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Supporting Women Through Breast Cancer Recovery

January 18, 2011

 Bras for Body & Soul Adds New Programs to Serve Women

A diagnosis of breast cancer—and the ensuing treatment—can chip away at any sense of normalcy or comfort in a woman’s life, which is exactly why the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation (HBCF) strives to offer a variety of programs to support and empower local women.

Included among HBCF’s programs and services is Bras for Body & Soul®, the foundation’s breast cancer outreach program located on the Washington Hospital campus in Fremont.

The program, designed to help women overcome the devastating emotional and physical effects of cancer treatment, provides access to local women in need of breast cancer-related products and services, as well as a supportive environment and staff focused on helping clients attain a sense of renewed femininity, integrity, dignity and self-esteem.

Two of HBCF’s newest offerings available through Bras for Body & Soul include the foundation’s Lymphedema Project and Hair With Care.

Lymphedema, also known as lymphatic obstruction, is characterized by a blockage that prevents lymph fluid from draining properly. If left unmanaged, the condition can cause a fluid build-up that leads to chronic swelling in the limbs. Lymphedema resulting from breast cancer surgery, which occurs primarily in the arms, can feel like a slap in the face for women who have just endured a mastectomy.

On top of everything else, seeking any kind of insurance reimbursement for a lymphedema garment, which can reduce swelling in the arm to manage the condition, can be an uphill battle, according to Polly Sherman, a breast care specialist and Program Director at Bras for Body & Soul.

"Unlike bras and prostheses, which are covered by most insurance companies, often they won’t cover the cost of lymphedema garments, even with a breast cancer diagnosis," she says. "Now the client has another burden in having to pay for the garment. As a result, we came up with the idea of giving it to clients for a 40 percent discount, which makes the garments much more affordable."

The HBCF’s Lymphedema Project is hoping to expand its vendors and the selection of garments, but relies on grants and community fund-raising to help the project provide garments to women in the community who are unable to pay.

"I have actually seen women who have lymphedema, and it’s recommended they get a sleeve, but because it’s not covered by insurance, they’ll just go without and they won’t comply with their physical therapist or physician recommendation because the cost is too prohibitive," she relates.

"That 40 percent discount can really make a huge difference."

But the most important part, Sherman says, is that the staff and volunteers at Bras for Body and Soul will go above and beyond to make sure each client feels supported throughout a difficult process.

"When the person on the other end of the phone understands that you’re struggling and really cares, you feel better," she says. "Bras for Body & Soul is filled with women who are drawn to help other women and a lot of women that work here have had cancer themselves and they want to be here to help. Women who come here know that we will do our very best to help them."

Another harrowing—and often the most visible—effect of breast cancer treatment is hair loss.

Lynda Smith, who has been styling hair for 38 years, joined the Bras for Body & Soul’s family to serve as the program’s wig specialist and says her work boils down to making sure clients leave her care feeling more confident about their appearance.

"First we have a consultation and I ask them what they would like their hair to be like—completely different or the same as before they started treatment," Smith explains. "Then they try all the wigs on and match a color. You can get something overnight, but three to five days is the usual ordering time. When it comes in, I cut it and trim it and then clients can come in and have it reshaped. It’s pretty easy, but they don’t know that until they come in."

Smith says many clients arrive for their first appointment feeling shaken, but they often return to tell her how good they feel and how many compliments they have received.

"I let them know there is a wig out there for them and that nobody’s going to know they don’t have hair," she says. "When they leave, their hair looks natural and normal and no one would ever know that they’re sick. And that’s what they want—to feel normal."

Other services that the HBCF’s outreach program provides include:

  • Post-operative camisoles
  • Standard and custom silicone breast forms for partial and full mastectomies
  • Specialty bras designed to support silicone breast forms

Bras for Body & Soul is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, Suite 130 (Washington West) in Fremont, across the street from the main hospital. To find out more about programs and services available through the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, call (510) 790-1911 or visit www.hersfund.org.

To learn more about women’s health services available on the Washington Hospital campus, visit www.whhs.com/womenscenter or call (510) 608-1301.