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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month when we’re all encouraged to be more breast aware. Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day or ‘BRA Day’ will also take place in a few weeks’ time when the focus will be on the many methods and benefits of breast reconstruction.

– Carolyn Atkins reports.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month when, once again, all kinds of activities will be taking place to improve our knowledge and understanding of breast cancer and help those affected by this terrible disease.

It is estimated that one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and with around 55,000 women and 370 men diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, it’s no wonder that charities, companies and individuals are all doing their best to raise recognition of the disease and the importance of catching it early.

Some charities, such as CoppaFeel!, focus on educating everyone about the importance of checking their whole breast area – that is, the upper chest and armpits – regularly for potential indications of breast cancer, such as any signs of change, whether lumps, swelling, indents or redness, for example. Making checking our breasts or pecs a lifelong habit could save lives, as the sooner signs of breast cancer are spotted, the earlier the people affected can be treated. While some institutions focus on preventative measures or research into the disease, others are keen to help those facing surgery and possible breast reconstruction to ensure that they have as positive an experience as possible during such a difficult time.

There are vast, nationwide charities devoted to researching the causes, effects and treatment of cancer, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Breast Cancer Now, while other regional charities, such as The Big C, with branches and shops throughout Norfolk, Little Lifts and Wymondham-based Star Throwers, work hard in their areas to support those affected by cancer too.

At Keeping Abreast the focus is very much on breast reconstruction and on helping those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or who have discovered a hereditary breast cancer gene, and who are facing or considering reconstructive surgery.

This niche breast cancer reconstruction charity started life in Norwich in 2007 and provides peer-to-peer support to those choosing or considering breast reconstruction following a breast cancer diagnosis or discovery of a hereditary gene such as BRCA1, BRCA2 or PALB2. By talking to other people who have been through the process and finding out what the results of real-life surgery actually look like, those weighing up the prospect of breast reconstruction can go into the process with their eyes open, having had the chance to make an informed decision about their own personal situation. There are times when breast reconstruction is not the right option, due to weight issues, age or smoking, for example, or sometimes patients simply can’t face further surgery, and Keeping Abreast is there for them too.

Keeping Abreast was established 14 years ago by patients Anna Beckingham and Beverley Birritteri and Breast Reconstruction Nurse Specialist Ruth Harcourt, who still works at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. They recognised a need for women, both newly diagnosed with breast cancer and facing the possibility of a mastectomy, and women further down the line who are considering reconstructive surgery, to be able to meet and talk to others who have been through similar experiences. As highlighted earlier, this allows people to make an informed decision about the sort of breast reconstruction that is right for them.

Of course, Covid-19 put paid to face-to-face meetings, but the charity kept going through the pandemic by offering support by telephone, email and WhatsApp as well as via Zoom. Keeping Abreast HQ also put on numerous ‘Zoom Speaker Sessions’ with speakers on all kinds of breast reconstruction-related subjects such as the different types of breast reconstruction surgery, resilience before and after breast cancer and how to alleviate anxiety. These presentations are also available online at:

Those who have undergone breast reconstruction surgery themselves will know that there isn’t a one-fits-all solution. Each patient needs to be assessed individually, according to what type of breast cancer they have and where it’s located and then their plastic surgeon and breast care team will let them know their options.

Sometimes breast reconstruction can be immediate ie. surgery to remove the breast cancer can be performed at the same time as surgery to reconstruct the new breast/s, but it’s often the case that these elements will be performed separately and that there will be a considerable wait between them.

The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped the situation either, with record numbers of people currently on hospital waiting lists and hospital departments often rushed off their feet. As a consequence, Keeping Abreast HQ, in Little Melton near Norwich, has handled an increased number of enquiries lately from those anxious about their prospective breast reconstruction surgery and how long it will be until that takes place.

Keeping Abreast can put those facing breast reconstruction in touch with others who’ve been through reconstruction themselves so they can explain what that experience was really like. The charity has a bank of registered volunteers who have had different experiences and undergone different types of operations who are willing to talk to others about their surgery and recovery, so that they can help them to prepare both emotionally and physically for their own operations and, hopefully, alleviate their concerns.

At face-to-face Support Group Meetings, which are starting up again now that the Coronavirus restrictions have lifted, some ladies who have had breast reconstruction take part in discreet, confidential ‘Show & Tell’ sessions where they show the actual results of their surgery – that is, their reconstructed breasts and scars – to others. This is one of the charity’s most popular services, as seeing the actual surgery results can allay many fears.

Keeping Abreast was also fortunate enough to receive funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to help create a brand-new website, available from this autumn onwards, which will feature a number of real-life videos of women who have undergone breast reconstruction surgery and who are willing to tell their own stories first-hand. Another element of the charity’s revamped website is that it will also contain a shop selling a range of Keeping Abreast merchandise, such as mugs, keyrings, pens, notebooks, coffee cups, coasters, clothes and so on, to raise both awareness and funds. Christmas cards will also be available as well as the popular ‘Boobaloo’ bear pin badges, which were created by a keen Keeping Abreast supporter, Pam Lenden, earlier this year.

Meanwhile, at John Lewis Norwich, a series of events will take place during October to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month in conjunction with the charity. These include bra-fitting on the first weekend of the month, headscarf workshops on the second weekend, and then Style Shows with three Keeping Abreast models in the store’s lingerie department on Saturday 16th October at 11am and 1pm and on Sunday 17th October at midday and 2pm (places for these free fashion shows are limited, so please RSVP to to book your slot). There will also be beauty workshops on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th October and then wig and hair-styling workshops on Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st October as well as the chance to meet some of the charity’s volunteers.

This year’s Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day is on Wednesday 20th October and is a chance for the charity to promote its services on social media and beyond. The good news is that the original Norwich-based charity has grown in number and location over the years, with Keeping Abreast Support Groups now in Norwich, King’s Lynn and Stalham, as well as further afield such as Herts & Beds, Cheltenham, Bristol, Sheffield, Leicester and Liverpool. The registered Keeping Abreast volunteers are also happy to help those in areas where there are no Support Groups, with modern technology making this possible wherever people are based.

Fundraising is integral to the charity, as it is completely self-funded, and a host of events has taken place this year to help raise much-needed funds. Last month a team of breast care nurses, the ‘Plastics Fantastics’ from the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, held a fantastic fundraising sky dive, and this month ten dedicated runners will compete in the Virtual London Marathon on Sunday 3rd October, to help raise awareness and boost finances. Then next month, the popular Festive Fair at The Forum in Norwich will be back after a two-year break, from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th November inclusive, where there’ll be a stall selling Keeping Abreast merchandise, tombola tickets and more in aid of the charity. The team at Keeping Abreast is also always happy to help those who want to put on their own fundraising activities.

So, it’s time to think pink again this October and to support breast cancer-related charities everywhere.

For more information on Keeping Abreast, visit, email:, call: 01603 819113 or see social media.

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