When Jacky Roth went to sleep one night in February 2008, she couldn’t have known how much her world would change overnight.
“When I woke up I found that my nipple was bleeding,” Roth, the mother of four adult children, recalled. “I’m a nurse. I knew this wasn’t good, but I delayed a day. Even so, I never anticipated how much breast cancer would change everything in my life. ”
Roth went to her doctor the next day, went through testing and biopsies, then a lumpectomy. When those procedures weren’t enough, she underwent a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Another year passed. In November, surgery to remove additional lymph nodes was necessary again.
“It’s just in the last few months I’ve really come back to life,” she says. “But I’m the sort of person that when something happens, I swing into action. I need to do something positive to pull myself up.
“One thing I certainly didn’t expect – back in 2008 – was that today I’d be running a successful boutique selling clothing I’d designed to help women who were going though the same thing I did. That would never have occurred to me.”
Still, this wasn’t the first time Roth had coped with difficulty by reaching out to others.
“My husband, Maurice, and I made aliya from London in 1969, getting married here three weeks after we arrived. Maurice went into the army, and then we moved to Arad, where we lived for 30 years before moving to Metar 10 years ago.
Back in Arad, one of my children had trouble breast-feeding, so after I solved my problem, I started an organization to educate and encourage breast-feeding for other women, using what I’d learned to help others. So this time, when breast cancer struck, I set about making myself comfortable first, then looked for a way to help others.”
Roth was barely awake from the anesthesia when she started planning.
“After the mastectomy, I woke up with a tube coming out of my chest, a plaster across it, and nothing else. I went home, slept for a day or two, but very quickly knew I needed to do something.
“People wanted to come visit me, but I hated being seen like that, out of symmetry. I couldn’t wear a bra – my skin was way too tender. A nightdress only made my situation more obvious. I thought about making an artificial breast myself, but knew that wouldn’t work. So I began thinking about camouflage. What could I wear that would hide the problem and still be comfortable? That was the issue: Find comfort and symmetry.”
Beersheba’s Soroka Hospital helped. “The staff was wonderful, every one of them,” she says. “They provide a little prosthesis, sort of like a small vest where the prosthesis can be slipped in. Covered with a scarf or shawl, it’s better than nothing, but even if you pin it, it still crawls up your neck. Worst of all, it’s still obvious you’re lopsided.
“Six weeks after the surgery, you’re given a chit to go purchase a regular prosthesis. I finally went to Tel Aviv and was fitted for one, but it still felt strange. I looked okay from the outside, but it feels like there’s something huge stuck on your chest that doesn’t belong. It was really quite uncomfortable.”
A trip to London helped. “While I was there, I went looking for a better prosthesis. I finally found a firm making a much lighter one that sticks to your chest – not with glue, just the material with which it’s made. That was better – there’s no weight hanging from your shoulder and you can wear it with an ordinary bra.
It’s not like your breast – nothing is like your breast. Nothing will return those muscles that are gone, or the nerves that were cut. But with this, when I put it on, there were minutes, hours and even part of a day when I could forget what had happened.”
Still, the better prosthesis didn’t solve all the problems. In order to appear “normal,” Roth realized she’d have to wear the bra and prosthesis all the time.
“I’m a casual person,” she says. “I like to relax and be comfortable. I didn’t like having to be so fully dressed all the time – but if I weren’t, my lopsided condition would be obvious. I needed some kind of clothing that would hide the lack of symmetry but still be very comfortable to wear.”
As she lay in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, Roth directed her mind to what kind of garments would help. “My doctor gave me a week off from chemotherapy, and I was inspired – I asked my husband if he’d take a day off work so we could go to Tel Aviv to look at fabric.”
Roth laughs at the memory. “It was crazy – it was the middle of summer, I was in the middle of chemotherapy, I didn’t have a hair on my head, but I was intent on finding fabric for clothing I hadn’t quite designed.
“I called ahead to a fabric shop, told them about my situation and said I’d need a chair. Could they bring me fabric to look at? They were more than kind. I sat, they brought, and that day I ended up buying 160 meters of fabric. I knew I’d better buy it then because I knew it would be a long time until I’d be able to get back.”
Now Roth had the fabric, but that wasn’t the only problem. “I don’t sew! How was I going to find a seamstress, lying there in bed as I was?
“It all worked out – which is something else I’ve learned. Everything that’s supposed to happen, happens. I asked all my friends for recommendations and ultimately found a lovely lady in Beersheba who’s an excellent seamstress. She understood exactly what I was going through, and we began working together.
“She’s made my whole collection – shirts, tunics and dresses – and they’re lovely. Each one is handmade – here in Israel, not China! Her work is beautiful.”
By trial and error, Roth came up with an innovative design for clothing that will hide the problem and be comfortable besides. “Each garment has three layers,” she says. “The inner layer is very soft cotton, very comfortable for tender skin, and lined with pockets. Every woman needs pockets – you need a tissue, a cell phone, your arm aches. You need pockets.
“The second and third layers are draped in such a way that it completely hides the deformity. You can wear my clothing without a bra, without a prosthesis, and still no one can see.”
Jacky’s Boutique features more than just comfortable clothing. “Two or three months after that, I had another good day,” she jokes. “’Let’s go to Gottex,’ I told my husband. We went, and I bought their entire stock of swimsuits for ladies who’ve had mastectomies. Then I found the importers for the one good prosthesis I’d found in Israel and asked them to import that for me, too – I don’t have an importer’s license.
“I also asked them to import the stick-on prosthesis I’d found in London.
“‘Oh, no,’ the man said at first. ‘Those aren’t any good!’ But I insisted. I told him I’d been wearing it for a long time, and knew very well what was good and what wasn’t. They agreed to import those for me, too. So now my boutique offers everything a woman recovering from breast cancer needs – the best prosthesis, swimsuits and comfortable clothing, all of which she can look at and try on in complete privacy.
“Plus, of course, I offer the kind of advice and support no one else can – tea and sympathy, a willingness to listen and share my own experience. After all, I’ve been through this myself.”
Roth’s designs aren’t meant to replace regular clothing, she says. “My
clothes are for casual wear, for home, going to the supermarket, out
for a walk, to the doctor – when a woman wants to look good but feel
comfortable at the same time.
“What I offer is a choice: A woman can dress up, wear her prosthesis, a
bra and regular clothing. If she doesn’t feel like that, she can wear
my designs instead. In either case, no one will know.“
“In medical texts, ‘cancer’ is abbreviated as “CA.” That’s exactly right – cancer is a ‘Challenging Adventure.’For more information, call (08) 651-0403 or www.jr-butik.com