Over the past six years, Christine Guarino has seen more than 5,000 breast cancer survivors walk through her doors.
She is president and lead mastectomy fitter at A World Of Pink, a medical device company that serves women living with the aftereffects of breast cancer. The firm makes breast forms, called prostheses, custom bras and lymphedema sleeves, which help manage the swelling that can occur after lymph nodes are removed as part of cancer surgery.
Guarino has seen women in all stages of recovery, including those unaware of the services available to them who walk in with maxi-pads or socks stuffed in their bras to make them more symmetrical.
As her business grows, so does her vision, and she plans to consolidate her Hicksville and East Setauket locations by the fall into a one-stop aftercare center in Melville.
“We’ve seen a major spike in patients,” says Guarino, 50. “Women are telling other women.”
In June alone, she saw 95 new patients and a total of 116 patients.
“It’s far beyond what I ever imagined,” she says.
There were more than 32,000 female breast cancer survivors living on Long Island in 2015, according to the most recent statistics available from the New York State Health Department: 15,690 in Nassau County and 16,670 in Suffolk.
To be sure, Guarino isn’t the only business offering bras and prostheses to survivors on Long Island, but one of her advantages is that she both manufactures custom breast prostheses and designs many of the bras she carries, including two that recently started selling on Amazon—the Warrior and Ambition bras.
“She always wants whatever the best is,” says Jack Lewis, owner of Classique in Cooper City, Florida, a manufacturer and wholesaler of post-mastectomy products, who custom-makes prostheses and bras for Guarino.
She manufactures more than 500 breast prostheses annually and sells about 30 different bra styles, she says. The bras are made with pockets to hold prostheses and cost $29 to $39.
Guarino started out as a dental hygienist, and still works one day a month for a Smithtown dentist. About six years ago she took a tour of a prosthetics company that her husband, Vincent, ultimately purchased, and seeing all the prosthetics — but no breast forms — made her feel there was a need.
After becoming a certified mastectomy fitter, she interned for a plastic surgeon and saw firsthand the aftereffects of breast cancer surgery. Her business started there, from a desk at Suffolk Plastic Surgeons in East Setauket, and eventually expanded into its own facility in East Setauket and then Hicksville.
Now she plans to consolidate into one larger location on Route 110 in Melville, which will have multiple fitting rooms and fitters for prostheses, lymphedema sleeves and bras. The store will also sell skin-care items for cancer patients and offer educational seminars.
Guarino also hopes to expand her prosthesis and bra lines.
“Christine has a great selection," says Vera Oliveira, 37, of Albertson, who underwent a single mastectomy.
She had gone to another boutique for a breast form prior to finding Guarino about a year ago, but was unhappy with the results.
“They had a [breast] form, but it was very heavy,” says Oliveira, who now has a permanent implant and no longer needs a prosthesis. “I had the form a half day and ended up returning it the same day.”
Guarino’s silicone breast forms are “lightweight and have great shape,” says Oliveira. She also purchases bras there along with her lymphedema sleeve.
“She just makes such a difference to these women,” says Terry Prag, case manager for Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition’s Lend A Helping Hand program, which offers services to Babylon residents who are being treated for breast or gynecological cancers.
Prag, a breast cancer survivor, refers patients to Guarino, noting “it makes such a difference [for them] to not walk around in a bra that doesn’t fit properly... It’s not cookie-cutter, and you sometimes need that custom-made bra.”
Medicare covers most bra purchases for senior survivors and usually covers 100 percent of prostheses, says Guarino. Private insurance covers certain costs as well.
Sixty percent of A World Of Pink's revenues come from Medicare and other insurance payments, and the rest through private payments.
“Medicare pays within 14 days, but other private insurers could take 90 days,” which can be challenging, says Guarino. She says she and her husband have invested more than $800,000 in the business.
For patients without adequate insurance, she started a 501(c)3 foundation two years ago. Last year it provided $20,000 in free products to survivors.
Her biggest fundraiser is an annual fashion show for surgeons and their patients hosted by former Victoria’s Secret model Lindsay Ellingson.
“We don’t really gauge the business on revenue and volume,” says Vincent Guarino. “It’s just gauged on helping women.”
Christine Guarino doesn’t draw a salary yet, but she sees great potential for the business and in the past year has even expanded her bra line beyond designs for cancer survivors to offer bras to the mainstream market.
She continues to get the word out and now works with over 300 doctors and practitioners as referral partners.
“The growth’s been amazing,” says Guarino.
At a glance
Company: A World Of Pink
President: Christine Guarino
Services: A provider of breast prostheses, custom bras and lymphedema sleeves
2018 estimated revenues: $250,000-plus