As of mid-October, the Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery will be providing subsidized mastectomy bras to state patients who receive prostheses from them through the Cape Peninsula branch of the Ditto Project. The bra will cost patients between R120-00 to R150-00 (dependent on size).
The Ditto Project and Mastectomy Bra
“State patients do not have the luxury of shopping at a mastectomy boutique for a proper mastectomy bra after receiving a breast prosthesis from The Ditto Project,” says Regional Chair of the Western Cape, Carla Lind.
“Most state patients do not wear a proper bra or the correct size needed to support the external prosthesis. Mastectomy bras are also imported and very costly. The actual cost of the bra (to us) is a discounted R345 and we are subsidizing the difference between our purchase price and the price to patients to the best of our ability. Patients have indicated a willingness to buy from us should they have funds available.”
The journey to the mastectomy bra
With Covid-19, the previous company which the Cape Peninsula branch of Reach for Recovery was working within 2019, couldn’t assist anymore. Shona Macdonald, founder of Thursdays Lingerie & Swimwear, contacted the National Manager of Reach for Recovery, Stephanie van Deventer on 2 March 2020 to see how they could be of assistance to Reach for Recovery.
Carla Lind is the Regional Chair for Reach for Recovery Western Cape. Along with volunteer Michele Coe, they ran with the project and were given permission to use the Cape Peninsula branch for a mastectomy bra pilot project by Reach for Recovery Chairperson, Stephne Jacobs and National Manager, Stephanie van Deventer.
Mercia Abrahams (photograph on the right) has become the test model after her mastectomy (and is also the official fitter for the Ditto prosthesis at Cape Peninsula branch).
Providing the necessary support
“Speaking to Carla Lind and Michele Coe at the Cape Peninsula branch and finding out more about their mission to help breast cancer survivors feel comfortable in their bodies post-surgery really resonated with my initial reasons for launching Thursdays.”
“Designing a bra that can give these women a sense of self-pride, allowing them to recognize 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.”
“It has taken a long time to find a local company willing to produce a mastectomy bra according to very specific specifications that align with our Ditto prosthesis, and on a scale that makes it cost-effective,” says Lind. Macdonald adds:
“The addition of mastectomy bras to our product portfolio not only enables us to give women the support they need to confidently wear their prosthetic and, in that, regain a sense of self but, we are optimistic it will provide a regular flow of work to enable us to continue investing in the skills development of female garment workers.
We are looking forward to introducing a strong and proudly South African alternative to the scarce variety of imported mastectomy bras currently available.”
The design and difference of a mastectomy bra
The product development process for creating any type of underwear is iterative and becomes even more complex when adding the weight of an external prosthesis.
Thursdays Lingerie and Swimwear used their supportive Cape Everlasting Wireless Bralette pattern as a baseline for the mastectomy bra. After consultation with Reach for Recovery, this was then developed into the mastectomy bra specification.
The bra specification provides more coverage than the baseline bra pattern. It is also designed to hold the weight of a silicon prosthesis. An internal, stretch mesh layer acts as a thin pocket on both breasts to allow the prosthesis to easily slide in and be kept firmly in place during wear. The pattern grading allows a fit for both smaller and bigger sizes.
The team went through three sample rounds, adjusting the pattern for the ultimate fit, before grading the pattern to fit smaller and bigger sizes. The bra also features a wide under band (the band that goes under the cups and round the back).
The under band is an important feature of a mastectomy bra. They help the bra to stay in place and are often wider than on a standard bra.
The straps on a mastectomy bra are also wider than those on a standard bra. This is more comfortable for most women, especially those who are overweight. For example, wearing a size 12 prosthesis can be very heavy.
Dr. Justus Apffelstaedt, a specialist surgeon with a special interest in breast health and supporter of The Ditto Project, says:
“There are a possible 44 bra sizes that can be made to fit the 12 prosthetics sizes. The Reach for Recovery team have been collecting patient data so they can more accurately determine which sizes to focus on.
This project is one that we wholly support as it is extremely important for women to feel good about their bodies post a mastectomy and, even more importantly, that the devices that are used properly support a prosthesis. This makes it not only far more comfortable to wear, but also greatly assists with both emotional and mental healing post a breast cancer diagnosis.”
“A size curve has been developed that will be used just for fitting. A monthly order will be submitted, based on demand, thereby minimising waste and providing the best possible support for the patients.”
Apffelstaedt concludes: “The work that The Ditto Project already does in terms of providing prostheses is incredibly valuable. The addition of a mastectomy bra to this service, by the Cape Peninsula Reach for Recovery branch, is a commendable pilot.
The branch is completely reliant on fundraising for the work that they do and yet are still committed to carrying 50% of the cost of the mastectomy bra. Any donations to the Cape Peninsula branch for this specific project will enable them to help even more women.”
Cape Peninsula Reach for Recovery banking details:
Standard Bank Mowbray
Account: Reach for Recovery Cape Peninsula
Branch code: 024909
Account number: 075220636
About Reach for Recovery
Reach for Recovery is an international non-profit organisation that has operated in South Africa since 1967.
About Dr Justus Apffelstaedt
Dr. Justus Apffelstaedt is a specialist surgeon with a particular interest in breast, thyroid, and parathyroid health management, as well as soft tissue surgical oncology.
He has dedicated his professional life to breast, thyroid, and parathyroid health management, and soft tissue tumours. Dr. Apffelstaedt has published several peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, both nationally and internationally. He has also presented several invited papers at national and international scientific meetings. Additionally, he has had several scientific papers read at national and international scientific meetings.
The main interest in his field of expertise is to bring academic excellence in breast, thyroid, and parathyroid health matters within reach of everyone. Dr. Justus Apffelstaedt is registered as a specialist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).