HERS Breast Cancer Foundation
Providing Patients and Survivors with Help and Support
Women who are fighting breast cancer face multiple struggles. The most important, of course, is to beat the disease and survive. But treatments for breast cancer can actually create other struggles, including the emotional impact of dealing with physical scars or deformities after surgery and the hair loss often associated with chemotherapy. Helping women overcome those struggles is the mission of the HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, located in the Washington Women’s Center at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
“When you are facing something as devastating as breast cancer, you need every bit of help and support you can get,” says HERS Breast Cancer Foundation Executive Director Vera Packard, M.D. “We offer a comprehensive array of services to help breast cancer patients and survivors feel good about themselves again after they’ve experienced the pitfalls of breast cancer.”
Services offered by the foundation include:
- Bras for Body and Soul – Private fittings for attractive post-surgery bras, camisoles and prostheses in a comfortable setting and compassionate environment. All fittings are provided by one of the program’s four professional breast-care specialists.
- Hair with Care – A wide selection of wigs to help breast cancer patients and other women going through chemotherapy to cope with disconcerting hair loss. The wigs can be custom-styled by the program’s two wig consultants to suit each woman’s style preferences.
- Lymphedema Project – This project provides upper-body compression garments to treat the swelling caused by lymphedema, which can result from removing lymph glands during breast cancer surgeries. Some insurance companies, including Medicare, do not cover these garments, so we offer them at a substantial discount to breast cancer survivors.
- We Support, You Survive – A program to provide post-mastectomy undergarments to underserved women who are not covered by health insurance or cannot afford these products because of other circumstances.
“Our breast-care specialists, wig consultants and other staff and volunteers all have great compassion for our patients and know how to make them feel at ease,” says Program Director Polly Sherman, a registered nurse who also serves as one of the breast-care specialists. “For our staff, this isn’t just a job – it’s a labor of love. It’s amazing for us to see the transformation of a patient’s spirit when she’s trying on beautiful undergarments or a wig. We try to get fun items in pretty colors so that our patients can go out feeling pretty again.
“Another important aspect of our programs is that we are a non-profit organization, and we work with women to sort through the red tape of their insurance coverage,” she adds. “We also offer assistance to women who have no insurance coverage. There are a few commercial stores that provide some of these services, but none that provides the emotional and financial assistance that we do, and that’s why we like to say that we are a soft place to fall.”
Dr. Packard notes that Washington Hospital has provided free space for the foundation at the Women’s Center since 2004, which helps the foundation provide its services at low- or no-cost. “We are grateful to Washington Hospital for providing us with facilities for our programs and their support of our two main fundraising efforts – the annual KEEP ABREAST Walk each September and the People With Purpose awards luncheon in April,” she says.
“This year we received more than $35,000 from our People with Purpose luncheon, and last year’s KEEP ABREAST Walk raised close to $100,000,” she adds. “The support from the community and from other organizations that conduct fundraisers for us has been very gratifying. With insurance plans cutting back on coverage and the high rate of unemployment, our job has become more difficult, but so far we haven’t had to turn anyone away.”
Dr. Packard has directed the foundation’s efforts for the past four years, but she views her current role as a continuation of a lifetime commitment.
“I spent 20 years as a breast cancer surgeon in Brazil, and then I moved to America after I met my true love and got married,” she recalls. “I came to the foundation because I was looking for a way to continue following my passion of caring for women with breast cancer. As a doctor, I cared for one patient at a time. Today, our dedicated staff and volunteers now serve over 700 women each year. We all feel that this is the work we were meant to do.”
Appointments for HERS Breast Center Foundation services are strongly encouraged, 510-790-1911. For more information about the foundation, including the KEEP ABREAST Walk scheduled for September 29, visit www.hersbreastcancerfoundation.org. People interested in serving on the foundation’s board of directors may call Dr. Packard at 510-790-1954.