NEW ORLEANS -- The first national Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, or BRA Day as it is called for short, had its premier kick-off in New Orleans at one of the top specialty surgery centers in the country.
Doctors from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons were in town to talk about the alarming number of women who don't know their options.
In pink and costumes, they danced on St. Charles Avenue to Psy's "Gangam Style" and Shania Twain's "I Feel Like a Woman." But behind the celebration, there was a serious topic.
NOLA first lady Cheryl Landrieu talked about the loss of cousin Kelly Harper Miller. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., talked about the reason he co-sponsored the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act, so all women facing a mastectomy know reconstruction must be covered by insurance.
Top reconstructive plastic surgeons delivered a message.
"Only 20 percent of women with breast cancer are getting reconstructed in the United States, and in fact 70 percent of women who are facing breast cancer aren't informed of their options for breast reconstruction," said Dr. Malcolm Z. Roth, the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
And here's something else that a lot of women don't know. There's not only a mandate that insurance companies pay for the reconstruction of the breast that did have cancer, but there's also a mandate that they pay for the reconstruction of the opposite breast, the well breast, so that it has symmetry with the other one.
"Modern plastic surgeons have developed techniques that are sophisticated enough not only to give back breast shape and clothing, but to actually produce beauty and that's the word that we're trying to get out to women affected by breast cancer," said surgeon Dr. Frank DellaCroce, of The Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans.
Reconstruction is best done in the same surgery as the mastectomy. Breasts can even look untouched by a scalpel. But it also can be done later and doesn't affect survival or recurrence rate of cancer.
"It doesn't at all decrease their survival chances and we've known for years that women who do get reconstruction are less likely to suffer bouts of depression. They return to work sooner. They return to social situations sooner and women who delay their reconstruction and years later embark on that and go through the reconstructive procedures, when they finish and they get to the end of the road, they say, 'I feel whole again,'" said Dr. Roth.
Being physically whole again gives them emotional wholeness as well.
"Just because the scars are hidden under clothing, don't mean they're still not there. Breast reconstruction has the capacity to remove the injury that's often associated with breast cancer treatment," explained Dr. DellaCroce.
As many as 89 percent of women want to see other women's reconstruction results before treatment for their breast cancer. Women come from all over the world to The Center for Restorative Breast Surgery at 1717 St. Charles Avenue. Many to fix previous reconstructions without good results and lymphedema.