Hope, Healing and Caring
Breast Cancer Foundation’s Shop Expands Services to a Diverse Community
Members of the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation (HBCF) have worked hard during the past two years expanding the foundation’s programs and reaching out to more women in the local community whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer, according to HBCF’s Executive Director, Dr. Vera Packard
The foundation’s mission—to empower women affected by breast cancer, supporting their well-being with post-surgical products and educational services, regardless of financial status—is perhaps best illustrated by Bras for Body & Soul, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, (Washington West) Suite 130 in Fremont.
HBCF’s vibrant and welcoming specialty bra shop serves all women with a particular focus on empowering breast cancer survivors.
Growing with the community
"We usually see an average of 1000 clients a year with 700 of those who are breast cancer survivors," says Packard. "In the past two years we were fortunate to serve 75 women who couldn’t afford our products. This is really remarkable in this economy that we were able to do that."
Packard, who joined the HBCF family in 2008, says the foundation’s programs, including Bras for Body & Soul, have seen tremendous growth in breast cancer awareness programs, services provided and outreach to a diverse population of women.
"Our breast cancer walk had an increase of 35 percent in the past two years, which is outstanding," Packard enthuses. "We also created a beautiful event—People with Purpose—which was held April of last year and will be held again next year."
Bras for Body & Soul’s services will also expand in the near future to include a lymphedema project to provide vital compression garments to women who have developed chronic swelling of a limb, usually a hand or foot, following to breast cancer surgery.
In addition, the shop offers its Hair with Care program, staffed by a trained wig specialist, to help women who are going through the devastating process of losing their hair from chemotherapy.
Serving a community rich in diversity
To better serve a broader population of women in the community, Bras for Body & Soul staffs a breast care specialist who helps meet the needs of Spanish-speaking clients without an interpreter.
Saelia (Sally) N. Chaparro, who has worked as a medical assistant, X-ray technician and also volunteered for the American’s Cancer Society’s Every Woman Counts campaign, came to work for Bras for Body & Soul nearly two years ago.
"I got here because I was doing mammograms at the time and one of my girlfriends, who lost her mother when she was younger, got breast cancer," Chaparro explains. "At the time, I had no idea about Bras for Body & Soul, but when it was time to get bras and a prosthetic, I came with her and we had a great experience here.
"As we were doing the fitting, my friend turned and said to me, ‘You need to work here!’ And I said, yeah right."
Chaparro ended up taking her friend’s advice and hasn’t looked back since.
"I feel so honored that I’m even doing this job because I see so many women hurt to the core of themselves," she says. "Once we get into our own fitting room, the mask comes off and I talk to them and do the fittings. There’s a lot of tears and smiles; it’s wonderful. Each woman is different; most of the time they do leave with a smile and a lot of relief."
Chaparro says she takes particular pride in serving the shop’s Spanish speaking clients, because it hits close to home.
"My biggest trial working with the American Cancer Society was my mom, who just went recently for her second mammogram," she says. "She never taught us to do those things and I told her, ‘How can I tell other women about the importance of mammograms when you won’t go?’"
When doing something as personal as getting fitted for a breast prosthesis or a wig, Chaparro says often something is missing when friends or family try to translate for a loved one.
"Sometimes the language barrier, even with a translator, makes women hold back from saying what’s in their heart or mind," she explains. "Maybe they’re talking through their daughter and they don’t want her to hear something, but when I get them in the fitting room one-on-one, I can ask certain questions and I can see them opening up a little bit.
"They can speak more honestly. When you have an interpreter there’s something lost in the translation. When I start to speak to them, they let that guard down and they can be more honest with their feelings—like expressing what type of bra they want."
For Chaparro it helps to see each woman who comes into the shop as a family member or friend.
"For Hispanic women, the older women, I always serve them as I would serve my mother or best friend," she says. "I would want my mom treated with compassion and kindness and that’s how I treat every woman I see so when they leave here they feel like we have their best interest at heart."
Caring for women
Bras for Body & Soul is located in the same building as the Washington Women’s Center, which offers diagnostic, treatment and educational services to the women of Washington Township Health Care District.
To learn more about women’s health services at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com.
To learn more about upcoming events through the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as services and products available through Bras for Body & Soul, visit www.hersfund.org or call (510) 790-1911.