September 08, 2013 00:00
By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
Wacoal Thailand helps women who have undergone a mastectomy rediscover their feminity
ACTRESS ANGELINA Jolie may have succeeded in inspiring women the world over with her open editorial about her mastectomy but for the majority of women, the removal of a breast remains taboo, a subject best discussed only with doctor, family members and perhaps a close friend.
Damage to the self-esteem is inevitable in those who have lost one or both of these symbols of femininity to the knife. Many women are so worried about their physical appearance that they hide themselves away and refuse to socialise. This adds to their stress and is likely to lead to severe depression.
Thai Wacoal first started helping women rediscover confidence and life’s little pleasures back in 1985 when it introduced its first mastectomy bra.
Developed in consultation with physicians, rehabilitation specialists and patients as well as through many years of in-house research, this speciality product – the balancing bra – comprises a brassiere with a specially constructed pockets to hold and support a natural feeling prosthesis or artificial breast.
The prosthesis itself is light and easy to wear and is made of non-toxic permeable micro beads and foam then covered with soft and breathable fabric. This horizontal, teardrop-like bead form can be worn on either side and is available in 11 sizes from the smallest cup size of 65A to the biggest 95E.
The mastectomy bra is made from cotton and lycra fabric for maximum
comfort and covers much more of the breast than a regular bra. It is cut higher in the centre and on the side to conceal any marks from the operation.
“We are making products that are very close to women so we must always try hard to understand what women want no matter whether they’re happy or sad,” says Thamarat Chokwatana, the director and executive vice president of ICC, which runs Thai Wacoal.
According to the latest statistics of the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death among Thai women, with 20-25 out of every 100,000 ladies – an average of 13,000 a year – newly diagnosed. Slightly more than a third of these – 4,600 – will go on to die. More alarmingly, 33.4 percent of breast cancer patients today are under 40 years of age.
Thai Wacoal recently opened its factory to the press to explain the production process of the balancing bra. Thamarat explained at the outset of the tour that the company has worked hard over the years to ensure that the prosthesis is as close as possible to the real breast in terms of size, weight and texture, allowing for freedom of movement and complete confidence.
Nine procedures and 10 separate parts are required in assembling a prosthesis and start with the staff carefully weighing 3-mm-diametre micro beads to get the accurate cup size and injecting a small amount of micro foam into the same pocket. This pocket will then be carefully assembled with the fabric sheets to form the cup.
“The balancing bra can’t be made to look fashionable as its relies on functionality. The silicon prosthesis, which is common in the West, is not suitable for our hot climate. The cost is also high and the prosthetic breast is heavy and hard to take care of,” says Somchit Netithammakorn, the innerwear expert at the Wacoal Body Clinic.
“We’ve found that micro beads are suitable to substitute the weight of natural breast and the micro foam is mixed in to obtain a naturally soft texture. The weight of any prosthesis can be increased or decreased so that it’s as close as possible to the woman’s cup size. The anti-fungal prosthesis can also be inserted into a pocket of a swimsuit. It’s even machine washable. You just put it into an underwear laundry bag,” she adds
The balancing bra for a woman who has gone a single mastectomy should fit
her natural breast, adds Thamarat. Double mastectomy patients have the freedom to choose their bra cup size, though it is important to keep the weight of the prosthesis close to what your body is used to. This helps prevent spine and back pain caused by weight imbalances in the front of the chest.
“This speciality bra can help the body remain in balance. If the body is out of balance, musculo-skeletal problems can develop. Back, neck and shoulder problems are common. If there is no weighted breast form, the bra will ride up or move around,” says Somchit.
Three patent filings for Thai Wacoal’s prosthesis, all of them relating to the development of the technology, have been made to date. The first was in 1989 for a prosthesis made from micro beads and soft fibre and the second was in 2005 when micro foam was introduced as a substitute for the soft fibre. The most recent filing took place in June for the prosthesis covered with moulded, seamless, soft foam cups, which ensures a smooth look under clothes.
“I underwent a single mastectomy in 2005 and had no confidence about going out. My esteem suffered another blow when my other breast was removed in 2011. Luckily, I had been a Wacoal client for years and learned that its body clinic could help me. Today, I dress just like everyone else and nobody knows that I’ve lost both breasts,” says cancer survivor Jarunee Asavayingcharoensuk.
“I’m leading a normal life and have gone back to swimming regularly,” she adds.
A set comprising two prostheses and a brassiere costs nearly Bt2,000, a price that some cancer patients are unable to afford. Thai Wacoal has found a solution to this problem by setting up a balancing bra donation scheme that’s been in place since 2008. Needy women just fill in the form available at its body clinic in any leading department stores and send it to the company to receive a balancing bra set.
For the last 10 years, the body clinic has been collaborating with Siriraj and Chulalongkorn hospitals to produce surgical wear for patients during the post-surgical period.
The most recent invention – a collaborative project with Dr Kris Chatamra of Chulalongkorn University – is a post-surgical compression bra for a single mastectomy. The bra provides pressure to the operation side to promote lymph drainage while the other side has a cup to hold the natural breast. The front closure is easy to snap and adjustable with Velcro tab.
“We don’t limit our products just to breast cancer patients but also provide customised pressure garments designed for those suffering from lymphoedema to aid the flow of lymph fluid and subsequent reduction in swelling.
“Custom pressure garments for patients with burns are also made to fit tightly to control scarring and improve appearance of injured skin,” says Somchit.
THE PERFECT FIT
Wacoal Body Clinics are located at several branches of Central and Tang Hua Seng department stores. Call (02) 689 8542 or visit www.Wacoal.co.th.