Carol Ryall never had breast cancer.
No one in her family did. She never worked as a nurse, never worked on the floor of a cancer center.
But for more than 20 years, she fitted women who had mastectomies in her work with medical equipment companies. She wanted to bring something more personal to this and she had an idea for 10 years about how to make that happen. Finally, she has found a way to do it.
On Monday, Ryall will open the Pink Mermaid, LLC, a mastectomy boutique on Gold Star Highway near Chelsea Groton Bank. She hopes it will serve not only Groton, but all of Eastern Connecticut. The closest comparable boutique is at Yale in New Haven, she said.
“It’s fulfilling and it makes me feel happy to make the ladies feel happy,” she said. “It makes their day if they get a good fitting, and they leave and they feel whole again.”
Ryall rented the shop Nov. 9, in a former physical therapy center. She took out a Small Business Administration loan to buy supplies and prosthetics and set to work decorating to make it pretty.
Her husband, Ken Ryall, who is retired from the U.S. Navy and works at Electric Boat, painted the store, refinished furniture, and worked hours there to get it ready.
Ryall is a certified orthotic fitter and a mastectomy fitter, and is applying to insurance companies so that she can take insurance. She said women interested in her store should come in, bring their insurance card, and she’ll apply.
“We’re going to sign up for every insurance that’s out there,” she said.
She provides prosthetics in all shapes and sizes, along with bras with pockets to wear with the prosthetics and lingerie in pink and black. She also sells shower shirts for women who have recently had surgery and may have a drain that needs protection, as well as stretching nightcaps and pre-tied scarves for women who have lost their hair.
She will begin selling wigs in March or April. In addition, the store sells Lindi Skin products for women who suffer from rashes, acne or burns from radiation or other treatment. She also sells compression bandages and wraps to help patients with Lymphedema, which sometimes occurs when lymph nodes are removed.
Years ago, Ryall said she mostly saw older women needing fittings, but more recently has seen patients in their 30s and 40s. She’s not sure why.
For the first month, the store will be open from noon until 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, then will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, with extended hours from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Thursday. She’ll also take appointments after hours and on Saturdays.
Her boutique also has a living room area, she has 19 chairs, and she plans to make it available to cancer support groups.
“I know there’s a need for it,” she said of the store. “We’ll do well here.”