For this breast cancer awareness month, we are highlighting our community partner, the Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia (BCWA). In addition to raising awareness of and providing crucial resources to women diagnosed with breast cancer, they also offer vital material and emotional support – think wigs and scuba diving retreats! Continue reading to learn more about what you need to know about breast cancer, what BCWA does, and how you can get involved with BCWA.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Could you please tell us a bit about the BCWA?
Breast Cancer Welfare Association was founded in 1986 by medical specialists, who realised the need for peer support for women with breast cancer. It is a tax-exempt organisation registered with the Registrar of Societies Malaysia, and a member of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and Reach to Recovery International (RRI).
What services do you offer to women with breast cancer?
BCWA has a two-pronged approach in its services: 1) Improving the quality of life for women with breast cancer through psychosocial and material support, and 2) reducing the risk of premature mortality by providing public education, conducting clinical breast examination and advice for further investigation and timely medical treatment.
What are the 3 most important things women need to know about breast cancer?
First, early detection and prompt medical treatment saves lives. For a majority of patients, breast cancer is not the end of the road. With advancement in treatment and drugs, the five-year survival rate is 89% for women whose cancer has not spread beyond the breast. Women are advised to take charge of their own breast health so that early detection and prompt medical treatment can save their breasts and life.
Second, be familiar with your breasts and treat your body like the temple it is. Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. But monthly menstruation, pregnancy, age and weight changes may alter the shape, size and feel of the breast. Most changes are harmless but unusual and persistent changes need to be checked by a doctor. Your lifestyle is also important for general health. So be disciplined – adopt a healthy diet and stay active.
Finally, learn how to do a breast self-examination and make a habit of checking periodically. Being breast aware will help to pick up any tumours that grow between your annual check-ups. Breast self-examination (BSE) is still the most recommended method to take charge of your breast health. It’s free and only takes you 5-10 minutes. Take note: doing a cursory checking of the breasts during a shower at anytime of the month does not constitute proper BSE. Just like your facial beauty routine, give your breasts a little care regularly once a month!
"[B]reast self-examination can be a useful and important screening tool, especially when combined with: regular physical exams by a doctor; mammography; ultrasound, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or both" (Breastcancer.org).
How can people get involved with the BCWA?
BCWA offers a Train-the-trainers programme to turn volunteers into trainers to conduct public awareness education through talks and workshops. We also offer Reach to Recovery training to enable survivors to provide psychosocial and emotional support to help other women cope with life during and after diagnosis and treatment. We even have a Thimble Thumb team which meets weekly to sew temporary prostheses which are distributed in kits to breast cancer patients who have just undergone mastectomies.