The difference a year can make

Nisa Howe Lobb was in a very different place when she attended Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day last year. This year, she hopes to inspire others having reached ‘the other side.’

Nisa

Almost a year ago exactly, Nisa Howe Lobb was sitting among more than 200 women attending Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, and terrified.

“I’m a confident person – I thought I was mentally prepared,” recalls Nisa of the educational evening at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London. “There were moments when my heart was racing.  You wonder ‘what am I going to look like? Am I still going to look like myself? Will my identity feel different?” 

Today, Nisa feels whole and happy, and she wants to reassure others that they will get there too.

The 50-year old will be among the speakers at BRA Day 2017, where women seeking information about breast reconstruction after a mastectomy can learn about their options directly from London plastic surgeons, hear from women who have undergone the surgery, and view real results firsthand in the women’s only ‘show and tell lounge.’ St. Joseph’s has been hosting BRA Day for the past six years. This year’s event will take place on Oct. 18.

Nisa

 At this time last year, Nisa was contemplating a prophylactic (preventative) double mastectomy. Diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2016 and having undergone a lumpectomy shortly thereafter, the Grade 4 teacher from Goderich had just completed chemotherapy when she came to hear what surgeons and patients had to say about her reconstruction options. 

Breast cancer was Nisa’s second cancer diagnosis. She had overcome colon cancer in 2004 at age 37. Not wanting to constantly worry about the breast cancer returning, Nisa chose to have a double mastectomy.  

“It was something I needed to do for my own peace of mind. I know I would suffer mentally wondering if my breasts were going to produce new cancers. I did not want to live with that stress or take that chance.”

 On Nov. 8, 2016, Nisa underwent the surgery and immediate reconstruction.

“I woke up with implants and today, I’m happy with how I look.”

An effervescent Nisa exudes a positive energy and feels she can offer hope – and humour – to others who may be as frightened as she was on BRA Day.

“I got a really nice pair of twins here,” laughs Nisa about her new breasts. “I don’t have nipples, but I don’t care. I’m really happy with the results. But when you don’t know what’s coming, it’s hard. I know what it feels like to be sitting there (at BRA Day). I can recognize the fear. BRA Day makes it all very real. But being on the other side, I can also bring some levity and reassurance.” 

An active person, Nisa discovered a lump in her right breast after an exercise class left her with sore chest muscles and she was “poking around” the tender area. Unperturbed, “I let it slide for a few weeks thinking it couldn’t be anything.”

She was still unfazed when sent for an ultrasound and mammogram but reality hit when further testing at St. Joseph’s Breast Care Program determined it was triple positive breast cancer – a more aggressive form of the cancer.

Nisa traveling

Nisa’s journey of care would not be without its bumps. While undergoing chemotherapy, a bad reaction to one of the drugs landed her in the intensive care unit, twice. But these days the mother-of-two is back in the classroom and immersed in a busy school year.

“A year later the anxiety is gone. I’ve carried on with my regular life. You have to tell yourself that you’re going to get through it. You’re going to get to the other side. By speaking at BRA Day, I hope I can help someone see just that.”

Nisa traveling

If you go: Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, Oct. 18

Most women who undergo mastectomy are not told of their options and do not have reconstruction despite the emotional, physical and practical benefits the surgery is known to have. On Oct. 18 at St. Joseph’s Hospital, anyone seeking information about breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is invited to Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, an informative evening that allows women to:

  • learn about reconstruction options directly from plastic surgeons
  • hear from women who have undergone the surgery
  • view real results first hand in the women’s only ‘show and tell lounge’
  • discover the “Circle of Sharing”, a unique support group that helps women who have undergone breast reconstruction reclaim wholeness 

Where: St. Joseph’s Hospital, Shuttleworth Auditorium (Zone D, Level 0) from 7 to 9:30 pm. Closest entrance is Cheapside Entrance 4.

Registration: BRA Day is free but registration is required. Online registration is available at www.sjhc.london.on.ca/bra-day-2017  

Host: BRA Day is a national educational and awareness campaign hosted by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

What is breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is surgery to recreate all or part of a breast that has been removed by mastectomy. A breast can be reconstructed with an implant, the woman’s own body tissue, or a combination of an implant and body tissue. Most women who are having or have had a mastectomy are candidates for breast reconstruction. Women who have had a lumpectomy may also have options for reconstructing partial breast defects.

Find more information on what’s involved in breast reconstruction, what the new breast will look and feel like, when can surgery be performed, and much more.

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