Efrat Roman, the Founder and CEO of EZbra, shares her story and talks about her breast cancer diagnosis and what led her to creating EZbra for other breast cancer patients who need to undergo surgery.
Tell us about yourself
I’m almost 52. I’m a published writer in Israel, a mother of two. Eleven years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and became the entrepreneur that I am.
Are you the only one in your family with breast cancer?
I’m a BRCA carrier, and I come from a very distinguished dynasty of women that were all diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer. My grandmother and her four sisters were all affected by breast and ovarian cancer. My mother had breast cancer when she was 41 and I was diagnosed when I was 40.
What treatments have you undergone?
After I was diagnosed, I had to undergo a double mastectomy because of my gene mutation and because of my triple-negative tumor, which was very aggressive. The recommendation was to remove the breast that had the three tumors, but also to remove the other one because of the gene mutation, and I was up to have an immediate reconstruction. My reconstruction was complicated and I had to have another one and then another one, and it ended up with five surgeries. Before the sixth one, I decided that I’m not going to have another surgery and I just got a huge tattoo all over my breasts and my scars.
What was recovery like?
Physical recovery is very hard. Women usually wake up with drains coming out of their armpits, a lot of pain, and huge scars – and this is when we’re talking about reconstruction with implants, which is sort of easier. I think the harder recovery was the mental one.
I woke up covered with all kinds of bandages and tape to hold the pads and gauze to the round organs. It was clear that none of those pads were designed for breasts. I was wearing a reusable compression bra above it, there were straps to keep implants from going up and down and flipping, and there was some kind of…I don’t even know what it was that was supposed to be holding the drains. I was covered with layer over layer, none of which were designed to meet the requirements of a patient post-op.
When I went home and I had to deal with it, it was uncomfortable and kind of disgusting. I was wearing a reusable bra that got really filthy and stained with blood and ooze and exudates, so of course I bought more so that I can replace and change them, but I had to wash my bras from my own blood and it was really disgusting and humiliating. Not to mention the fact that lifting my arms just to change was mission impossible. So, in one of the most sensitive times in my life when I had to learn how to live with my new breasts that didn’t even resemble my old ones, I had to accept someone else’s help in each change of dressing. At first it was my mom, the breast cancer survivor, who is a very tough person. It was one of the most horrible times for both of us because she would help me change dressings and she would cry and I would cry… Everything that had to do with the dressings and changing them and recovering from the physical surgery was so complicated. It was so clear that nobody had ever thought about making it easy or dignified for the patients.
What is a common misconception about breast cancer and women affected by breast cancer?
It’s a very unique experience and recovery, and I think that the treatment and approach should be very different when we’re talking about women that need to redefine themselves and usually from a very painful and hard position towards their body image and self-esteem. It’s changed forever.
According to a German study, 82.5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer show symptoms of PTSD in the time where surgeries usually take place. What is your experience with this?
I think that the most disturbing thing that happened to me is the fact that I woke up from my double mastectomy and immediate reconstructions and I realized for the first time that I have no nipples. Nobody told me before that this is something that is going to happen. Nobody thought that it was important that I know that, and even worse than that, I found it out when the surgeon came in for a follow-up with a bunch of students. They entered my room and they tore the adhesive that was attached to my skin, which hurt and created an allergic reaction. I felt really violated, having to see what my new breasts look like when four or five strangers are standing by my bed without having anyone think that this is probably the most intimate time in my entire life. I mean, bringing two kids to life was less intimate than that. Having to understand that this is the way I feel, being very sensitive, preparing the patient, and making sure she understands everything that is going to be removed or changed, the side effects, and the way all those things are going to impact and influence the rest of her life must be something that the medical community treats better and differently because I think that 82.5% of women having to deal with PTSD is a number that should make the ground move.
What is EZbra?
EZbra is the only designated sterile, disposable post-op bra. Amazingly, 13 million breast procedures are being performed annually and there is no standard of care for dressing a breast post-op. There is a standard of care for almost every other organ, but not for the breast. When we understood that, we created a very good solution, and a very adjustable solution that can really give great support, compression, definition of the folds and shape of the breasts, absorption of the exudates, and while being sterile so it reduces the risk of infection. When we understood that, we created such a great product – it’s very clear to us that we want EZbra to become the gold standard of care for all breast procedures.
EZbra is very light, soft, breathable, and it was designed to be easily applied by the patient post-op without having to lift her arms. It is very easily attached in the center and then starts a whole process of adjustment to each patient and her specific breast size, shape, and needs, because with all the current solutions, when there is asymmetry, which is something that would happen often with breast cancer patients, there is no solution. With EZbra, when you pull one strap, only the right cup would adjust to the exact shape and size underneath so if I had a mastectomy on one side and then a full healthy breast on the other one, it would still comply with the shape. The strap creates the compression and support, and holds the implants from going up and down or flipping. The straps are made with VELCRO® Brand closures, and can hold the drain tube that usually comes from under the armpit, preventing it from moving and creating a lot of pain. When pulling another strap, only the left cup adjusts to the exact shape and size underneath. The lower strap helps to define the under breast fold which is exactly the place where most of the incisions will be and most of the scarrings, even when we’re speaking about cosmetic surgeries. Patients and surgeons can create any shape and design to push the breasts to the center or adjust as they require and then add or decrease the amount of compression. The drain bulb can be held in the lower strap. EZbra really offers a very full solution.It contains no adhesives and no natural rubber latex, it absorbs 10 times its weight, and when it’s dirty, it just goes directly to the garbage and replaced with a new and fresh and hygienic one.
What is the feedback to EZbra
Over the last 2 years, we went to a lot of plastic surgeons’ and breast surgeons’ conferences. The most common question that we were asked by surgeons was “How come no one thought of it before?” When patients and survivors saw it, they asked “Where have you been when I needed you?”
What is a memorable moment that stuck with you?
For me personally, the most emotional time was when my mother had another tumor just a few weeks ago and she had to have another lumpectomy. Seeing my mom post-op wearing EZbra and changing EZbras was…yeah, very emotional.
Is EZbra just for women after breast cancer-related surgeries?
No, EZbra is for anyone that has/chose to have breast surgery because we created a dressing that is designated for the breast and it is a perfect solution for the needs and requirements that arise from those kinds of surgeries
What are you doing for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
This October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, anyone can go to our website, purchase as many EZbras as they want, choose the organization they support and we will send the EZbras to the organization along with an additional donation equaling 10% of their purchase so that we can all make a real change in a patient’s life.
If you had to describe EZbra in 1 word, what would it be?