BRAC1 Gene Mutation
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS)
Double Mastectomy July 29, 2015
Final Reconstruction November 4, 2016
Corinne and Her Breasts Were Not a Perfect Match
by Corinne Villavaso
Following my double mastectomy and first phase reconstruction, I remember looking in the mirror thinking ‘UGH!!!’ I felt so very disfigured and incomplete as a woman. As the months passed and my ongoing surgical renewal process progressed, I became more depressed and angry about my appearance. My self-esteem and confidence hit an all-time low. I no longer had any desire to get dressed and be seen in public.
Following the recovery period from my third reconstructive surgery, I decided I was ready to transition from those awful unflattering surgical compression bras to ‘regular pretty’ bras. With that exciting thought, I went through my bra collection in my dresser drawers, only to discover that I could no longer fit any of my bras. My excitement went directly to frustration as I looked at the pile of useless bras on the floor. Trying to remain positive, I thought, “I have to shop for new bras”.
A few days later I went to an intimate apparel store to begin my ‘new bra collection’ shopping excursion. Upon entering this busy store, a clerk politely greeted me “Welcome…how can I help?” I responded, “I am looking for some new bras.” She then asked “What size are you?” When I responded “I am not really sure” she quickly followed up with “Well, what size bra do you have on now?” Of course, I was wearing my post-surgery bra so I was now compelled to uncomfortably and quietly explain my situation to her. The sales associate then escorted me, without any explanation, to a fitting room area passing me to another clerk for assistance. I found myself in an extremely long line with others needing to be sized. As I waited and waited, my anxiety levels steadily increased as I thought about “How am I going to explain this AGAIN in front of all these people”.
Finally, here we go; it was now my turn. “Hello, ma’am; do you know your current size?” the clerk asked. I replied “No”. She gave me this dismayed look as if to say ‘how you do not know your bra size’ as she put me in a fitting room.
Again, I waited and waited and waited. I grew increasingly inpatient and equally frustrated. I did not want to explain my situation yet again. In my utter discouragement I made a decision. I decided I would not subject myself to scrutiny by those who did not understand my situation, so I just WALKED OUT of the fitting room and out of the store.
I am sure one who has not experienced cancer wonders how could something as simple as a bra fitting cause depression, especially after successfully completing numerous surgeries and beating breast cancer. As a woman, how undergarments fit and feel on your body makes a significant difference. How you feel on the inside and how you look on the outside are emotionally linked.
Reflecting on my experience, I wondered how many women face the same challenges, emotions and frustrations I had. I surveyed family, friends and women in the doctor’s office waiting room and they all confirmed for me that my feelings and encounters were real and not uncommon.
I also learned from many conversations with other breast cancer patients, that the affordability of mastectomy bras is also a challenge for many. Focusing of that issue, I contacted one of the major bra retailers in the country asking if they participated in a program to assist post mastectomy and breast reconstruction patients with new bras. Their answer was “No, but we give to Susan G. Komen”. Again my frustration began to build as I thought, “What about me and all the other women out here dealing with a problem that should be so simple to resolve”. I realized at that moment that the major focus of cancer funding is based around cancer research and awareness. I thought, what about us in the trenches living with the fallout of this disease who have lost our confidence because our bodies have been altered; alterations that emotionally took away a large part of the true essence of what we feel makes us a woman.
Seeking answers and guidance, I called my cousin Hannah who at the time was in remission from breast cancer. I asked her what her thoughts were about an organization that could assist breast cancer patients and survivors with their aesthetic recovery by providing support and services that included make-up, nail care, hair, wigs and bras. She thought it was a fabulous idea, talking for an hour and half enthusiastically advising me. Her conversation with me was very inspiring, motivational, encouraging, empowering me to take action to help those who met with the same roadblocks and frustrations I experienced.
Several weeks following that inspirational call, I again talked with Hannah at a party. She informed me of the bad news that ‘the cancer was back’. Noticing the sad look on my face she said, “Don’t worry about me, I am gonna be fine you just take care of yourself for those babies.” Trying to change the subject, she then said, “I am on my way to Speckle T’s to listen to Michael Soulman Baptiste”. I asked her “How are you so resilient? I wish I was as strong as you.” She responded “Chile, no matter how you feel, get up, get dressed and go”. She hugged me and rubbed my baby on his head and said “I will see y’all later”.
On October 7, 2016 Hannah lost her fight to breast cancer.
Reflecting on her excitement about my desire to be a help to those living with cancer, Hannah’s Klozèt’s Foundation Incorporated (Hannah’s Klozèt) was founded.
The mission of Hannah’s Klozèt is to serve as a practical non-clinical environment providing emotional support, supportive amenities, holistic coaching and educational services for those living with cancer.
Hannah’s Klozèt’s Foundation Incorporated (Hannah’s Klozèt) is a 501c3 non-profit organization formed out of an unmet need experienced by its founder, a cancer survivor, and shared by many battling or living with cancer.
Medical science continues making great strides towards giving those stricken with cancer an extended life with great quality. Psychiatrists and psychologists offer the medically based therapeutic tools for mentally coping with the ramifications of cancer. Many Oncology Centers provide patient advocates for coordinative assistance navigating through the medical process of treatments, doctor visits and clinical services. Clinical services associated with the medical community provide myriads of written information and classes on the “dos and don’ts” to remain ‘healthy’ while living with cancer.
All the medical elements fundamental to a good quality life during cancer recovery and living with cancer are in place, but how does the individual with cancer actually process, implement and incorporate all the information and medical care into their new routine for life.
How do we prepare or purchase meals that are necessary for our survival while being amenable to the family? Who do we call upon when unable to drive and unable to find a responsible or economically viable transportation alternative for medical appointments? As a woman with cancer, who in the community is available to provide those commonplace aesthetic amenities such as nail care, skin care treatments, spa services and make-up now that service delivery must be modified because of our situation? What hair care services are available to us as our hair experiences the effects of chemotherapy? Whose understanding, guidance and assistance do we seek if we have no hair at all? As a woman with breast cancer who is available with understanding and compassion to assist in our search for undergarments as we try to regain a sense of feminity and confidence in spite of the forced alterations to our breasts?
Sprouting from the unfortunate lack of a readily available single and comprehensive source for information and services guidance to address these non-medical special needs of cancer patients, especially women with cancer, Hannah’s Klozèt was born. Hannah’s Klozèt’s fundamental aim is functioning as a liaison in developing and nurturing a community network providing cancer patients, especially women with cancer, informed and readily available resources for those non-clinical but extremely important needs incorporated in daily living with cancer.
Hannah’s Klozèt is actively focusing on addressing three elements of the many identified non-clinical services important in achieving a good quality life in cancer recovery and living with cancer.
Hannah’s Klozèt is committed, through its coordinated efforts, to locate practical and economic resources for food preparation or meal purchase with consideration of the patient and the family unit. As an added effort in cooperation with trained culinary personnel and dieticians, hands on healthy meal preparation demonstrations will be scheduled at floating venues.
To assist those patients actively undergoing treatment regimens and having transportation needs unable to be fulfilled by a patient’s personal network, Hannah’s Klozèt is partnering with car services suppliers such as Uber/Lyft in delivering transportation vouchers. Additionally, Hannah’s Klozèt will offer prepaid gas cards to help defray the economic cost of transportation that often presents a hardship to patients. Hannah’s Klozèt will serve as the intermediary in this process by allowing physicians’ offices and clinics providing treatment services to identify the need and fulfill the patient’s transportation necessities based on their knowledge of the particular patient situation.
The third focus element of Hannah’s Klozèt is to function as an integral part of rebuilding cancer patient self-confidence from the inside, as well projecting that confidence to the outside world. The Hannah’s Klozèt Foundation believes that liberation from the negative self-conscious feelings associated with body alterations from cancer or its treatment regimens by enhancing the woman aesthetically is rewarding for the patient as well as their loved ones and is paramount in the emotional phase of cancer recovery.
To fulfill a commitment to its focus of rebuilding self-confidence in women with cancer, Hannah’s Klozèt is undertaking two initiatives.
- The first initiative of self-confidence renewal is developing and maintaining a community network of aesthetic professionals and their services who can and will meet the special needs of women with cancer. In knowing who and where in the community a patient can seek out the professionals possessing understanding without expanded explanation of patient special requirements, women are encouraged to return or take advantage of those beauty treatments and services that have a positive emotional impact on their feminity and self-confidence.
- The second initiative in self-confidence rebuilding is specifically addressed to women with breast cancer. In cooperation with a bra manufacturer, Hannah’s Klozèt Foundation will create and manage a bra repository for mastectomy and reconstructive surgery patients. These ladies will have the opportunity to be fit for a bra with privacy and obtain new bras centered on their special needs.
The foundation’s long term goal is to find a Home for Hannah’s Klozèt. In its future abode, Hannah’s Klozèt will be tucked within a safe and comfortable homelike atmosphere. Here cancer patients and survivors receive cancer awareness education and consultation services relating to necessary adaptations for daily living with cancer. Hannah’s Home will include the self-confidence rebuilding initiatives of Hannah’s Klozèt and its permanent venue for professionally led healthy food preparation gatherings that deliver the opportunity for hands on healthy meal preparation while networking with others living with cancer.