Breast-cancer patients who have had mastectomies suffer both physical and emotional scars, but Tygerberg Hospital and a non-profit organisation are helping them overcome both.
The Ditto Project is run by Reach for Recovery at the Tygerberg Hospital Breast Clinic.
The project by Reach for Recovery, a breast-cancer support organisation, has helped more than 5800 women who can’t afford breast prostheses.
Tygerberg Hospital has helped more than 500 breast cancer patients in the past year.
The prostheses are carefully measured and fitted to each recipient.
Reach for Recovery has an office at the hospital’s breast clinic and the hospital spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar said the organisation made a point of seeing every patient diagnosed with breast cancer.
About one in ten of the hospital’s breast-cancer patients are male.
Juliana Humpreys, 62, of Atlantis was helped through the Ditto Project after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
“They conducted tests to determine if I have cancer. After a month, I was given my results. I was shocked. They then sent me for eight sessions of chemotherapy and after that, I underwent a single mastectomy at Somerset Hospital,” she said.
Fifteen days of gruelling radiation followed.
“I am quite fine now, and I have been cancer free for a year. I am so grateful for the support they have given me. Now I inspire others, who have been diagnosed with the illness,” she said.
A single breast prosthesis cost R80, she said.
The former head of the clinic, Dr Justus Apffelstaedt, continues to work with Reach for Recovery, to raise awareness and funds.
“Reach for Recovery and I share the same belief: that all women facing breast cancer must be treated with dignity, and have the same access to care, regardless of whether they can afford it. I am honoured to offer my support to this initiative for a second year as I have witnessed the power of these prostheses in recovery.”
Dr Apffelstaedt is a specialist surgeon with a particular interest in breast, thyroid and parathyroid health management, as well as soft tissue surgical oncology.
Mastectomies are often emotionally traumatic surgeries and, according to Stephanie van Deventer, national manager of Reach for Recovery, the loss of a breast can leave a painful reminder of the ordeal, but not all women can afford breast prostheses and that can thwart their efforts to get on with their lives.
“In South Africa, there have been many instances where women feel stigmatised, and obvious physical changes can affect one’s confidence. We have seen first hand how these external breast prostheses can have an immediate positive effect on self-confidence,” she said.
Dr Apffelstaedt said Reach for Recovery wanted to help women feel confident again after a traumatic diagnosis and surgery.
“We believe that a breast prosthesis can be an important step in her recovery, especially to those women from communities where there is still a stigma attached to a cancer diagnosis.”