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Special lingerie helps heal the scars of breast cancer

By Wang Yuke | | Updated: 2017-09-15 09:27

Special lingerie helps heal the scars of breast cancer

Lonna Kwan (center), owner of Comfort Me, a store that sells bras specially designed for women with breast cancer. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Compassion, commerce

Kwan opened her lingerie shop, Comfort Me, after watching a close family member go through the trials of breast cancer-the fear, the post-surgical trauma, the battering of self-esteem. Five years ago, her relative was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Shortly after, she had her right breast removed.

"She couldn't accept her new appearance-a normal breast on the left and a sunken one on the right. The absence was apparent because she had large breasts. It was impossible to hide," Kwan said.

Kwan remembers visiting the stricken woman-broken and in tears for almost the whole day-who became irritable and started imagining she was haunted by evil spirits.

Gradually, Kwan said, her relative became progressively more withdrawn, only going out for regular doctor's appointments or grocery shopping.

She asked Kwan to buy her a false breast and post-surgery bras. A wig, a false breast, and three bras cost Kwan HK$4,000($512).

"I didn't expect dedicated products for breast cancer patients to be so costly," said Kwan, relating how she bought the items from a hospital.

According to Kwan, hospitals have regular suppliers. The bras sell for high prices-HK$400 to HK$500 each.

"It imposes an extra burden on cancer patients and their families, who may have spent a fortune on surgeries and many therapies," she said. In her relative's case, the total cost of her medical treatment was HK$260,000.

Kwan wanted to provide something more affordable. In 2015, she and her partner, whose mother has 30 years' experience of manufacturing lingerie, started an online shop, selling lingerie specially designed and tailored for breast cancer survivors.

In December, the small company was awarded grants by the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund, which allowed them to launch their first storefront outlet, near Prince Edward Road West.

The bras cost just a quarter of the average market price-ranging from HK$299 to HK$500 for three.

The company also addresses the needs of women still in therapy. From her experience of tending to her relative, Kwan had learned that some products on the market were not user-friendly and needed improvement.

For example, Kwan and her partner used modal cotton to create bras for women undergoing electrotherapy, who are prone to extremely sensitive skin and blisters. The cotton is unlikely to break blisters or cause skin irritation. Bras intended for post-surgical use have clasps at the front.


In the past two years, a growing number of breast cancer patients and survivors have come to the shop. Some have even volunteered to work there part time. Kwan calls them "ambassadors".

Lau is one of them, working Mondays and Saturdays. Because she is so aware of the changes that come during medical treatment, she has become expert at choosing bras.

While her main responsibility is to assist customers, Lau has an even more important role-that of setting a positive example. She hopes her story will show other survivors that "this is not the end of the world and you cannot give in to the disease".

Many customers are downcast and ashamed of their bodies when they first arrive. Her strategy is to make them feel better by challenging them: "'Do you think I am ugly? I'm not ugly, am I? But I used to be bald, frail and I felt unattractive.'"

Some women come in only needing someone to talk to and confide in. "They come here just to find someone who can lend an ear and understand them. People like us need to vent, to get rid of the negative feelings, whether it's sadness or anger or self-loathing," Lau said.

Acknowledging that someday the cancer may return, she is determined to live in the present and be a role model for those who haven't made peace with their plight.

Kwan shares that vision. She wants to help restore the self-esteem and dignity of breast cancer survivors and help them find the will to carry on. Kwan has reached out to mainland hospitals and has offered to supply lingerie at low prices.

"They are interested in cooperating. Staff members have told me their patients fret about poorly-fitting bras and high price tags," she said.

Kwan understands the difficulties of breast cancer survivors-and knows that an item as seemingly simple as a bra can play a vital role in restoring their self-confidence and faith in their womanhood.

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