Breast cancer activist on body image and coping with stigma after mastectomy

A number of breast cancer patients and survivors who undergo mastectomy (surgery to remove all breast tissue from a breast as a way to treat or prevent breast cancer) encounter challenges with their body image. 

This is because the removal of the breast can affect a woman’s femininity, body balance and self-confidence.

 

As a breast cancer survivor, Phillipa Kibugu the founder of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc (BCIEA), observed this need and came up with the initiative to address the challenge.

 

Four years ago, along with her partner Barbara Demorest, she started making affordable knitted knockers (breast prosthesis) that would be accessible for every breast cancer patient who would need them. 

 

Patients from hospitals like King Faisal, University Teaching Hospital of Kigali and Butaro Cancer Centre, are among those who have so far benefited from this development.

And the recent being Rwanda Cancer Centre where over 30 breast prostheses were donated to cancer patients yesterday. 

Women who have used the knockers recommend them for being affordable, comfortable, soft, light and user-friendly. 

Oda Nsabimana, a breast cancer survivor, says she has been using them for over three years now. She says before she had access to them, she used to buy silicone prosthesis and that apart from them being expensive, they were uncomfortable and not user-friendly.

“When I wore silicone prosthesis, I had to use a cloth that separates it from my skin, but this one is easy to use. It is soft and can be washed and dries easily. It is also cheap compared to the latter that costs $250. A pair of knitted knockers costs $10,” she reveals.

Nsabimana commends the development noting that it helps breast cancer survivors in dealing with stigma and boosting their self-confidence.

Drive behind the donation 

Kibugu says she recently had a chat with Dr Fidel Rubagumya, an oncologist at Rwanda Military Hospital, who expressed a dire need for breast prosthesis for cancer patients.

“This is when we decided to reach out to them and offer some of our knitted knockers. But I have been reaching out to different hospitals, my plan is to reach out to even more so that we collaborate in making them accessible to more patients,” she says.

Kibugu hopes for more hospitals to hop on board such that they work on covering the costs of materials and labour, as this will allow patients access the kitted knockers for free.

“We want to collaborate with hospitals so that they sponsor their making and in turn patients can access them for free.”

Dr Rubagumya welcomes the initiative noting that it will help deal with the social and mental issues faced by breast cancer survivors.

He reveals that as medics, they have been hearing stories from different patients who say their lives have been devastated as a result of breast loss during surgery.

“I am not a woman but when you talk to them you listen and feel their pain. When they look at themselves in the mirror, they feel inferior since some of them have even been divorced because of that. And there is always stigma that is attached to cancer, that alone leaves the patient or survivor with a lot of issues to deal with, mental issues especially,” he says.

Dr Rubagumya says that though there is a possibility of doing breast reconstruction, the system is not there yet, “and it’s very expensive, some of our patients may not afford to do that. But at least if we have breast prosthesis, this can work in the meantime as we wait for this advancement.” 

dmbabazi@newtimesrwanda.com

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