Jul 272017

Breast cancer survivor Corinne DuCre-Villavasso, pictured with her family, started a foundation to help other cancer victims. (submitted photo)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

A consummate wife, mother and urban planning consultant, Corinne DuCre-Villavasso, was living the life she always dreamed of when in 2014 she tested positive for the Braca 1 gene mutation commonly associated with breast cancer. DuCre-Villavasso had just given birth to her third child and was visiting her physician for a post-partum check-up when told of her diagnosis.

DuCre-Villavasso always knew she was at a very high risk of developing the dreaded disease. When DuCre-Villavasso was only nine years old, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died just three years later. DuCre-Villavasso’s father, Merlin DuCre, has survived two bouts with cancer. Sister Rhoda also succumbed to the disease on her mother’s birthday.

After the mammogram, blood work, and MRI confirmed calcification in her left breast, DeCre-Villavasso elected to have a bi-lateral prophylactic mastectomy, a preventive measure in which both breasts and all the surrounding lymph nodes are surgically removed. She later had breast reconstruction surgery. The double mastectomy was DuCre-Villavasso’s best chance to see her children – now ages 20, 12 and 2 – grow to maturity. “I wanted to prolong my life and didn’t want my children to experience what I went through as a child,” she said.

Recovery brought many challenges including depression, a lack of confidence and the realization that her body would never be the same. At that same time, DuCre-Villavasso’s cousin, Hannah, was in remission. Together, they envisioned a foundation that would purchase supplies to help cancer patients rebuild their lives. After her cousin’s subsequent death, DuCre-Villavasso created Hannah’s Klozet, a 501C-3 non- profit organization, in her cousin’s memory.

Hannah’s Klozet will hold its inaugural fundraiser, The Resiliency Gala, Saturday, July 29, at the University of New Orleans’ University Center Ballroom. The event begins at 7 p.m. and features entertainment by Kermit Ruffins.

While the hospital will provide several compression bras to each patient before discharge, other compression garments including sleeves and socks – used especially by men to reduce swelling – must be purchased. “For women who choose not to have reconstruction, prosthetics – which cost from $250 to $500 – are very important,” she said. Sometimes women in rural or underserved communities might insert men’s socks into their old bras instead of purchasing the proper prosthetic. “Often these items are not fully covered by insurance. We defray the out-of-pocket expenses,” DuCre-Villavasso explained.

Hannah’s Klozet will also pay for new bras after breast reconstruction surgery.

During the course of her surgery, recovery and reconstruction surgery, DuCre-Villavasso talked with many other breast cancer patients about the adjustments they faced. Almost all of them spoke about the embarrassment and difficulty they felt when shopping for a new bra after reconstruction surgery that fits properly. “Let’s face it, that dresser drawer of bras you wore before are of no use,” said DuCre-Villavasso.

Because few women know their new bra size, they must take off their tops to be measured. “I went to Victoria Secret and walked out uncomfortable and discouraged. It was frustrating not to get the attention I needed,” said DuCre-Villavasso.

DuCre-Villavasso is currently partnering with Ocshner Hospital and St. Charles Surgical Center to identify prospective clients. “Because of medical records privacy laws, I might never meet a client we are helping,” she explained. “But I know our services are greatly appreciated.”

She is also partnering with three intimate apparel stores including Basis Underneath in Uptown New Orleans whose staff is specially trained. Other participating shops include Ooh La La Bras and Bra Genie. Ochsner offers prosthetics via Ochsner Total Solutions.

DuCre-Villavasso plans to hold a three day training session for hair stylists and barbers to teach proper grooming for cancer patients.

“Cancer touches almost every family. We’d like to urge people to support Hannah’s Klozet so that we can help others in need,” she concluded. Tickets, $75, are available at www.hannahsklozet.com.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom.

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