Support for the Body and Soul
Program Helps Women Look and Feel Better After Breast Cancer Treatment
As a breast cancer surgeon in Brazil, Dr. Vera Packard saw firsthand the devastating effect breast cancer can have on a woman’s life. Now as the executive director of the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, she is helping women look and feel better so they can move on after breast cancer. The Foundation’s Bras for Body and Soul program provides specially made bras and undergarments for women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer.
“Cancer is traumatic; it shakes up your life,” she said. “But with many other cancers, after the treatment you are still in one piece. With breast cancer, you may be left with scars where breasts once were or other deformities caused by a lumpectomy. Bras for Body and Soul helps women overcome the emotional and physical effects of cancer treatment. We are a soft place to fall.”
Bras for Body and Soul is located in the Washington Women’s Center, a warm and welcoming place where women can get an array of health and wellness services under one roof. The Women’s Center has been accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.
The shop looks like a high-end lingerie shop, with beautiful lacy garments on display. But the Foundation is committed to making sure women have access to the bras and other products no matter what their income level. Some insurance plans cover the cost and the Foundation provides the products free to women who qualify for Medi-Cal, according to Packard.
Bras for Body and Soul offers a wide range of products, including post-operative camisoles, standard and custom silicone breast forms for partial and full mastectomies, specialty bras designed to support silicone breast forms, and compression garments for lymphedema.
The program serves about 800 to 1,000 women a year, mostly from the Tri-City area, according to Packard. The Bras for Body and Soul shop has been located at the Washington Women’s Center since 2004.
The caring staff provides personal fittings for bras and other garments by appointment. Program Director Polly Sherman is a registered nurse with more than 30 years experience in the health field and she is assisted by two other breast care specialists.
“We serve women with understanding, love, compassion, and beauty,” Packard said. “Our breast care specialists are wonderful listeners and it is often a very special moment when we are able to help a women feel better about herself.”
Packard said that early on in her career as a surgeon, she didn’t fully understand the trauma and often shame women feel after losing part or all of their breasts. After a patient missed an appointment, she asked the patient why she didn’t get on the bus and come down to her office.
“She told me she thought everyone on the bus would be looking at her deformed breasts,” Packard explained. “That’s when I truly realized the emotional toll this takes on women. As women, our breasts can be such a big part of our identity and we think everyone will notice if they are not there or are not symmetrical.”
The Foundation also offers wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment through its Hair with Care program. Thanks to a recent grant from the Candle Lighters, the program is being expanded.
“I am so honored to be able to help women feel better about themselves after breast cancer treatment,” Packard said. “I’ve come full circle. After serving women as a breast cancer surgeon, I’m now able to use my knowledge to help women get past their pain and the devastation that is often caused by breast cancer.”
The Washington Women’s Center is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. For information about other services offered at the Women’s Center, visit www.whhs.com/womenscenter. To learn more about the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, visit www.hersbreastcancerfoundation.org.