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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Bellingham store is only one in region to serve breast cancer survivors

Allies fits women with nonsurgical products to regain symmetric shape

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Many businesses would consider it an accomplishment to achieve national accreditation. For one, it’s especially significant: This Bellingham-based business is the only one of its kind north of Everett — with a reach that now extends into Alaska.

Allies is a boutique with a speciality: fitting women who are breast cancer survivors with nonsurgical products that return symmetry after procedures including mastectomy, lumpectomy and reconstruction.

Tucked in the back of a medical office park at 3104 Squalicum Parkway across from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, the entry of the modest Allies storefront is filled with racks of pocketed bras and other garments. Beyond a reception desk are fitting areas for clients and shelves of silicone breast forms in boxes, representing a variety of weights and shapes designed to restore, as much as possible or preferred, a symmetrical appearance.

“I think the biggest misconception is that it’s not seen as medically necessary by the general public,” owner Laura DeWitt said. “Our society values a feminine shape, and when clothing doesn’t fit properly, you just don’t feel comfortable in public spaces. So really, what we’re trying to give people back is their sense of self, their sense of confidence.”

DeWitt, who began the business in 2014 and opened the mastectomy supply boutique in its current location in 2019, had a personal reason for founding Allies.

In 2009, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and had bilateral (left and right) mastectomy surgery and dozens of radiation treatments. Because of a family history of breast cancer, she already knew a bit about the products generally available to survivors.

“When I began looking for local resources, I realized there were none,” she said. “After time to heal from treatment, I began to research and plan for a way to bring access to post-mastectomy products to Whatcom County.”

Recently, Allies received renewed accreditation from the Board of Certification/Accreditation for complying with national standards after a “rigorous process,” DeWitt said. She also is a certified mastectomy fitter, one of only about a dozen in Washington and the only one north of Everett. Continued accreditation brings with it recognition by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

DeWitt said her business has realized 20 percent revenue growth year-over-year if you exclude 2020, “when everything stopped” due to the pandemic. Allies’ staff is currently DeWitt and a part-time assistant; an additional part-timer is being hired.

That’s a lean operation to cover Allies’ stated territory of Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties. Yet in 2021, Allies added Anchorage because, DeWitt said, the only provider in the entire state of Alaska closed and women there lost access to breast care products.

“It doesn’t matter if your insurance covers something if it’s not available in your community,” she said. “I began traveling to Anchorage quarterly to host fitting events. Traveling has become more frequent, and I am in the process of establishing a standalone facility in Anchorage.”

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