Prosthetic breasts help cancer survivors regain self-esteem

Updated 2018-01-05 11:31:06 Xinhua

Breast cancer survivor Qi Lifang has found herself in the media spotlight after her products have helped thousands of others regain their self-esteem.

Qi, a former teacher in Yantai City of east China's Shandong Province, has created a variety of products ranging from silicone prostheses to specially designed bras, nightgowns and swimsuits for breast cancer patients recovering from surgery.

They have lyrical and auspicious names such as "Mountain Flowers in Full Bloom," "Spring Blossoms" and "Graceful Women."

"After I fit the silicone gel breast prosthesis into a special bra pocket, I felt that I regained the half I lost after surgery," said Qi, 55.

Qi found a small hollow spot on her skin one day in 2004. Four days later, she had her right breast removed.

She walked into bra stores, her head held low, to search for a bra that would fit her, but failed to find one. She had to collect material such as fiberfill, cotton and towels, and stuff them into a bra to recreate the weight and feel of a natural breast.

"It's neither comfortable nor natural. When I raised my arm, I always worried that the towel in the bra would move around," Qi said.

Like many women who have lost their breasts to cancer, Qi started suffering long-term effects following treatment, such as losing balance and lateral bending of the spine.

A fellow patient gave her a prosthetic breast as a gift in 2009.

"The silicone prosthesis, which weighed 260 grams, fit perfectly like it was tailor-made for me," she recalled.

Word spread fast to other patients. Women asked her to help them buy silicone prostheses, which are usually custom-designed based on an individual's height, age, weight and surgery.

From breast cancer patients to long-time survivors, there are needs that need to be met when it comes to bras. So Qi decided to design the products herself in her garage.

Her garage displayed numerous homemade bras abandoned by customers. They included a sponge-padded bra cup or a vest with a pocket filled with synthetic fiber.

"They were our 'breasts' when there were no silicone prostheses," Qi said.

Breast cancer is the most common malignant tumor among women. According to a 2017 cancer report, about 279,000 new breast cancer cases are reported in China each year.

The average age for Chinese women to be diagnosed with breast cancer is between 45 and 55, about 10 or even 20 years younger than their counterparts in Western countries, according to the China Anti-Cancer Association.

With improved medical technology, the treatment of breast cancer has come to include not just survival but also patients' quality of life.

In order to increase public awareness of the disease, Qi set up chat groups on social networks such as QQ and WeChat. Her groups include around 20,000 cancer patients, with 80 percent having been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She has also released 126 audio lectures on breast cancer via the popular audio-streaming service Ximalaya, drawing more than 600,000 hits.

"In China, patients often do not get tested until it is too late," said Qi. "Regular breast examinations are very important."

Six out of her 99 brand representatives across the country, all breast cancer patients, have passed away. Qi has decided to lead a meaningful life for herself, her family and her fellow survivors.

She exercises, climbs mountains and rides a bicycle. She even completed a cycling tour of France in 2010, riding 3,300 kilometers in 21 days.

"Breasts do not define you," Qi said. "If we cannot extend our life span, why not make it more complete?"

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