BRA (Breast Reconstruction Awareness) Day was on October 19th, 2016. I had the privilege of attending the BRA Day event hosted by the Pink Ribbon Girls Organization at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. PRG received a grant from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) to host a BRA day event. This is an excellent example of the commitment the ASPS has to educate women around the country about their options for breast reconstruction. BRA day events were hosted nationwide, varying in size and content. Pink Ribbon Girls wanted to include the interdisciplinary team at this BRA day event to highlight the team effort required for good outcomes. The Christ Hospital donated the beautiful event space at the top of the Joint and Spine Center with incredible city views as a special treat for the amazing women going through a difficult journey.
I attended last year as a patient of Midwest Breast & Aesthetic Surgery and this year, I was honored to be included amongst the distinguished group of speakers and patient panel. I am encouraged to see that breast reconstruction awareness seems to be getting the attention it deserves and closer to the goal of helping women be knowledgeable about the options they have for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. I was highly impressed by how this event highlighted the team effort and collaboration involved between the different surgeons and support service professionals. I think this is amazing for breast cancer patients receiving treatment and surgery in Ohio. It makes the otherwise terrifying and overwhelming process seem more hopeful. It is an inspiration to see the seamless relationship between the surgeons and the staff of these incredible support services and how they all work together for the patient from start to finish
The Pink Ribbon Girls provide essential services to women undergoing treatments and surgeries for breast and reproductive cancers, so they have the teal ribbon girls covered too! They offer house cleaning, transportation services, and deliver nutritious meals so that these women can get to their important appointments and focus on other things, as they say, fight. Beyond those services, they are an incredible source of emotional support and friendship. The entire staff and volunteers for Pink Ribbon Girls are fantastic, but a special thanks to Andrea Bashor, Jan Middleton, and Banita Bailey who organized this BRA Day event and made sure everything went smoothly and everyone was well taken care of.
The surgical oncologists, Dr. Sandra Miller, and Dr. Jennifer Manders explained the importance of treating cancer first but also making sure women are aware of the options they have for reconstruction if they so choose. Dr. Miller emphasized the importance of the team effort between the breast surgeons and the plastic surgeons to determine the best recommendation for each patient on an individual basis. Dr. Manders described some of the advances being made, such as the nipple-sparing mastectomy and how they can determine if a patient is a candidate for this procedure.
Dr. Bianca Chin did an incredible presentation about all of the breast reconstruction options that Midwest Breast & Aesthetic Surgery offers to patients, emphasizing that one type of reconstruction may not be right for everyone, but there will be a type of reconstruction that is best for everyone. She explained the pros and cons of implant-based and autologous reconstruction. She also emphasized the timing of breast reconstruction and the various stages. Her presentation was very informative and interesting. She explained the end goal of breast reconstruction is to achieve symmetry and have women feel healthy and comfortable in their clothing, just as they did before the mastectomy.
Christina Siegel of Living Story Tattoo presented her options for nipple and areola tattooing. Her work is nothing short of phenomenal! She explained the importance of using professional grade ink and her training with tattoo artists, so you end up with results that look like real nipples and not pepperonis! She even offers true 3D nipple tattoos that look fantastic, which is a great alternative for women who don’t want to have surgical nipple reconstruction. You can feel the passion she has for her work and what a unique job she has to add the finishing touches to an emotional process. Her tattoos are so realistic and detailed, the work of a real artist.
Cheryl Smith explained the benefits of oncology massage and how it can help with the recovery process. It is especially helpful with lymphedema. Once the surgeon has cleared a patient, massage can be a great way to get the lymphatic system draining and help with some of the discomforts brought on by the surgeries. Social worker, Jaimie Robinson explained the rights for reconstruction coverage and the importance of support during the treatment and operations associated with breast cancer and reconstruction.
We had a panel of Midwest Breast patients who graciously shared their stories of reconstruction and what it has meant for them to be able to have a positive experience with the surgeons and also the support they have received from Pink Ribbon Girls. It was so touching to hear how scared they were at the beginning of their journey or how unhappy they were with a previous reconstruction, but how thankful and hopeful they were after having their reconstruction with Dr. Tiwari, or Dr. Kocak. Each one of them had a different type of reconstruction with Midwest Breast, but all were very satisfied with the outcome. It was beautiful to have them available for questions.
Many of those who attended are part of the Midwest Breast Facebook support group, so it was wonderful to finally meet some of them in person after following their stories these past few months. Many other attendees were there as a result of their connections with Pink Ribbon Girls. It is incredible to see how there is a full circle of care and compassion available to women going through this process of mastectomy and reconstruction, whether it be from a breast cancer diagnosis or prophylactically because of a mutation such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.
Hopefully, with events like BRA Day, women will become increasingly aware of their rights and options for breast reconstruction. Breast reconstruction is a personal choice, but it is an integral part of the process for women to feel whole again after losing their natural breasts.
For more information on the Pink Ribbon Girls, Living Story Tattoo, BRA Day USA, or the ASPS, please see the links below.