A Look at Breast Cancer Awareness Month by Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson
Breast Cancer Awareness Month rolls around in October, but for me, every month is about breast cancer awareness. My entire career as a Radiation Oncologist has been built around the treatment of women (and men) with cancer, so it’s part of my day, every day.
As the daughter of a medical oncologist, I grew up in a household where breast cancer was discussed at the dinner table, especially when my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother were all together. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were breast cancer survivors. During medical school I decided to dedicate my life to caring for women, and became a radiation oncologist. After years of vigilant breast surveillance, biopsies and genetic counseling, I underwent a cutting-edge procedure that is now considered pretty conventional – double prophylactic mastectomy and direct-to-implant breast reconstruction. I was a mother of four small children and was really high risk, and didn’t want to become the fourth generation of breast cancer patient in my family. After recovering from the surgery, I joined the team of reconstructive surgeons who treated me, to begin helping other women through that decision-making and recovery practices. So at that point I was working at two medical practices, radiation oncology and plastic surgery.
I realized that patients had needs that went beyond just the clinical. There were certain items every person having particular types of surgery needed. There were also questions that every patient would ask, like “What should I bring to the hospital? Why does this surgical bra hit just were my drains exit? What bra should I wear after surgery to optimize the outcome?” etc. I began to make lists of things patients needed to bring to the hospital and I gave these lists to patients. Pretty soon I was packing bags of little things for recovery for my patients. I guess a little seed got planted in my mind that there was a market for this. Next thing I knew, the BFFL Bag® was born.
In creating the BFFLBag®, I also answered the questions that many family members and friends ask when a loved one gets breast cancer. “How can help her?” Before surgery send her a BFFLBag® so that she does not have to pack. The BFFLBag® is a friend-to-friend care bag containing comfort, medical, personal care and rehabilitation items for hospital patients recovering from cancer and other surgeries or treatments. Unlike the disposable plastic or nonwoven bags of supplies sent home from most hospital stays, the BFFLBag® is fashionable, brightly-patterned and mood-lifting. It’s made of water- and stain-resistant high-quality nylon pack cloth, and it has metal feet, so as not to touch the hospital floor. I spent a lot of time thinking about the little touches and features of the bag that would really say to a patient “you’re cared about.” The breast bag contains all the essentials for recovery from mastectomy or other breast surgery. We’ve included everything from a healthy KIND bar for energy and strength to wound care supplies to toiletries to a collapsible water bottle that won’t roll off the bed. The highlight of the bag, though, is the axillapilla® comfort pillow. It’s made of soft microdenier fabric and filled with millions of microbeads so it’s lightweight and comfortable. It’s heart-shaped, so it fits under the axilla, or underarm area, and takes pressure off an area which is often swollen and sore after breast surgery.
There are a few tips that any friend can follow to helping a friend:
- Bring her a BFFLBag—there are hours of entertainment and excitement going through the BFFLBag and a deck of cards for waiting, notepad for remembering what the MD’s say
- Accompany her to every appointment, treatment, so she never has to sit alone or wonder who will “hold her purse.”
- Hug your friend—you can’t get cancer from someone through hug, but you certainly can give love and make her feel connected
- Avoid hugging and hand holding if your friend is receiving chemo
- Don’t focus on her cancer, talk about the other things you have in common
- Take her for a walk or some exercise
- Take her for lunch with friends. It always feels good to be included
- Remember to take care of yourself—physical and emotional help; it’s not good for a friend to get run down or sick while caring for another
I look at Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a way of opening up a discussion between friends, colleagues and family, so that women remember to get their mammogram and take care of themselves. Breast cancer is a problem that is not going away.
More about the author
Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson is a Radiation Oncologist and Founder of BFFL Co (www.bfflco.com), a company whose mission is to improve patient experience. BFFL CO brings new products to market that help patients recover and feel dignified in the process.
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Photo: Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson in BBFL Co Warehouse (Courtesy of Westfair Online)