When cancer strikes and doctors are required to remove a body part to cure the illness, it's not uncommon for patients to feel as if they have a defect. When a woman has a mastectomy and loses one or both breasts, feeling whole again can be especially difficult, Dr. Oz says.
"At the end of the day, one of the first questions you ask if you have been cured of your breast cancer is, 'Now what do I do? How do I look normal again? How do I keep the sexuality that is part of our existence intact?'"
Eighteen years ago, Patrice was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have one breast removed during surgery. While surviving the cancer was her ultimate goal, living life with one breast was also a concern. "We live in a very breast-conscious society, and so losing a breast is very devastating," she says.
Undergoing another surgery for breast reconstruction was not something Patrice pursued because she was afraid the new breast would become a problem over time. "Good old Mother Nature is always pulling down on the side of the remaining breast and doesn't on the reconstructed side," Patrice says. "So, many times, these women end up wearing a [breast] prosthesis after the reconstruction."
The prosthesis available 18 years ago were heavy, uncomfortable and not wearable for everyday use, Patrice says. Today, breast prosthesis technology has improved dramatically and Patrice says companies like American Breast Care are to thank.
As chairman of American Breast Care, Joachim "Jolly" Rechenberg oversees a company that offers women an alternative to reconstructive surgery with its lightweight external breast prosthesis and specialized bras. The company began in the mid-1970s, when Jolly and his brother sought a way to improve existing breast forms, which at the time were being made with rice and beads. "The products were just terrible, so we said we have to find a better way to do this," he says.
In 1975, Jolly says his brother, who became a plastics engineer, designed and patented a silicone breast form for external use. From there the pair started American Breast Care and today, the company sells more than 200 different kinds of sizes and styles depending on the type of surgery and shape, softness and fullness of the breast.
Linda, a nurse and breast cancer survivor, is a certified bra fitter with American Breast Care. Her company, U.P. Bras That Fit, sells American Breast Care products to breast cancer survivors all over the country.
Linda says she is not only selling products but educating breast cancer survivors and helping them cope with the aftermath of a mastectomy. "Being a survivor makes you want to advocate, to help other women so they don't have to go through what you did," she says.
In 1988, actress Ann Jillian shared her struggle with breast cancer with millions of people by starring in a made-for-TV movie about her ordeal. Ann says her message of survival and prevention is still reaching many today as she dedicates herself to sharing her story and her mission to end breast cancer. "There is life at the end of the tunnel, there can be. The prerequisite is early detection and swift medical action," she says.