Dr. Sailaja Nallapaneni, right, explains the benefits of mammograms as Dr. Narayanan Nandagopal translates the information into Tamil. The Scarborough Hospital's Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day presentations on Oct. 17 were offered in English, Chinese and Tamil to serve Scarborough's diverse population.

BRA Day offers breast cancer survivors options

When Benilda Ariz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she moved quickly to surgery and chemotherapy. But her journey didn’t stop there, as she had to wear a prosthetic while her recovery continued.

“Sometimes I forgot about [the prosthetic],” she said. “I wasn’t happy with it, but the choice was not there.”

Eighteen months later, Ariz underwent breast reconstruction surgery, which used a portion of the abdomen to reconstruct the breast. She said the surgery gave her something that she can call her own.

“I knew what I was going through,” she said. “This is the best decision.”

Ariz was one of the guests invited by The Scarborough Hospital (TSH) to share her experience with other cancer survivors, as doctors and patients celebrated the second annual national Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day on Oct. 17.

The event also included presentations that were given in English, Cantonese and Tamil to address Scarborough’s diverse population.

According to Dr. Sarah Wong, plastic and reconstruction surgeon and a member of TSH’s Plastic Surgeons Breast Reconstruction Group, less than 20 per cent of mastectomy patients will choose to undergo breast reconstruction. Many are unaware of their options, especially the fact that reconstructive surgery — unlike its cosmetic counterpart — is covered by provincial health insurance.

“What a lot of patients don’t realize is what happens after the cancer,” Wong said. “They don’t realize that breast reconstruction is part of the treatment.”

“We have the liberty of resources here, just not a lot of patients are aware of it,” she added.

Breast reconstruction can be performed concurrently with mastectomy or at a later time, depending on the characteristics and stages of the cancer. According to surgeon Dr. Kevin Wong, however, it’s never too late to consider the option.

“If patients feel having a breast will help with their body image, they should go for it. But if they are not so sure about it, there is no time limit.”