A perfect balance: Woman brings specialized products for breast cancer survivors to Carbon County
Kimberly Gerhard opened Perfect Balance Boutique in January. The Lehighton specialty shop, which is tailored to breast cancer patients and survivors, is the only one in the area. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
Perfect Balance Boutique opened in January.
The Lehighton specialty shop carries products tailored for breast cancer patients and survivors, like bras, breast prostheses, wigs, compression garments and more. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
Three years ago, Kimberly Gerhard was working at PPL Electric. The year was 2016, and the Mahoning Valley native was making her way up the corporate ladder, leading a grief support group and had a master’s degree in psychology.
She felt self-sufficient — proud of the things she had accomplished thus far. Then Gerhard was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was so angry,” Gerhard recalled.
Gerhard was told that she would have to undergo a lumpectomy. Then she found out that her entire right breast had to be removed, and eventually, doctors told her it “was just a matter of time,” until the disease would spread to her left breast.
So, Gerhard decided to have a double mastectomy.
According to Gerhard, “that was the easy part.”
“You feel like a freak, because now, you don’t have a chest,” Gerhard said. “You’re so self-conscious of it.
“I was put in this mesh bra, and there was no place to put my drains, so we put the drains in my pockets or they would just lay in my lap, and it hurts. I thought ‘oh, this is just what you do.’ ”
When Gerhard was in the midst of reconstruction — the process of surgically re-creating breasts’ shape following a mastectomy — she struggled to find a bra that fit her comfortably. Her search took her from store to store, but after each trip into the intimidating and often perplexing lingerie aisle, she wound up empty-handed.
Gerhard had to take a trip southward to find what she needed. Gerhard was visiting her sister in North Carolina when she came across a shop specializing in products for people who have or have had breast cancer — like breast prostheses, bras made to hold them in place and compression garments.
“My doctors didn’t tell me anything like this,” Gerhard said. “I didn’t know, like, this existed.”
Gerhard left the store with more than just a bag of bras. She had a mission: To bring the resources she found in that shop back home to breast cancer patients and survivors like her in Carbon County.
“It wasn’t until I decided that I needed to do something like this for our area that I actually became stronger,” Gerhard said. “I felt like the survivor. I felt strong enough that I could do this for women and be there for other women.
“But it took almost two and a half years for me to even feel that way.”
Gerhard started taking classes on how to become a mastectomy fitter.
She studied under a fitter in Delaware and received her license last year. She said it took a year to turn Perfect Balance from a vision into a reality.
“There (were) a lot of times where I was like, ‘oh my God, I’m just gonna quit. I’m gonna stop this,’ ” Gerhard said.
But Gerhard didn’t quit, and in January, Perfect Balance Boutique opened for business. The store’s street sign bears its name, along with the phrase “Making Women Feel Beautiful.”
Gerhard said that when designing the boutique’s interior, she wanted “it to be very feminine.”
Upon entering the shop, an assortment of bras hangs on the right-hand wall. In the back of the store sit three rooms: a hairdressing and wig room, a deep blue restroom and a fitting room stocked high with breast prostheses.
“My mission here is to make sure that women know what they are entitled to, the products that are out there that will help make their life much easier,” Gerhard said.
“I want you to be able to pick your bra. I want you to be able to feel what you’re going to be getting and put (it) on you. That’s one thing that I gotta say a lot of people say when they come in is like, ‘wow, I actually get to choose?’
“Yeah, you get to choose. I’m not going to choose for you. You tell me what you like.”
Denise Murphy has known Gerhard for more than a decade. She has been by Gerhard’s side since diagnosis, and she works the front desk at Perfect Balance Boutique.
“I was there when she (Gerhard) had her surgery, and been with her throughout the whole entire process,” Murphy said.
“It’s wonderful to see their reactions, to see how happy they are just to see a pretty bra. … They never had this option.”
And no customer, Gerhard said, leaves without a hug and a smile.
“It’s more like one-on-one,” Gerhard said. “I want you to feel at home. I want you to feel like you’re not rushed. I want you to feel like I really do care about you.”