In a good frame of mind

She'll be strutting down the catwalk in the middle of a busy Orchard Road mall come Oct 12.

But Madam Rosalind Koh is not a professional model, and this runway walk will be a big personal milestone.

She is a breast cancer survivor. And the message she is hoping to send? That you can look good, be confident about your body and live life to the fullest, despite having had the disease.

The fashion show, which will take place at Paragon, is local support group Breast Reconstruction Awareness Singapore's debut event.

The group aims to provide information and support to breast cancer patients and to encourage more women to consider breast reconstruction, says its president, Dr Evan Woo, a consultant plastic surgeon at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Every year, more than 1,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, making it the most common cancer among Singaporean women.

Breast cancer patients often have to undergo mastectomies, which refers to the surgical removal of one or both breasts.

Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines this year when she announced that she had removed both breasts and had reconstructive surgery to avoid developing breast cancer.

Madam Koh, a manager at a local skincare product distributor, 40, was diagnosed with early stage two breast cancer in 1999 and says the mastectomy was unavoidable.

"The pea-sized lump I discovered was big compared to my small breasts, so a lumpectomy was not an option," she says.

A lumpectomy refers to a relatively non-invasive procedure to remove the tumour from a woman's breast.

To her, breast reconstruction was a way of getting life back to what it was before cancer.

"There was a time gap of one year between my mastectomy and the first reconstructive surgery. "During that time, I had to wear a prosthesis inside my bra whenever I went out, which did not make me feel comfortable. I also had to avoid tops with a scoop neckline," she says.

All that changed 13 years ago, after her reconstructive surgery.

Women like Madam Koh - who opt for reconstructive surgery - make up less than 20 per cent of women who undergo a mastectomy, says Dr Woo.

"With the breast being an essential and defining part of a woman's femininity and sexuality, mastectomies can have a negative impact on her psychological and emotional well-being," he adds.

"We have found that lack of knowledge and awareness about breast reconstruction is a major factor.

Another woman who will be walking down the catwalk is Madam Ann Ang. She was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer last year and chose to see her mastectomy surgery in a positive light.

"My doctor even asked me if I wanted to upgrade my breast size," she says with a chuckle, adding that she chose to reconstruct her left breast - which was affected by the cancer - so that it matched the size of her other breast.

The housewife and mother of two children aged 13 and eight says she cannot be more pleased about the result.

"It was a seven-hour surgery, where fat from my tummy was taken in order for my affected breast to be reconstructed.

"I woke up with a very flat tummy! My husband, who has been very supportive the entire journey said the surgeon had done a very good job, and joked that I had received a new body kit," she quips.

Her hospital bill came up to a hefty $64,000, which insurance took care of. But the chemotherapy which followed the recovery process was tough, however.

"At one point I was so afraid to wash my hair, because clumps of it would fall out," she says, referring to the side effects of her three-month treatment.

She was also bedridden for weeks after the surgery. "I had a long scar which ran horizontally across my waist area, and I could not stand straight for a month."

Still, the cheerful woman is glad she made the decision to undergo a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

"There is peace of mind, and aside from wearing bras which don't have an underwire, my life is back to normal. I'm looking forward to a possible diving trip in Bali next year," says Madam Ang, who attends dance fitness classes every day and practises qi gong.

She says: "I hope the catwalk will encourage women who have breast cancer - that one can still be confident and do the things one enjoys."

benitaay@sph.com.sg


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