VIP: Supporting Breast Cancer Patients

Healthy Living
on July 25, 2012

As a radiation oncologist at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt Kisco, NY, Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson sees cancer patients day in and day out. But Thompson’s knowledge of breast cancer is not limited to the hospital room—the physician’s own life has been touched by the disease in many ways.

When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, Thompson witnessed firsthand how debilitating chemotherapy can be. “I used to hate the way people would stare at my mom,” Thompson says, recalling an incident at a gas station in which a man made a disparaging remark about her mother’s bald head. “I thought to myself, ‘Where do you get off doing that? She’s been through hell and back.’”

The experience inspired Thompson, then an aspiring doctor, to enter radiation oncology as a way to help others struggling with cancer. But even while she provided care for cancer patients, Thompson knew that she herself was not immune from the disease: “I had done a lot of genetic testing, and I was certain that breast cancer was coming towards me,” Thompson says.

Not wanting to take any chances, Thompson underwent a double prophylactic mastectomy in 2006 to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.

RELATED: Maura Tierney on Surviving Chemo

Being on the other side of the stethoscope was eye opening, Thompson says. “Coming out of surgery, you’re nauseous, your eyes are dry, your mouth is sticky. You feel lousy. Of course I had seen so many women go through it before me, but your perspective definitely changes when you’re on the other side of the table.”

Thompson’s time in recovery confirmed what she knew from her professional practice as a radiation oncologist: that something needed to be done to improve breast cancer patient’s experiences.

“There’s a lot of confusion. Many cancer patients undergoing surgery aren’t sure what to bring to the hospital with them, and after surgery, they’re often pushed out of the hospital without receiving adequate instructions for post-operative care,” she says. This doesn’t just cause cancer patients undue stress—it can lead to complications and hospital readmissions, Thompson says.

Inspired to make a difference, Thompson set out to help others with breast cancer get back on their feet after treatment. Armed with scissors, needle and thread, she began sewing together bras that provide gentle support after surgery and during radiation therapy in her living room, and just like that, Biffl Co. was born.

Launched in 2011, Bffl Co.—which stands for “Best Friends for Life”—includes a line of radiation bras, bags and surgical accessories designed to ensure a comfortable recovery for cancer patients.

“The name came from just the idea of reaching out from woman to woman or friend to friend and saying, ‘I’m with you through your struggle—here are some things that will help you recover,’” Thompson explains.

The Bffl Bag is a colorful nylon duffle bag containing a variety of products, toiletries and surgical accessories designed to ease the recovery process for a patient undergoing cancer surgery. For instance, the Breast Biffl Bag, created specifically for breast cancer patients, contains a drain care kit to help women track their drain output following a mastectomy or reconstructive surgery, in addition to a toiletry pack, a special support pillow and other helpful items.

Because of the success of the original Breast Biffl Bag, the company’s product line has since expanded to address a variety of different conditions, including traumatic brain injury, stroke, brain tumors and ovarian cancer. Thompson says a C-Section bag will soon be added to the lineup.

With her products, Dr. Thompson hopes to restore a sense of dignity and femininity in cancer patients. “For a lot of cancer patients, it’s easy to not feel beautiful or dignified because of the way others treat you or look at you,” she says. “That’s the message I’m hoping to send—to give people dignity while they recover so that they can feel good about themselves again.”

For more about Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson and to shop Bffl Co’s collection of bags, bras and other accessories, please visit 15% of the net profits from all Biffl Bags will be donated to a related charity.

Found in: Healthy Living