|"My work with cancer patients has strengthened my faith."
Donna Richter is helping many women, be it breast cancer survivors or maternity patients, find the best way to look great at Transitions For Women at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.
Richter, 58, of Trabuco Canyon is a Certified Fitter of breast prosthetics, mastectomy bras, Lymphadema sleeves and gloves, and wigs. In addition, she is a Fitter for nursing bras and compression hose for maternity patients.
“About 5 years ago, we heard of a hospital with a department that combined breastfeeding and breast cancer services. My boss and I went to Atlanta for a 2-day in-service and returned with a mission to do the same. The cancer patients have become my prime focus,” she shares.
In her role, there are two levels of service for those undergoing surgery. Initially, she and her partner, Cindi, fit patients for opst-surgical garments to get them through the first few weeks. For patients not electing reconstruction, there will be a fitting of breast prostheses and mastectomy bras.
“That is the real challenge. For Chemo patients or anyone with hair loss, we have a wide selection of wigs and provide a fitting in a private setting. We try to make our wig sessions as much fun as possible because often times, losing one's hair is the most difficult part of their journey. Respecting their dignity is one of our top priorities,” she says. “We do a lot of Lymphadema sleeve and glove fittings. This can happen at any time in the cancer patient’s recovery. We work closely with physical therapists to ensure proper treatment. Lymphadema has actually become a prime focus of mine because so many patients are not educated about it. I try to make them aware of the signs and preventive measures.”
In between all of this, she volunteers for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure each year, helps with the homeless, serves at food banks and at shelters. She also launders the clothes of the homeless through St. Veronica's Guild at her church.
But it’s her work with cancer patients that she thoroughly enjoys.
“My work with cancer patients has totally enhanced my life and strengthened my faith.
When they share their stories with me, it amazes me how strong their faith is and how brave each and every one of these women are,” she says. “It has brought so much gratitude and appreciation into my life. Often times, patients will thank me for helping them and tell me I have healed them (obviously not medically). They do not know how they have healed me. I have had some hard times in my family in the past years and my relationships with these patients are a healing for my wounds. Their example sends my faith soaring,” she says.
Richter likes to bring her patients into the room, close the door and ask them to share their story.
“I just listen,” she explains. “Sometimes, there are a lot of tears involved - on both of our parts. Sometimes, we sit on the floor together; sometimes they sit on my lap. Whatever it is, I just love to listen to their journey. I learn so much myself but, the best part is that people just need to be heard - to truly be listened to with caring and concern. I don't even think about a fitting until we are all ‘talked out.’ I also love the look on their faces when I let them see themselves in the mirror when the fitting is complete. There is nothing like it.”
Of course, ever the perfectionist, Richter says the biggest challenge is in making sure that each and every patient is ‘perfect’ when they walk out the door.
“I won't give up until it is achieved,” she says.
Married for 30 years to John, they have three adult children, Kurt, 27, Kim, 24, and Christy, 21.
In her spare time, when she has some, Richter says she is a huge sports fan - mostly basketball and football. She also likes to walk, exercise, perform Pilates and yoga, read and of course, spend time with family and friends.