jacqueline. “Because of radiation, my tissue was tough. And radiation actually shrinks your skin. Believe it or not, that's a benefit when you get reconstruction, because [the skin shrinking] gives you the perfect shape.”

After reconstruction, Jacqueline ended up finding additional Stage 4 cancer growing over her implant and metastasized into her lymph nodes. Another bilateral mastectomy, her second, removed all breast tissue and some lymph nodes. She now would need to have a flap surgery if she would have reconstruction again.

The Prosthetic Journey

After this experience, she started pursuing breast prosthetics. She went to a DME to get fitted for a prosthetic.

“…They came in and did a measurement. You sign some papers and go through the typical process. I sat down and they handed me some pink prosthetics and had me try on some different ones because my chest wall is concave and I had some scarring. They fit me as best as they could with the different sizes. I was happy to have something.”

“But as time progressed, month after month, I hated them for 2 reasons. The normal reaction that something I had for 40 years is now gone. But the second reaction I think could be prevented. I remember wearing a tank top with my prosthetics in the tank top. I don’t like wearing my prostheses in the pockets. When I looked in the mirror, the pink prostheses were showing. With technology, you can build a leg from nothing if someone loses their limb. And you’re telling me that I can’t have a breast prosthesis that would look like me? And I’m not going to care if it’s in a pocket or not? I should have a piece of me back that looks like me.”

Jackie Cromity Quote

Jacqueline wasn’t told right away that custom breast prostheses were an option. She still has off-the-shelf prosthetics since she just received them less than two years ago.

There are two problems that she sees in the industry.

  1. Breast cancer survivors don’t even know that custom breast prostheses are an option.
  2. Insurance companies have the audacity to say that they will pay for a surgery to remove the cancer, but they won’t give you what you need to continue your life as normal. They will choose for you what you can have and it doesn't matter whether you like it or not.

Overall, Jacqueline is thankful she’s still here. “I’m thankful to God that I’m here and His guidance, peace, thankful for my child. Faith is important when dealing with death sentences,” said Jacqueline.

There’s so much more to breast cancer than just losing your hair and what you see on the surface. The legislation around Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act should be modernized. Every woman has the right to get a prosthesis that matches her skin color for not only the mental health benefits, but living life normally, and preventing posture and back issues caused by a physical imbalance.

Essentially Women is working to reintroduce the Breast Cancer Patient Equity Act, which is federal legislation that would require Medicare to recognize custom breast prosthesis as an eligible benefit after mastectomy surgery. We are also working with members in many different states to introduce state legislation to require Medicaid or third-party insurances to recognize custom breast prosthesis as an eligible benefit. For more information, contact Essentially Women at essentiallywomen@vgm.com or call 800-988-4484.

Jacqueline Cromity is the owner of three Survivor Friendly locations, Dignity Products in Winston Salem, NC, Survivor Friendly in Cary, NC, and Maneline's Unique Boutique in Shelby, NC. Jacqueline is available for speaking engagements to help other women. If you’d like to reach out to Jacqueline, you can contact her on the Survivor Friendly Facebook page.

Thank you to Jacqueline Cromity for sharing her story. If you know of women in your community who would like to share their story to help promote the advocacy efforts to pass legislation for custom breast prostheses, please contact us at essentiallywomen@vgm.com.


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