By Debby Wiggers

Tucked neatly on Helena Avenue in Helena, The Survivor’s Boutique is a place to connect with your own self-worth before, during, and after cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation. Mickey Kunnery, current owner of The Survivor’s Boutique, connects personally with all her customers. From her magnetic personality to her personal experience with cancer survival, Mickey is exactly where God needs her. Her boutique is the only one in the state that contains all things cancer-survival—for the patient, as well as those caring for and supporting them.

“Hello Gorgeous” greets clientele as they are being fitted with breast prothesis. Mickey wants every client to know how beautiful they truly are and shares her love of God and humanity throughout her store.

“Although cancer is a part of your life, it shouldn’t define it,” she says.

Mickey’s Survival

Mickey was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. She was attending a conference in Phoenix when she found an indent in one of her breasts, and upon further examination found a lump. She went home and had her husband help confirm the same and went to her doctor the Monday following her weekend conference. The doctor performed a mammogram and ultrasound, and within the week, she received the news: it was cancerous. The following week, she was scheduled for surgery. She was asked if she wanted a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy, or a full mastectomy.

She told them, “Even if it was my leg, take it off; I want it out of my body!”

The surgeons prepared for a full mastectomy.

Following the surgery and through chemo and radiation, Mickey found it difficult to process what she was going through, especially with some of the details being withheld (perhaps mistakenly) from her. She felt like she got shuffled along. Already confused, she was told to get a camisole for the surgical drain.

Mickey didn’t know where to start. She didn’t even fully understand what she needed. Surgical drains are soft, flexible, plastic tubes that drain fluid into a bulb so that it doesn’t collect at the surgery site while the body is healing. Many women wear camisoles after a mastectomy, because the skin is too swollen and sensitive for a regular bra or shirt. Some camis are specifically designed for women recovering from the operation, but Mickey wasn’t inherently aware of this.

This whole experience set her down the path of opening her own business.

Beginning of the Boutique

Most of us know that going through chemotherapy causes hair loss. For Mickey, she wanted a wig, but found nothing locally. All of her hair fell out during her chemo treatments, and she decided to take a mini vacation before her radiation started. Again she found herself in Phoenix. There, she discovered a shop with very kind associates to help her find a wig that suited her.

Even though wigs are fairly expensive, Mickey only wore hers twice. Both times, she was self-conscious about being bald but soon overcame the feeling.

There wasn’t anyone in Helena for wigs and most of the necessary supplies, so she started ordering online, sending some wigs back, but holding on to most of them. Again, Mickey felt the nudge to start her own business, and she took it seriously.

Mickey put together her entire business plan and went to the Montana Small Business Administration. A very helpful gentleman told her exactly what she needed to get started, not realizing she had come prepared. Mickey handed him a packet with everything he asked for.

Needless to say, he was very impressed.

As Mickey secured funding though a local bank, Linda Robertson was preparing to retire. Linda had been operating a business with items for cancer patients and was ready to move on.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

Mickey purchased the business, and Linda stayed on until Mickey became certified to fit bras with prosthetics.

Mickey officially opened her version of “The Survivor’s Boutique” in February 2017 with expanded merchandise, eventually adding miscellaneous products from local providers. Her store now carries wigs, prosthetics, head gear, specialized bras, camisoles, lingerie and swimsuits, jewelry, t-shirts, cancer survivor gifts, books, and so much more.

Back in the Fight

One day, after having been open several months, Mickey woke up with a severe side ache and wasn’t able to get back to sleep. It did not get any better, and she worried she was in need of an appendectomy. It turned out she simply had diverticulitis (an inflammation of the digestive tract), so there was no need to worry.

Then she ended up in the ER.

A CT scan was performed, and abnormalities were found in her liver. At this, Mickey began crying. She told her attending physician that she was a cancer survivor, and he understood. When cancer metastasizes, it most generally attacks the brain, bones, lungs, or liver.

Mickey’s fears were confirmed; a biopsy determined that the cancer was back.

Mickey started chemo again, and thankfully, her body responded very well. She has been in remission since her last chemo treatment, but continues to receive very expensive pharmaceutical treatments every three weeks to keep it at bay.

Finding Strength

Mickey continues operating her boutique Monday through Thursday. She takes special appointments on Friday and Saturday, keeping a day open for her treatments. She is also part of a support group, with members at all levels of cancer treatment. About sixty percent are dealing with varying stages of breast cancer.

When a new member joins, the group is very careful with its conversation, as it can be frightening for someone in the early stages to interact with someone in their final stages. It is a place to come for hope and fortitude.

The goal is to just make it to tomorrow. Then the next day. Then the next…

A Survivor’s Advice

Mickey has some words of advice for everyone, regardless of their diagnosis:

  • “Don’t waste time on stupid sh*t!”
  • “Chemo brain is real; embrace it.”
  • “Social media is not important.”
  • “Reconstruction is not easy.”
  • “Take someone with you when you go to your physicians because… well, chemo brain is real.”
  • “Ask A LOT of questions—before, during, and after treatment.”
  • “Do your self-exams, and do not miss any annual appointments!”

And regarding how to handle support:

  • “Don’t keep quiet.”
  • “Don’t let your family sit on you.”
  • “Don’t let them throw crazy remedies at you.”
  • “Don’t let them try and fix you.”
  • “Let them know to just show up and be present.”

Determination

Mickey’s current diagnosis is Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer, but she considers it merely a detour on the road of life. She has goals. She loves life. She has many years of life to live.

Mickey is currently in remission. Even with her diagnosis, she is a survivor, and that is reflected in one of her mottos; “There are always three choices in life: give up, give in, or give it all you’ve got.”

Stop in any time to shop, be fitted, ask advice, or simply just to visit.

Mickey will be waiting for you with a big smile and an even bigger heart.

The Survivor’s Boutique is located at 1054 Helena Avenue in Helena. For more information, visit survivorsboutique.com or call (406) 422-0898.