SMITHVILLE, Mo. — After beating cancer twice, a Smithville woman opened a store to service other cancer patients and survivors. But now, Kathy Dibben’s cancer is back, and she’s trying to sell her store.
Dibben opened Absolute Dignity in 2017. The store sells undergarments and bathing suits made for women who had mastectomies and wigs, scarves and hats.
But Dibben can’t keep the store open anymore because of the physical demands of the job. She fits women for wigs and mastectomy bras, but she experiences great pain when she lifts her arms and stands for too long.
“For so long, so many of my family have wanted me to close the store, but I’m kind of hard headed,” Kathy Dibben said. “The facility is actually what’s kept me going.”
Over 12 years, Dibben serviced more than 1,500 clients. She’s selling the store because she wants them to get continued care for their cancer-related needs.
“They come in and say, ‘Kathy has made them feel whole,'” said Peggy Schroeder, Dibben’s friend and a volunteer at the store. “That she makes them feel like a woman again. She inspires them. She gives them hope. She is there, showing cancer is not a death sentence. It’s a life sentence. She shows us how to keep doing it.”
Dibben opened Absolute Dignity when she had trouble finding a swimsuit that could hold her prosthesis. At the time, she was a two-time breast cancer survivor and had undergone a double mastectomy.
“I wanted it to be a full line store without feeling like you were going to another doctor’s appointment,” Dibben said.
She also had colon cancer in 2010 but didn’t need treatment. She had 18 inches of her colon removed.
“Then in 2014 the breast cancer from 1990 metastasized to my bones. They told me at that time they had no cure, but they had treatment and the typical survival was one to three years,” Dibben said. “I said that’s what you told me 24 years ago.”
It’s been five years, and Dibben is still fighting and still working in her store despite the cancer’s progression. It’s in her full skeletal system, liver, pancreas, kidney, lung, breast and brain.
She didn’t respond to chemo after brain radiation, and doctors stopped treatment. All she gets now are pain killers through an IV.
Dibben is getting palliative and hospice care. But her biggest concerns are for the women who shop at her store. She’s been getting a lot of help from her friend Peggy.
“She is phenomenally strong and stoic,” Peggy said. “She does not complain. She just says well I had to be at work to help my ladies. And that’s what she does.”
But fitting women for mastectomy bras and wigs is physically too painful for Dibben. She can’t lift her arms well, gets back pain and tires easily. So, she’s selling the store.
“I’m not checking out soon, but I do need something with the facility,” Dibben said. “And find a home for my ladies.”
Dibben posted about the sale on Facebook. She’s sad to see it go because the women she’s helped have helped her.
She and her loved ones have hope for her health and hope for the future of the store. They’re confident they’ll find a buyer to help so many women battling cancer.
“Her customers have called and said, ‘Oh no, you’re dying,'” Schroeder said. “And I said, ‘No, she’s living.’ And she’s showing me how to live. And I think that’s pretty awesome.”
Dibben is looking forward to the day she finds a buyer so she can spend more of her precious time with her family.