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Many physicians, individuals, and organizations across the United States and the world choose to be affiliates for Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. Why? A breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating, overwhelming and life altering both emotionally and physically. We know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with some type of breast cancer in 2016 and well over 2,000 men. Unfortunately, less than 23% of patients know what their options are for breast reconstruction after mastectomy. That is the answer to why so many have chosen to become affiliates for Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. "Closing the Loop" on Breast Cancer.
The message of the campaign is to "close the loop" on breast cancer. Many women and men face surgery to remove the cancer and this surgery often leads to loss of one or both breasts, and thereby disfigurement. "Closing the loop" means giving patients the education and options for breast reconstruction to rebuild their breasts and lives after breast cancer and mastectomy. Studies have shown that the psychological benefits are an important part of recovery from breast cancer, moving beyond the diagnosis.
A plastic surgeon, Dr. Mitch Brown, Toronto, initiated the first Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day in Canada in 2011. The United States soon followed in 2012 with BRA Day USA. ASPS, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, began funding BRA Day USA in 2012 through the Plastic Surgery Foundation Fund. It gained great support and is celebrated on the third Wednesday of October as an integral part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are now several countries across the globe who celebrate Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day events to educate and inform patients about options after mastectomy. The decision to reconstruct or not is a very personal one. However, without the information and education for all options, that decision cannot be made.
This year, 2016, is my second year to sign up to be an affiliate. I want to share with you the logistics of being an affiliate and a personal view of why I have chosen to do this.
You can sign up here at the Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day website to hold an educational event with or without fundraising. Should you choose to have some form of a fundraiser, a portion (20%) of the proceeds goes back to the PSF, Plastic Surgery Foundation Fund, and the remainder (80%) goes to a local organization that raises awareness through public education and/ or provides financial and other support services to breast reconstruction patients.
The site offers a step by step guide, information, facts, and suggestions for what your BRA Day should look like. It contains a wealth of information. It is up to you to do the footwork. My best advice is to sign up early. I began working on my first BRA Day in May before my October event in 2015. Engaging the media is an integral way of getting the word out to the community. The simple fact is, many TV and radio stations get slammed the month of October for breast cancer interviews and public service announcements. The importance of contacting them early gives you a better chance of getting on the line-up.
The focus of the event will always be the educational aspect. But, let's face it, no one likes to sit through lengthy presentations of any kind. It is important to offer incentives such as door prizes, fun activities, and food to break up the event. This requires work as well on the part of the affiliate. It can also cost money to provide these fun side items. Be prepared to spend time at local merchants asking for their support. I call this time, "boots on the ground." You either have to make phone calls, show up at their doorstep, or both to make these connections and ask for donations. You will receive a packet from the Breast Reconstruction Day campaign to give you suggestions for various activities, both fun and educational, all focused on breast reconstruction awareness.
Two years ago, in October of 2014, I had no breasts. I lived with this for seven months from the time of my double mastectomy to my reconstruction. The psychological impact on me personally was devastating. There have been studies shown that many women go through this same detriment when losing their breasts to breast cancer. That study along with speaking to other women weighed heavy on my heart both intellectually and emotionally. I wanted to change that for others, pay it forward, if you will.
I was given all my options the day of my second diagnosis in May of 2014. and was well informed. I chose to have DIEP flap breast reconstruction to rebuild my breasts in December of 2014. I researched for weeks and chose one of the finest plastic surgeons in the United Sates to do my reconstruction. Shortly after my recovery, I began writing a blog about my personal journey through breast reconstruction. I also volunteered to speak with other women about my experience so they would know first-hand from a patient's perspective what it is like to go through this complex decision.
I had no idea how life-changing breast reconstruction would be for me! My blog went global. It opened my eyes to the need for educating others. I had been an educator all my life. It felt right so I kept at it. I researched information about breast cancer and breast reconstruction. I shared information via social media venues with world-class plastic surgeons and like-minded individuals whose focus was informing patients about their breast reconstruction options. I worked tirelessly until one day, through the encouragement of family, friends and trusted colleagues, I made the leap to open a nonprofit 501c3 foundation to fund the mission: To empower patients with education to make an informed decision about options for breast reconstruction.
The foundation I opened is my baby, my passion, and my true life's mission to see more women and men have the same education and information I did so they can have a life-changing and successful breast reconstruction. That is why I continue to sign up to be an affiliate for Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. Get some friends or trusted organization to work with you.
I hope that all events will "close the loop" for one or many this BRA Day 2016.
Terri Coutee (@6state) is a two-time breast cancer survivor and a current reconstruction advocate, working tirelessly to make sure women know their reconstructive options and rights.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.