Breast Reconstruction Patients Celebrate “Closing the Loop” on BRA Day
October 26, 2015
“I really do feel like my life is back to normal!” said Cori Perry, a breast cancer survivor who completed her breast reconstruction treatment at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “I want women to know that there is life after breast cancer.”
Cori, along with other patients who underwent breast reconstruction, attended the first “Closing the Loop” photo exhibit in the plastic surgery suite on Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day (BRA Day), October 20, 2015. The exhibit honored patients who journeyed through breast cancer treatment and breast reconstruction. The event also provided encouragement to patients currently going through the process.
At the entrance of the exhibit, the plastic surgery team pinned a pink, satin ribbon with two loops on every attendee. The ribbon represents a meaningful part of the timeline for breast cancer patients: life after breast cancer treatments.
“The original breast cancer ribbon we see has a beginning and an end, but this ribbon is different,” explained Troy Pittman, MD, a breast reconstruction plastic surgeon. “The extra loop added to the bottom of the ribbon symbolizes ‘closing the loop on breast cancer.’ This is exactly what this exhibit is all about ... celebrating the fact that there is life after breast cancer treatment.”
Artwork of the breast reconstruction ribbon hangs on one wall of the plastic surgery office. The piece is surrounded by framed photographs of patients traveling on vacation, doing yoga, visiting family and friends and on other adventures. Dr. Pittman wanted the photos to show his patients living full and beautiful lives, unlike the stereotypical clinical ‘before and after’ photos where the focus is breast cancer and surgery. The head or face of the person is often left out of clinical photos.
“For me, this is really about the patients and celebrating the fact that they got through the journey! I love to see these faces with smiles, the light in their eyes … and the hope,” said Dr. Pittman.
Dr. Pittman educates patients about the need for a board-certified plastic surgeon to be a part of the breast cancer journey right at the beginning of the treatment planning. BRA day, started in 2012 by The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), serves as an opportunity to educate patients about their options after breast cancer treatment.
“Five percent of women with breast cancer who undergo a mastectomy decide to have reconstruction because these women are not given their breast reconstruction options,” said Dr. Pittman. “BRA Day is about getting the message out there … Women can have a smoother road to satisfying breast reconstruction when a plastic surgeon is involved in their care. This photo exhibit conveys a powerful visual message. We want women to look at these photographs and feel empowered, to know that there can be a fulfilling life after breast cancer and breast surgery. They can exercise, travel and yes, even wear a bikini.”
“It troubles my heart to think that some women might not have been given the same options during their treatment,” said Cori.
Limited access to plastic surgeons contributes to the lack of conversation around reconstruction options, according to Dr. Pittman. For a better understanding, he compared major metropolitan areas with multiple plastic surgeons on every corner to more remote areas that are limited in specialized providers. Despite the lack of conversation around plastic surgery during some cancer appointments, Dr. Pittman urges patients not to be afraid to initiate the conversation. He says that patients should ask breast surgeons about seeing a plastic surgeon who can provide reconstruction options while planning a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
“Many women start their breast cancer treatment in fear, but I automatically felt like I was in good hands…” said Carla Stolper, who was celebrating her first day after chemotherapy treatment at the exhibit. “Dr. Pittman was able to guide me through this process and make this experience of going through cancer much easier.”
Carla traveled to MedStar Georgetown from Thailand after she received her cancer diagnosis in early January. She spent many days away from her family, but was most grateful for the team of breast cancer and plastic surgery doctors and nurses by her side.
“They really did all they could to make me feel comfortable,” said Carla. “I felt confident and comfortable from the beginning because of Dr. Pittman’s honesty, his easy manner in communication, and … plus he always looks so very dapper.”
Breast reconstruction surgery is a highly individualized process, according to Dr. Pittman. His philosophy involves really “seeing” the patients, listening to their concerns and never using the “one size fits all” approach.
The photo display in the clinic is only the starting point for the “Closing the Loop” exhibit. Moving forward, Dr. Pittman and team plan to add more photos to the exhibit as other patients complete the breast reconstruction process.
“We really wanted to point people into the right direction on BRA day,” said Dr. Pittman, “but we also wanted to show them that life does go on … and that loop does get closed.”
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