Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, a national event happening in select cities across Canada, is a unique experience for women to hear and see first-hand the choices that are made before, during and after breast cancer. Those who have been to the event in past years said the most compelling part of the event is the Show & Tell Lounge.
It’s an intimate experience that allows women to see real-life surgical results and gain a better understanding from women who have undergone breast surgery.
Survivor Laura McNeill organized the Calgary event. She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer close to five years ago and had a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
For the first time, she revealed her post-surgery results to a woman she’d only just met.
“After it had happened, I remember sitting on the edge of the bed in the Foothills hospital and I was sad. I was really sad,” McNeill recalled. “Nobody ever asked me, ‘How are you feeling?’ and I cried — not because they didn’t ask me but because I didn’t think they asked anybody.
“That is a huge thing to have your breasts cut off. Yes, I had implants put in, but they’re not my breasts.”
McNeill is honest about her journey and generously allowed Eileen Tissot to see her reconstruction.
“I would have to tell myself, which I even said out loud sometimes, ‘This isn’t a beauty contest. This is about living,'” McNeill said.
Tissot is only weeks into her breast cancer diagnosis.
“At first I really didn’t believe it,” she said. “I didn’t want to be weak and I didn’t want to let this thing get the best of me.”
Tissot wanted to participate in the Show & Tell experience and has been humbled by McNeill’s willingness and bravery to bare all.
“I admire how courageous and vulnerable she is.”
“I’m really grateful,” Tissot said. “I really am — that she’s done it — because now it helps me.”
McNeill’s husband, Cliff McNeill, is in awe of how his wife is inspiring others.
“Life kind of stops for a moment — more than a moment — and it’s a journey once you’re on, there’s no getting off,” McNeill said through tears. “I think it’s amazing the number of people she has connected with, and to help them walk though the process of the unknowns.”
Neither Tissot nor her husband Jerry are taking the opportunity for granted. They appreciate the vulnerability as they navigate through the beginning of their journey.
“It was like the world crashed,” Jerry Tissot said. “It’s just such a shock, you never think about it to yourself. I wished it could’ve been me instead of her because…how do I help her? You’ve got to be the fixer.”
McNeill wants to give them strength for the days, weeks and months ahead.
“It’s tough and scary and you can do it and be better.”
BRA Day takes place in Calgary on Oct. 17. It is a free event, but organizers are requesting people to register in advance.