Breast Reconstruction Awareness – A message from a Massage Therapist

As a massage therapist who treats many breast cancer patients and is also a breast cancer survivor, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to blog about for the month of October.  I didn’t want to contribute to the “pink” noise that’s out there during Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I do, however, want to talk about something that could provide more information to my patients or to those who are searching the internet looking for something that could help them with their journey.  Then I went to BRA Day…it became clear I had to write about this event.
BRA stands for Breast Reconstruction Awareness.  Many of my patients are either in the middle of their reconstruction, have had reconstruction, or deciding whether or not to get reconstruction.   I actually went to this event in its infancy stage when I was going through the decision process myself and I found it very helpful.  I went to this event last week with different eyes, as a therapist, hoping to get more information on the latest and greatest on breast reconstruction and I was very happy that I went.
I can honestly say this is a breast cancer event that is real, informative, and hands down the greatest event for one of the toughest decisions a woman with breast cancer/BRCA mutation will have to make.   This event is centred around everything you need to know about breast reconstruction: the different surgery options, nipple reconstruction and/or nipple tattoo options, fat grafting, and the list goes on. During the presentation portion of the evening, plastic surgeons from the various hospitals talk about those very topics, they even have patients that have been through the process, come up and speak.   It’s one thing to hear surgeons talk about the process, but hearing from a survivor is always helpful.  The presentation topics this year were: Breast reconstruction with implants, What is Fat Grafting all About?, Breast Reconstruction with your own Tissue, Regaining Control: Non-surgical Options, Prosthesis and Tattooing, and Preparing for Surgery and your Recovery.
After the presentations, there is a chance to go around to the education tables where you can actually speak to the surgeons one on one with questions around each type of surgery.  The discussion topics were specific to each surgeon and included:
One-step Direct to Implant, Reconstruction Using Implants, Preventative (prophylactic) Mastectomy, Reconstruction Using Your own Tissue, Delayed Reconstruction and Radiation, Reconstruction Options After Lumpectomy, Nipple Areola Reconstruction, Heredity Breast and Ovarian Cancer/BRCA.
The piece de resistance of the event, however, is the Show and Tell Room.  In this room, 13 brave women bared it all for other women to see what to actually expect with the various reconstructive surgery options.  One room was dedicated to reconstruction using implants and the other room was dedicated to reconstruction using your own tissue as well as showing “flat and fabulous”, mastectomy without reconstruction.  Being able to see the reconstruction up close and personal and speak directly to the person about their experience, is invaluable.
In the reception area, there were exhibitor tables where you can speak with representatives about various breast cancer-related products or topics.  There was everything from the manufacturers of the implants where you can actually touch and feel the different types of breast implants, to information on lymphedema and compression garments.
Key takeaways for me:

  • Fat grafting has come a long way. I believe Dr. Mitch Brown said something like 70% of patients has some sort of fat grafting as a part of their reconstructive surgery.  The fat can help contour and fill in the little imperfections around the implant.  Fat also has healing properties and can be really great to use on the radiated tissue.  Fat grafting can also be used as a way to create a small mound when other reconstruction options are not possible.
  • I made a point of speaking to a representative of Allergan – this is a manufacturer of breast implants. A hot topic these days seems to be around textured implants and the risk of developing Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).  I wanted to get Allergan’s take on things and as a therapist, what should patients be looking for if something like this were to develop.  I was directed to these two websites that provide answers to the FAQ.  The main possible indication for BIA-ALCL is that it can present itself as a large seroma (a collection of fluid) in the breast.  These textured implants are continuing to be used and patients who currently have them are not required to exchange or have them removed.
All in all, BRA Day is a great event to attend if you’re trying to decide what to do about reconstruction.  Oh, did I mention that it’s FREE?!  If you missed the Toronto event this year, there are still some events happening in Ontario until the end of the month.  Click here to learn more.
If you still have questions or can’t make the events this year, the Canadian Cancer Society can provide support in many ways:
Toll-free helpline         1-888-939-3333
By Karen Kingsley
Registered Massage Therapist

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