When Vera Garofalo started visiting corporate and community partners in the early 1990s to spread the word about the importance of mammograms, she didn’t utter the words “breast cancer.” It was a different time, she recalls, a time when people didn’t talk easily about cancer – long before today’s pink ribbon awareness campaign and federal guidelines on screenings. That things have changed becomes quickly evident to anyone watching Garofalo welcome customers to Hope’s Boutique, a full-service, nonprofit retail shop that caters to women with cancer.
Housed on the first floor of the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), Hope’s Boutique is staffed by caring professionals who offer women being treated for cancer an assortment of accessories, including breast prostheses, skin-care products, postsurgical and pocketed bras, hair alternatives for complete or partial hair loss, makeup, jewelry and other items that help them regain self-confidence. While the primary purpose of Hope’s is to support women, it also offers the opportunity for children to be fitted for wigs or head coverings.
In her career at Ohio State, Garofalo has gone from clinical chemistry to laboratory services, mobile imaging to mammography services. This June, after 43 years mostly spent with the OSUCCC – James, she will retire as manager of Hope’s Boutique.
During her nine years there, Garofalo has seen the store move from its former north Columbus location to its much larger home within the Comprehensive Breast Center. She also oversaw a move to digital record-keeping that has increased productivity and allows staff to provide a seamless experience for customers.
Garofalo herself is a huge draw for those who visit the store. Her empathetic personality and distinctive personal style radiate warmth.
Despite the serious health issues the women may be facing, Garofalo says, “We laugh a lot at Hope’s. I sit in my office sometimes and am filled with joy as I hear heartfelt laughter coming from our fitting and wig styling areas. We offer a positive experience for the women, helping them to look and feel like they want to.”
To say that Garofalo will be missed is an understatement. And though she plans to spend much of her retirement at her family’s home in her native Italy, it is likely that she will miss Hope’s, too.
“If I wasn’t 65, I wouldn’t ever leave,” she says. “I would come here every day of my life because it’s the most rewarding, life-altering job. Women thank us all the time, but I thank The James for this experience.”
Visit Hope’s on May 15 to take part in their anniversary celebration!