Breast Cancer: Lose the Breast, Not the Battle

I visited my friend Jaime (not her real name) in hospital recently after her surgery. At the peak of her life – early forties and 2 young kids – she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When we heard the news, it was a wake-up call for many of us. She urged us to put aside thoughts like “it will not happen to me” and start regular breast self-examination and breast screening. It was shocking to know that nearly 2000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Singapore each year. Thanks to effective breast screening programs, many women with cancers are detected at an early stage and treatment started promptly.  Early detection does save lives. Cancer discovered at a later stage has poorer survival.

Jaime had a mastectomy, where her entire breast was surgically removed to eradicate the cancer. Straight after the mastectomy surgery, her breast was rebuilt by a plastic surgeon. Which means after she woke up from surgery, she still had her ‘breast’. Jaime had her breast reconstructed from her abdominal tissues. She went on to explain that she was given the choice of breast implants or using her own tissues, and she chose the latter because it helped to get rid of her abdominal flab.

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breast cancer signs Breast changes to look out for

I was intrigued by this lesser known, but important aspect of her treatment – Breast Reconstruction. I could only imagine how that helped Jaime recover from her surgery psychologically. A women’s breast is a symbol of her femininity, beauty and motherhood. Reconstruction restores the breast and helps women to come to terms with losing their breast. Jaime expressed that apart from helping with psychological rehabilitation, physically it helps to balance her body symmetry. She could wear her usual bras, instead of selected bras and a padding. Minimising disruptions means a better quality of life.

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breast reconstruction Breast reconstruction restores the breasts after cancer surgery. Here, a breast cancer survivor chose to have tattoos to celebrate her reconstructions

“I see over and over again how breast reconstruction restored the confidence of breast cancer survivors,” explains Dr Chia Hui Ling, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at SW1 Plastic Surgery Clinic. Breast reconstruction not only rebuilds a breast after mastectomy, it also addresses deformities and asymmetries after removal of breast lumps (oncoplastic surgery). Dr Chia is the co-founder of Breast Reconstruction Awareness Singapore (BRAS), a non-profit organisation aimed at raising public awareness and providing information and support for breast cancer survivors considering reconstruction. “Our society has worked hard in the past few years, creating awareness in breast reconstruction,” added Dr Chia, “because many women shun reconstruction without understanding the potential benefits and what they are missing out.”

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Angelina Jolie Angelina underwent bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer

Thanks to awareness drives such as BRAS and celebrities like Angelina Jolie, breast reconstruction is now well accepted as a holistic element of breast cancer treatment. This year, BRAS is organising an informative symposium on breast cancer and reconstruction. Dr Chia, together with a panel of survivors, doctors, nurses and volunteers, will share information on the different aspects of breast cancer, from screening to reconstruction to how cancer can change your life for the better. For more details on the symposium and to register for seat, please click on this link.

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