THE DITTO AND MASTECTOMY BRA PROJECTS OF REACH FOR RECOVERY CAPE PENINSULA BRANCH – PROVIDING SELF-CONFIDENCE TO BREAST CANCER PATIENTS
A FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN SUPPORTED BY APFFELSTAEDT, HOOSAIN & ASSOCIATES
All photography undertaken by Michel Dei-Cont and all photographs to be credited as such
The Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery (RFR) in the Western Cape assists breast cancer patients through the Ditto Project by providing a silicone prosthesis. These are produced locally, in a wide range of sizes and colours and are individually fitted to each woman.
Women are also provided with ‘softies’ that are used whilst wounds are healing (provided by volunteers, who are not necessarily breast cancer survivors). One of the Reach for Recovery volunteers teaches how to make them and the material and stuffing is provided to the sewers. These are provided with little, knitted pouches to keep them in (provided by Roselle, a member of the Tokai Knitting Club, who knits them in memory of her friend who passed away from cancer).
Why was the mastectomy bra developed?
In May 2022, the Cape Peninsula branch of the Ditto Project also started offering a new, subsidised mastectomy bra. This has been a development project in collaboration with Thursdays Lingerie – to provide a locally made mastectomy bra at a price point that was accessible.
The Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery (RFR) had been looking into the development of a mastectomy bra for some time, with the idea originating during RFR’s 50th birthday celebrations in Mossel Bay.
State patients do not have the luxury of shopping at a mastectomy boutique for a proper mastectomy bra after they have received an external breast from the Ditto Project. Many of them do not have access to either the proper bra or the correct size, so vital for supporting the external prosthesis.
Most mastectomy bras are imported and very costly.
As a result of Covid-19, the previous company with whom the Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery were working with in 2019, could no longer assist. Shona Macdonald, founder of Thursdays Lingerie & Swimwear, contacted Stephanie van Deventer (National Manager of Reach for Recovery) on 2 March 2020 to see how they could be of assistance.
Carla Lind – Regional Chair for Reach for Recovery Western Cape and volunteer Michele Coe, spearheaded the project. They were given permission by Stephne Jacobs – Reach for Recovery Chairperson and Stephanie van Deventer, to work with the Cape Peninsula branch on a mastectomy bra pilot. Whilst lockdown delayed the project considerably, the development of the bra went ahead.
Mercia Abrahams became the test model after her mastectomy (dressed in the red jacket in the visual). Mercia is also the official fitter for the Ditto prosthesis at the Cape Peninsula branch.
BEAUTIFUL STATE PATIENTS VOLUNTEER FOR A PHOTOSHOOT
When Reach for Recovery came into my life, I felt that I was not alone. I felt supported. I felt loved, I felt cared for. It’s so remarkable what these volunteers do. It’s made my journey remarkable. It’s all been one, amazing, blessed journey. The Ditto Project gave me a shape! Wearing a fitted prosthesis in the right bra makes you feel good. Like a woman should. When I step out, I feel like a WOMAN; beautiful and gorgeous.
The day I learnt about the operation was the scariest day I have ever had. I asked: “why me, what did I do to deserve this”, but the most fearful question was “will I ever be a woman enough”? I knew that I had to accept this, I prayed and had to understand that it was not about getting the perfect body. It was about my life as a whole. I started getting comfortable with the idea of saving my life by cutting a part of me off. It has made me stronger than I was. I have come to understand that whatever you give energy to grows and I am in control of my life.
As much as I was already comfortable with myself, I was comfortable with no self-confidence because of the constant fear of my fake breast falling out, or if I didn’t place it properly, or while running or at a groove it would somehow get exposed. I enjoyed this photoshoot so much because it made me feel whole again. I used to have the “abantu bazothini syndrome” which translates to “what will people say”. This experience has helped me to overcome that fear. I can proudly say now I am an unstoppable woman. I am an imbokodo✊ Life goes on! Aluta continua]
Reach for Recovery came at the right time. I was diagnosed at an early age and it was really shocking, so I was feeling both depressed and shattered. It was all taking place during Covid-19 and Reach for Recovery came to the hospital. I was really grateful to be connected. When the prosthesis then came along, it was a huge change for me. My self-confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low and this made an enormous difference. When I then got the mastectomy bra, it was an even more enormous difference. I felt like a whole woman again. I will remember this photoshoot forever. It gave me confidence that I didn’t even know that I was capable of. The little things make a huge difference when you’re going through something like this. The Ditto Project is literally a life-saver.
More about Thursdays lingerie and swimwear
In the words of Shona – owner of Thursdays Lingerie and creator of the mastectomy bra with the Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery:
“Speaking to the Ditto Project, and their mission to help breast cancer survivors feel comfortable in their bodies post-surgery, really resonates with my initial reasons for launching Thursdays. Designing a bra that can give these women a sense of self pride, allowing them to recognise themselves in the mirror and feel beautiful in public spaces, is so meaningful. Our vocation is to help women see themselves through the kind and loving eyes of their best friend.”
Thursdays is a proudly South African brand. Despite the decimation of the textile industry, especially felt in the underwear manufacturing sub-sector, Thursdays is committed to producing their products locally. Their designer has over 30 years of experience in ladies’ underwear construction, and they outsource their production to a female sewing contractor who specialises in supportive intimate wear.
Thursdays is offering the mastectomy bras at a special, low-margin rate for the Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery because of the important work that they do helping state patients during their recovery period.
In support of breast cancer month, Thursdays Lingerie is donating 5% of any purchase of the Carla Mastectomy Bra via their e-commerce site to the Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery.
Reach for Recovery and Dr Justus Apffelstaedt: supporting patients in the breast cancer journey
Doctor Justus Apffelstaedt is collaborating with the national non-profit breast cancer support group Reach for Recovery to raise awareness and funds for their Ditto Project, which provides silicone prostheses to women with breast cancer in the Western Cape.
Reach for Recovery is a member of Reach to Recovery International.
Launched in 2011, the Ditto Project has provided a total of 7,784 silicone prostheses costing more than R5,9 million to women who could not afford one.
“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,” says Dr Apffelstaedt.
According to Stephné Jacobs, Chairperson of Reach for Recovery: “After an initial total suspension of our Ditto prosthesis service due to the close contact between fitter and recipients, we allowed some groups to resume the service under the current lockdown level, but our volunteers still had the choice to deliver this service. Groups in provinces who experienced large numbers of infection initially suspended fitting services, but as the situation changed for the better, they too resumed the service to patients. We are happy to report that 486 women received a subsidised silicone prosthesis compared to just 98 during the previous year (Year 1 of the Covid pandemic). This represents an increase of 388 prostheses.
Since March 2021 our groups have continued to increase their stock of prostheses to be ready to resume the fitting service when it is safe to do so. To date, total order of 635 prostheses has been placed with our service provider.”
“The Ditto Project aims to help women regain their self-confidence, giving them access to high-quality silicone breast prostheses and also assisting them – through local branches of Reach for Recovery – to ensure they choose the correct shape and size for their body,” says Jacobs.
“Having a mastectomy leads to a tier of decision making regarding whether to have surgical reconstruction, wear an external breast prosthesis, or not wear anything at all to replace the amputated breast,” says Stephanie van Deventer, national manager of Reach for Recovery.
“External breast prosthesis may be the best option a woman has, especially if she cannot either afford to or chooses not to undergo reconstructive surgery. However, not all patients can afford the cost of a permanent prosthesis. The reality is that many breast cancer patients in South Africa cannot even afford a bra, let alone a breast prosthesis.”
Dr Apffelstaedt is endorsing the NGO in its fundraising campaign by donating all money raised at any of his speaking events to the Ditto Project in the Western Cape.
In addition, Dr Apffelstaedt is funding a collaborative awareness campaign to assist Reach for Recovery in highlighting the project and driving donations.
“Reach for Recovery wants to help these women who come from low-income group to feel confident again after the traumatic diagnoses and surgery. We believe that a breast prosthesis is an important step in her recovery, especially for those women from communities where there is still a stigma attached to a cancer diagnoses. A more natural appearance with a breast prosthesis, together with the emotional support that she can continue to receive from Reach for Recovery volunteers through support groups, will help her to return to her place of employment and continue to provide for her family,” says Dr Apffelstaedt.
“We are very happy to have Dr Apffelstaedt endorsing the Ditto Project. This new collaboration, based on similar beliefs, will strongly contribute to enhancing our project through the voice of an expert on breast health management,” concludes Jacobs.
Information to donate to toward the mastectomy bra project
Cape Peninsula banking details:
Standard Bank Mowbray
Account name: Reach for Recovery Cape Peninsula
Branch code: 024909
Account number: 075220636