Breast cancer survivors bare all for breast reconstruction awareness

The Canadian Cancer Society is hosting BRA Day — or Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day — in Regina on Oct. 19. It’s an initiative that promotes education, awareness and access for women considering mastectomy reconstruction.

'It's like paying it forward,' says breast cancer survivor Shelley Lowes

Shelley Lowes is taking part in the Show and Tell Lounge at this year's BRA Day as a way to educate other breast cancer survivors on breast reconstruction surgery options. (Rachel Zelnicker/CBC)

When Shelley Lowes underwent a double mastectomy back in 2012, she had lots of questions about reconstructive surgery, with no one to turn to.

That's why she's volunteering for the Canadian Cancer Society's BRA Day — or Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day — on Oct. 19. 

Survivors of breast cancer, like Lowes, will bare it all to educate other women about different options for breast reconstruction surgery at this year's BRA Day in Regina.

"I wish I had that opportunity after I was first diagnosed," said Lowes.

"Now to be able to do it, for myself, it's like paying it forward."

BRA Day events provide women the opportunity to learn about breast reconstruction options from plastic surgeons, hear survivors' stories, and get answers to their reconstruction questions.

A survivor's story

Lowes was diagnosed in 2012, and underwent a double mastectomy a month after her diagnosis. Two years later, she underwent reconstructive surgery.

She has been cancer-free for five years now, but still takes hormone suppressant therapy to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

I wish I had that opportunity after I was first diagnosed ... For myself, it's like paying it forward.- Shelley Lowes

Last month, Bliss Cosmetics in Regina also made a donation of nipple tattooing to three breast cancer survivors. Lowes was one of the women who had the tattoos done.

"I couldn't believe — after I was tattooed — my reaction to it. It was very, very emotional. Women need to know that," said Lowes.​

Sharing experiences

BRA Day began about four years ago when physiotherapist Tracy Gardikiotis saw a need for survivors to have this type of support and education. She started putting women in contact with one another so they could build networks.

Lowes said the women organized a "mini BRA Day," and Regina's first Show and Tell Lounge had women cramming into a tiny kitchenette area near the Pasqua Hospital Auditorium, where the first event was hosted. Now, the event is expected to draw 150 to 200 participants.

This year's event is held at Regina's RCMP Heritage Centre, and will include presentations from local surgeons on various types of breast reconstruction procedures, a panel discussion featuring women sharing their experience, and local vendors who offer reconstructive services.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Morning Edition