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Showgirl’s Nonprofit Gifts New Breasts to Women With Cancer

October 4, 2016Posted by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe

After Alisa Savoretti had one of her breasts removed, she had to stuff her bra in order to return to work.

From the time she first found a lump in her breast in 2001 to the time she began to dance again, the Las Vegas showgirl remained uninsured and had to jump through hoops in order to have her mastectomy and chemotherapy covered by a social services agency. 

When she took to the stage again, she was able to put on a confident smile, but it still felt like something was missing. 

Every year, approximately 250,000 women like Savoretti are diagnosed with breast cancer, with a growing number undergoing mastectomies—three times as many than there were ten years ago. Some women are covered by their medical insurance for the breast tissue removal procedure, and federal law will also require that reconstruction surgery be covered as well.

Unfortunately, the copays and deductibles alone can cost thousands of dollars, making the procedure a financial hardship.

In 2005, Savoretti was able to secure breast reconstruction surgery through a new insurance plan, and felt compelled to support those who were still waiting in the wings. She started My Hope Chest to help women who were uninsured or otherwise unable to afford the series of surgeries that make up breast reconstruction.

So far, the nonprofit has footed the bill for both copays and entire procedures for 40 women and counting—and there are still approximately 120 women on their waiting list.

“This is a profound problem. There are possibly millions of breast cancer survivors who had their mastectomy in the 1970s, 80s and 90s who gave up hope in a delayed reconstruction,” said Savoretti. “This is not a ‘boob job’ where you spend $5,000 and you’re in and out. It’s complicated.”

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In some cases, just finding a surgeon and a facility can take up to a year. 

To help the process along, the organization partners with plastic surgeons in Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and other states who are willing to donate their time and expertise. Even if a surgeon chooses to donate his or her time, My Hope Chest pays for costs incurred from hospitalization and anesthesia.

Angie Senquiz, who lives in Orlando, lost her health insurance during the same month that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received a double mastectomy in 2012, and, when her breasts were removed, the doctor put in tissue expanders, which prepare the breast for eventual reconstruction surgery. The expanders, however, were only supposed to stay in for a few months, and they remained “in” as she spent the next two years “knocking on every door possible,” trying to find a hospital to give her a cash discount to remove the expanders.

Her search for a doctor willing to perform the surgery extended as far as Colombia and Brazil, and what little sleep she did get was on a recliner, and she was constantly tired, in pain, and drained.  

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When she applied to My Hope Chest, she initially exceeded their income cut-off by $600. But Savoretti was so moved by her story that she decided to give Senquiz a call asking if she still needed help.

Although Senquiz had since secured insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she wasn’t able to afford the nearly $6,000 deductible, so the nonprofit covered that, and the copays, in full.

“My doctor told me that I needed to understand I would never be the same,” Senquiz said. “It’s never the same when you don’t have your breasts. But spiritually and emotionally, I am extremely grateful.”

When Laurie Gilsdorf was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, she received a mastectomy, chemotherapy treatments, and then another mastectomy on her remaining breast.

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She also lost her insurance before she could get reconstruction.

“You kind of resign yourself to accepting that ‘this is the way it is’,” Gilsdorf said. “It’s very difficult, very embarrassing.”

Gilsdorf, who lives in Hudson, Florida, vividly remembers the day that My Hope Chest called to tell her that they would be taking care of her surgeries: April 25, 2013.

Initially, expanders were inserted into her chest, but her body kept rejecting them. So, in June 2015, a surgeon named Dr. Raj Ambay partnered with My Hope Chest to perform a DIEP flap surgery, which uses tissue from a tummy tuck to reconstruct the breasts. 

“People say I’m a little more confident and outgoing, and don’t stand off in the corner as much,” said Gilsdorf. “I feel normal again.”

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