Look at my chest all you want!By Wanja Wohoro
Welcome to the first 2019 installment of our monthly blog ‘Twa Stories’ where we will share with you updates, cancer information and volunteer experiences as well as let you in on some of our ambitions and goals for the future of Twa Trust. In this entry we will be talking about breast cancer and the history and impact of breast prostheses, as well as Twakutukuza’s active role in assisting patients through this diagnosis.
Cancer has become the third leading cause of death in Kenya. Medical health statistics show that annual incidence of cancer is close to 39,000 new cases with an annual mortality of over 27,000. Breast cancer affects 34 people out of every 100,0000 and contributes to 23.3% of cancer deaths in Kenya annually. As the problem grows it will become increasingly important for the public to not only be able to identify early warning signs and to get checked; but to also be informed on what is involved in the medical procedures as well as the physical and mental after- care.
In our society especially, the emotional, physical and lifestyle implications that come with cancer are often obscured from public discussion. Breast prostheses are a perfect example of this. This innovation, that has been developed since the 19th century, has become an essential part of rehabilitation and reinstating a woman’s confidence after a mastectomy.
At Twa we have made it part of our mission to provide breast prosthesis to women. In our time providing this service we have witnessed again and again the significant difference it has made to a woman’s happiness, comfort and confidence. The ladies we have encountered, when paired with a new breast of the right size and fit, are given the chance to feel like themselves again. They feel they have been granted a sense of normalcy and even beauty that they sometimes feel cancer had in some way taken from them.
William Stewart Halstead performed the first mastectomy in 1882 by at the renowned John Hopkins University in the U.S. As you can imagine, in the late 19th century this concept would have been a radical one, and was met with a great deal of contention. As the practice became more commonplace, the need for breast prostheses (though not called so at the time) became a major concern for women who had undergone the surgery. In 1889, the first breast prosthesis or ‘breast form’ was developed and patented by Jacob W. Greene. For the next century, even to this day, breast prostheses have been developed out of every conceivable material and design imaginable. They all shared a goal to recreate the shape, weight and feel of a breast – while still being comfortable for the wearer.
Thankfully, we live in an era where, though not perfect, breast prostheses have become more comfortable, affordable and practical than ever; allowing women to regain confidence after an intense and difficult period. At Twa we have loved witnessing and having a hand in providing these moments of joy to women, and can not overstate the significance of the prostheses we have distributed in empowering the women in our communities. It is important to support, research and understand these different areas of a cancer journey as a family member or even as an average citizen. Here are some testimonials from some of our amazing breast cancer victors:
“Whenever I would be speaking to people back at home, especially those who knew I had surgery, I noticed that they kept looking at my chest and could not keep eye contact with me. So I used to feel so uncomfortable. But now, now that I have my new breast, I feel very comfortable and people can look at my chest all they want!”- Johonden Waithira Kamau
“I had the choice of getting a lumpectomy but I opted for a mastectomy because I did not want to deal with the psychological trauma of wondering if the cancer was still present. My husband also encouraged me because he told me that he did not fall in love with my breasts – he fell in love with me. I feel so confident with my new breast form and at least now my young son will be happy for me too.” -Justina Makau
“I used to go for my chemotherapy treatment at the Nairobi Radiotherapy Centre and they introduced me to Twakutukuza Trust where I attended one of their events called Celebrate Life. At the event, I learnt that I could obtain a breast form from Twakutukuza but they told me I had to wait for about six weeks after I had completed my radiotherapy treatment.
When I was told that I would have a mastectomy in May 2017, I lost so much weight. I could not eat and I did not want to face the surgery. But I am smiling today…I look normal with my breast form.“
Twakutukuza’s goal from the beginning has been to care for cancer patients in many different regards; assisting with medical bills or through empowering patients and their families emotionally and physically during and after their contact with cancer.
We have witnessed firsthand the real-life implications of the often frightening cancer statistics that are published every year. At Twa we have been so blessed to be able to interact with so many people within different communities. At the heart of what we do is unifying our community and activating them to create change for those who are affected by cancer, and struggling.
So to all the breast cancer victors we say, wear your prosthesis proudly and let others look at your chest all they want!
To learn more about how you can support Twa and our various projects, including providing breast prostheses to women, head to our Angel Support Network or Volunteering pages on our website. Join our community and live on purpose. We would love to have you as part of our family.
If you are a Twa volunteer or have received support from us and would like to share your Twa story, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for a review. We look forward to hearing from you!