Today is BRA day – or Breast Reconstruction Awareness day when surgeons around Australia hope to share the upside of breast surgery. BRA day started in 2011 in Toronto with Dr Mitchell Brown, who wanted to spread education and awareness about the possibility of reconstructive surgery for those women who needed to undergo a mastectomy. In three short years, it has spread to 30 other countries, and today, events will be held around Australia to further spread the message. The vision of the BRA activities is to secure a time when all women (prior to undergoing breast cancer therapy) will be offered information about the options for reconstructive breast surgery and be given access to this reconstruction in a safe and timely manner.
Read more on the original Canadian site
Read all about reconstruction choices in Australia
Little did I think this time last year I would be asked to speak on the benefits of breast reconstruction surgery – as a recent patient.
Whilst I usually like to keep my health issues to myself, today I think it is more important to let other women know that a diagnosis of breast cancer is not necessarily the beginning of the end. So far my ‘journey’ has been full of remarkable people and positive outcomes, and I can only I hope the following is helpful for others facing the same challenges.
Cancer is a diagnosis which often comes when we least expect it – and if we are lucky, it is treatable and manageable. The incidence of breast cancer is particularly high, with one in eight women in Australia likely to be diagnosed during their lifetime. The disease is particularly prevalent amongst older women, so you probably know someone who is undergoing treatment, or perhaps someone who has been through surgery and who is now on medication, and back to ‘normal’ routines.
Whilst 12.5 per cent of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, less than one in five who have surgery will also have a reconstruction. There are many reasons for this, but primarily it seems to come down to information and access. When some women are facing breast surgery, they may not have had all the options for reconstruction explained to them. This can be because the referring doctor does not have a strong connection with a reconstructive surgeon, or because geographically it would be difficult for the patient to see such a surgeon on an ongoing basis. So those women who live in major cities are lucky and those in regional or country areas may miss out.
It is important to understand that when a woman undergoes reconstructive surgery, following a mastectomy, in a public hospital, this is a medical procedure and therefore a fee will not be charged. Should a patient undergo the same operation in a private hospital, out of pocket expenses will be charged and these can be quite high, but as costs vary it is definitely worth ‘shopping around’. Breast reconstruction does not have to occur immediately after a mastectomy – patients can choose to undergo reconstruction at a later date.
So some of the reasons why so many patients do not have a reconstruction are because they never fully understood they had this option – or that it is free under the public health system, even if there may be a long waiting list. It may also be because they are not yet ready to make this decision, which is all about personal choice, and therefore eminently sensible to take all the time needed. But sometimes it is because the (often older) woman is told that it is mere vanity to want a remodeled breast – that it is enough to undergo the mastectomy without the drama or expense of the reconstruction.
This was not my experience, which is why I am sharing my thoughts. A diagnosis of breast cancer is a heavy blow. To know I had two brilliant and caring surgeons helping me through the mastectomy and reconstruction gave me the courage to move ahead. My mental health was strong, as I felt I would emerge relatively unscathed. And my confidence in Chantal and Natalie and their teams was not misplaced. I have recovered quickly and feel fit, happy, healthy and extremely grateful for their skills and compassion. So today, BRA day, I am speaking out to share my very positive experience and urge other women facing surgery to exercise their choice – research your options, choose what feels right for you, and if you do have a reconstruction – good luck, I wish you a smooth and rapid recovery.
What about you? Are you, or someone you know, a breast cancer patient? Did you need surgery? And were you offered a reconstruction? What is your experience? Do you agree we need to spread the word?