News & Media

Financial boost for custom prosthesis maker

When Kerry Dankochik was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, dealing with the flat spot on her chest after her mastectomy wasn't exactly her top priority.

It was "further down the list from survival," the Winnipeg mother of two, who ultimately chose to forego breast reconstruction, said Tuesday.

Instead, Dankochik, who was 46 at the time, turned to Wendy Smith, a local prosthetist whose quest to build a better breast for women who have undergone a full or partial mastectomy just got a $97,000 financial boost from the federal government.

The funding was announced by Conservative MP Joy Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul) at a press conference Tuesday at bressanté, Smith's one-woman, Main Street business specializing in custom breast prosthesis.

"In Canada, an average of 64 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer daily. With the financial support of our government, companies like bressanté will be making a substantial difference in the lives of these women," said Smith.

The funding came from the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

Smith, who worked at Health Sciences Centre for 15 years making prosthetic arms and legs, said she created bressanté to give women a more comfortable and lifelike alternative to the mass-produced synthetic breasts on the market.

"Women need very specialized care when it comes to breast-cancer surgery," said Smith, who lost her favourite aunt to the disease.

Comfort can't be overrated, she said. Wearing a commercial prosthesis "can be like wearing uncomfortable underwear the rest of your life."

By contrast, bressanté's silicone breasts weigh half as much and match the wearer's skin tone and unique breast shape. Smith even creates areolas and nipples that look exactly like the client's own. Beauty marks and tattoos, such as a heart, flower or dolphin, can further add a personal touch.

Bressanté breasts, which have a self-adhesive back and fit inside any bra, are custom moulded from a "personal casting kit" that women can use in the comfort of their own home.

At $3,950 (includes the kit and the finished product), they're more expensive than their off-the-shelf counterparts. The typical shelf life, according to Smith, is about five years.

Dankochik is not alone in opting out of breast reconstruction following mastectomy. The Canadian Press recently reported that only a small percentage of Canadian women appear to opt for the procedure despite its track record for safety. Rates in Canada have actually been low -- 7.7 per cent in Ontario in 1994-95 according to one study -- the article stated.

Dankochik, a former X-ray technician, said she wasn't prepared to take the risk and is happy with her prosthetic breast.

"This, body image wise, was sufficient for me," she said.