It’s ok to have fake breasts. That’s what plastic surgeon Dr Chia Hui Ling and the founders of BRAs (Breast Reconstruction Awareness Singapore) want to say to cancer survivors.
Editor: Tell us about BRAS. Why did you decide to set it up? Hui Ling: BRAS was set up this year by a group of Singaporean plastic surgeons and trainees, to provide resources and support for breast cancer survivors who are considering breast reconstruction.
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women in Singapore – nearly 9,000 women are diagnosed with it every year. Many women with breast cancer undergo a surgery that removes part of or the entire breast to cure their cancer. To many women, that’s like losing a defining part of their sexuality and motherhood. Losing their breast doesn’t just leave a physical scar. The scars are psychological and emotional too.
Breast reconstruction is proven to have physical, psychological and emotional benefits for women undergoing breast cancer treatment. But due to lack of awareness, less than 20% of women who’ve had mastectomy undergo breast reconstruction. This is especially true in Asia.
Ed: Whats the biggest misconception about breast reconstruction you want to correct? HL: It’s not a cosmetic procedure for vanity. It’s a reconstructive effort to put back what cancer has taken away, with physical, emotional and psychological benefits.
We’ve performed breast reconstruction for women in their 60s and 70s too, so this procedure is not only just for young women.
It neither affects cancer treatment nor does it worsen the cancer; these are common fears for many women seeking cancer treatment.
Ed: What are some of the issues women struggle with surrounding losing their breasts? HL: It affects their self-esteem and they feel they’ve lost their femininity. For women in relationships it affects intimacy with spouses – but the psychological toll is even worse for single women. [Ed: Because they feel they feel it’s a barrier to finding a partner]. Physically, many have to wear a breast prosthesis or bra insert if no reconstruction is done. Plus, after a mastectomy, there’s flattening and concavity that reaches the upper chest (breast tissue goes up higher in the chest than we think). So even if you’re wearing a top that isn’t low-cut, people can see the concavity. Lastly, seeing the mastectomy defect or scar reminds them of the cancer, long after the disease is at bay.
Ed: What will BRAS do for breast cancer survivors? HL: We’ve created a website, which is packed with information on breast reconstruction. This is to help women make their decision during a stressful time. We’re also collaborating with graphic designers to create 3D animations that will help survivors understand the surgical procedures better. The next step is a support portal on the website.
To launch the society, BRAS Fashion Show 2013 is our debut event which we’re really excited about. It will feature confident women who’ve survived breast cancer and had breast reconstruction. We hope that this showcase of passionate, spirited women will be a shining example to other survivors.
Ed: Why did you get involved in BRAS? HL: I’m a plastic surgery registrar and breast reconstruction is a major part of reconstruction plastic surgery. Having trained in the UK, I see the difference in the number of women in UK opting for breast reconstruction and I’ve personally witnessed the positive effects for the patients after reconstruction. At present, a far smaller proportion of Asian women undergo breast reconstruction as compared to European and American women.
Two of my classmates suffered from breast cancer in their early 30s. Like my friends, many breast cancer survivors are young women who, because of advances of modern medicine, go back to their normal life after remission and expect to live long healthy lives.
The BRAS fashion show is happening in conjunction with Breast Caner Awareness Month on October 10th, 6:30pm at Paragon Main Atrium Level 1. To rsvp email [email protected] or visit www.bras.org.sg for more information.
Editor’s Note: Many of us read about cancer so often that it feels like, “just another illness”. I can share that it is not like that. A friend of ours passed away from a different kind of cancer – cervical cancer. She had documented her experience in a blog and if you’re interested, you can have a read here: http://www.shandysim.blogspot.com