Pam Ludwig is the founder and owner of Pretty in Pink Boutique. The business was started in April 2004 to help a few women in the Nashville area who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and might need post-breast surgery products. It quickly evolved into something much larger and now there are four locations in Middle Tennessee. Pretty in Pink Boutique no longer serves just breast cancer patients but also patients that have needs for compression garments, including burn patients and pediatric patients.
Why did you start Pretty in Pink?
Pam Ludwig: I started Pretty in Pink Boutique because I lost my mother to breast cancer in 1994. After she passed away I decided to go back to school to become a nurse. I was really moved by the whole experience my mom had with her breast cancer journey. It was a short journey, she was stage 4 when was diagnosed. All during that process, I was with her along the way, I was with her the moment we lost her too. I realized, in that moment really, the few weeks leading up to her death, I had a calling to be a nurse.
I went back to school, although I had already graduated college and was in graduate school for something totally different. I went back to college to become a nurse and immediately went to oncology. I was a bone marrow transplant nurse at Vanderbilt, it was my first job out of nursing school. I learned an incredible amount there but got to stay in the realm of cancer patients and that was really what was dear to my heart.
Then my husband and I had a baby, and I just didn’t want to go back to nursing 12-hour shifts with an infant at home. We started coming up with different things to do with my expertise and my skill set and where my heart was. My husband had the idea to start a store for women who had breast cancer. He had been on a plane coming home from LA and spoke to another woman next to him who told him about a friend she had in LA that has a store for women that have breast cancer. That’s kind of how it all started, literally on the back of a napkin at J. Alexander’s. My husband and I took notes of how I was going to serve a few women a week because we had no idea the need was so great for this type of service, this type of ministry. When we started the business, there were several other places around the Nashville area, I guess you would call them durable medical equipment places, that also offered some breast prosthetics, bras, different post-surgery items but it wasn’t their main focus. We knew quickly that Nashville needed something that this would be their main business.
We would aim to serve simply breast cancer patients, any woman going through a breast cancer journey. So, when we started off like I said, it was just gonna be a part-time thing. It was just me in an office by myself and these women just kept coming. They kept calling and they kept coming. There was just a need for what we provide, the service we provide, the products of course, but most especially a dedicated space for women walking this journey that felt like they were being heard and seen.
Like I tell people, everybody that walks in this door is somebody’s mom or somebody’s sister or somebody’s daughter. I just look at that all the time. Somebody walks in there, they’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer and maybe they’re frightened of the journey ahead. I’ve already been through this with my mom and thousands of other women have been through this with their families too, we wanted them to have a place to come and feel safe and heard.
What is Pretty in Pink’s role in the treatment process?
PL: Pretty in Pink was started to support women who had a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or any type of breast surgery after a diagnosis of breast cancer. What we do is provide all types of post-operative garments, anything necessary to restore breast symmetry after surgery. How we aid in the treatment process is we’re not just providing garments, we don’t just sell stuff, we’re really a full part of the treatment team.
We’ve been here so long now we have such wonderful relationships with all of our surgeons in the area, all of our oncologists, and also lymphedema therapists (physical therapists in the area that provide lymphedema care) that we all work together as a team. We share patients and we share information. It even comes down to maybe one of our staff members lives close to a patient and will drop their item off at their home or maybe we know that patient is going to see the doctor over at Williamson Medical and she lives far away. We’ll arrange to get that item to her at the doctor’s office because we’re all working together, we’re all communicating and working together.
Our role is to be a part of the team. We don’t just want to sell you a garment or provide you a garment one time and wish you luck. We’re here to be a part of the whole journey. The day you get diagnosed and you walk in with that deer in the headlights look, your surgeries have been scheduled and you’re not sure where to go from here, we love to say to you, “hey, we know hundreds of people who have been through what you’ve been through.” We like to get their age and stage of life. It doesn’t always make sense to connect a 25-year-old to an 80-year-old. You’ve got maybe a 25-year-old who has a young child at home and immediately our staff knows someone else who’s 25 and has a young child at home, with their permission of course
How has treatment changed from when your mom was going through treatment versus today?
PL: There’s been a lot that has changed with breast cancer treatment since my mom went through her journey in 1994 and here we are in 2022. Even the short period of time that I was an oncology nurse at Vanderbilt, the advances they were making and the things they were cutting out (realizing what things didn’t work and what treatments didn’t work).
My mom’s a great example of that because my mom actually had a stem cell transplant back in 1994 when we were still doing stem cell transplants for breast cancer patients. When I was a nurse at Vanderbilt in 1999 I remember getting a letter, our unit got a letter that was shared with all the nursing staff that basically said we realize now that stem cell transplants don’t really work for breast cancer. It’s barely used now except in certain situations. I look back at that and I think oh wow, my mom did this for all of these people. My mom went through a very, very difficult journey, she was very ill and it didn’t work for her. What it did do was work for others because we don’t do that anymore. We know that treatment isn’t successful in the treatment of breast cancer or really in solid tumors at all. Very successful treatment in different types of cancers but not in solid tumors typically. That was really an eye-opener for me once I realized my mom did this for other people, her life was not lost for nothing.
Watching these women walk this journey now, I remember a text thread I had with a patient years ago, a very young patient, she was 32. She was texting me telling me how she was doing and she was saying she was on a new pill, she doesn’t like it, it makes her sick. She said, “I’m literally standing at my vanity right now. I don’t wanna take this pill because I know it’s going to make me sick.” In that moment I had this lightning bolt of what can I say to encourage her and I remembered this story of my mom. My mom had a stem cell transplant, it didn’t work, she passed away, we don’t do stem cell transplants anymore because they don’t work. We have different treatments now, we have this pill that might be making you sick but you are not just taking this pill for yourself. You’re taking this pill for all the women who come after you. So I said, “Leslie, take the pill. Take the pill. It’s not just for you.” I knew her, I knew her heart, and I knew that was going to be like a rally for her, a pep rally. “I can do this. I can take this pill. I might feel sick today but this will help us all learn what’s going to work for these women.”
Now in 2022, when people come in and they’re terrified and they’ve just been diagnosed and they walk in – here we call it the look – usually with arms crossed, some sort of protective mechanism, they have what we call deer in the headlights look and they walk in and you just know they’re terrified. They’ve just been diagnosed, their doctor told them to come here to get the garments they need for after surgery and we love those patients because we know just what to say to them and we know to say, “hey, you’re gonna be fine,” because now we know what doesn’t work. We know about the pill that makes you sick, which may or may not work. We know all of these things now, there are so many new treatments out there. A lot of them are oral pills now, which is so much better than the infusions that used to make people so sick. It’s really an honor to be able to say to people who have been diagnosed, “you’re going to be fine.” We have four members on staff who actually have been diagnosed with breast cancer themselves, they’re survivors–we call them thrivers. I love to say, “Look at Holly. Holly’s fine. Her hair’s back, she’s beautiful, she’s dressed cute, she’s at work. You can do all those things too.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
PL: For women who have not had a mastectomy and they have had what we call breast-conserving surgery, that would be a lumpectomy or a partial mastectomy, those women often fall through the cracks. They go to their surgeon, they have a small amount of tissue removed from their breast, and they move on about their way.
What can happen is a majority of those women who do have a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy are going to have radiation and radiation can change the density, the shape, the size of the breast over time. Radiation can draw tissue in and make it smaller so what can happen is 6 months, 9 months, or 2 years after your lumpectomy, you might see some changes in size of the breast. That’s when you would need us. That’s why we try to really work with the physicians and the nurses at the physicians’ offices, to really tell those patients who are having a partial mastectomy all that’s available to them as well.
Every time I get a lumpectomy patient in front of me I take the opportunity to say, “hey, this is all you need right now. This post-surgery garment is all you need right now but just remember if you ever put on a sweater and look in the mirror 2 years from now and say, ‘Hey something doesn’t look right. Oh, I remember that place I went to get my post-surgery garment.’ We’re always gonna be here to help.” We can restore symmetry pretty immediately with a bra by itself, we can restore it with some padding, we can restore it with a prosthesis or a partial prosthesis. There’s a whole gambit of products available just for that particular patient. I don’t want them to fall through the cracks. They’re just as important. They’ve had a diagnosis of breast cancer just like the woman who chose to have a mastectomy. We want to make sure they know that the service is available to them as well. There’s a lot of products specifically for that type of surgery.
Pretty in Pink Boutique
If you or a loved one is battling breast cancer, know that Pretty In Pink Boutique provides support through it all. If you are looking for a compassionate ear that will listen or if you have questions, please reach out. Pretty In Pink Boutique is committed to your well-being the whole way through and may be able to assist or provide resources to help you or a loved one.
Please contact us via phone or email us and let us know how we can help. Call (615) 777-PINK.