3 Women Share Their Breast Reconstruction Stories
By: Courtney Floyd
What do patients say about their breast reconstruction experience?
With 1 in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year and increased knowledge of genetic risks for developing the disease, it is no wonder mastectomy rates have increased in recent years.
Women undergoing mastectomy have many options available for breast reconstruction today. Procedures using the patient’s own tissue, implants, and even the option to have no reconstruction are all possibilities.
Here are the stories of three women who chose to undergo breast reconstruction:
After diagnosis, I went through chemotherapy, a single mastectomy then radiation. At every turn, I was overwhelmed and so blessed by the level of care and compassion my various medical teams bestowed upon me.
In April of 2012 I underwent another mastectomy plus bilateral Latissumus Dorsi Flap breast reconstruction. The procedure used skin, fat and muscle from my back, beneath the shoulder blade area. The tissue was brought around to my chest to create a new breast. My rapid recovery from this procedure is unbelievable to me! After a few short months, the scar on my back faded quickly and I resumed my swim workout ranging 1-2 miles a day, holding forth with the two piece I wore before surgery! I was worried about the latissimus transplant weakening my left side, but there is no difference! I feel great.
Post-surgical appointments are always something I look forward to. The incredible "pain free" expertise continues. My scars are healing, I’m exercising, I feel good and if I do say so myself, I look great. I am so blessed, life is good.
Catherine-DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction
At 39, I had a routine mammogram and was told another mammogram was needed and when that confirmed suspicious spots on the right breast a needle biopsy was scheduled. I never felt a lump, in fact, there was no lump. It was fine sand like spots that could only been seen microscopically. A needle biopsy was done on my right breast and on August 19, 2010, I received the call- YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER! The immediate devastation took my breath away as the end of my life flashed before my eyes. That’s what I envisioned: my death and leaving my two children Matthew and Alyssa without a mother and my husband Richard without a wife. In the middle of the storm it was my kids and husband that gave me the strength to fight this battle.
After an unsuccessful lumpectomy, I was told I needed to have a mastectomy on the right breast. The thought of removing my breast was devastating! In September 2010, I consulted with a plastic surgeon. I can’t recall everything he said but I’ll never forget how he made me feel. He spent a long time talking to me about all my options. He was authentic, genuine and forth coming with my diagnosis, age, and challenged me to think of everything. I needed that, because when you’re told you have CANCER all you think about is living and removing the CANCER. He did not treat me like a statistic but a person who was on a quest to find as much information possible so I could make my decision.
On October 18, 2010, I had bilateral mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstructive surgery. The DIEP flap uses abdominal skin and fat to reconstruct a natural, warm, soft breast. Unlike the TRAM flap, the DIEP preserves all the abdominal muscles. Only abdominal skin and fat are removed (similar to a "tummy tuck"). I’m amazed with my breast and thrilled I do not have horrible scars on them that would be a constant reminder I had breast cancer. Yes, I have the tummy tuck scar but that itself does not represent Breast Cancer as scars on breast would.
Yes, I’ve experienced dark, lonely days, and having my breast removed have at times made me feel, unworthy, undesired and incomplete. If you let it CANCER will invade your identity. But even on my worst days I still feel more beautiful with my new breasts and battle wound scar.
In 2005, I tested positive for the BRCA gene. After years and years of MRIs, mammograms, surgical consults, doctor research and inevitably never having time for preventive surgery, I had my first scare in November 2014 at the age of 38, when a cyst was detected. Two years before my own mother was diagnosed with cancer, I was dealing with the “what if.” Calling my husband and telling him they were going to complete the scans a second time to investigate a spot on the mammogram was the hardest call I’ve ever had to make. There I sat in the waiting room, with two of my children, trying to keep a brave face and hold back the tears. I was sent from the radiology department straight to an oncology consult. You know it’s serious when a doctor gets you in right away. I then sat through thirty minutes of reasons why I should or should not get a mastectomy, how they could cut it out if it was cancer and what the treatments would be. At that point, I was done trying to stay one step ahead of cancer, I didn’t want to “deal with it if it was cancer.” I was ready for surgery. Take them off.
I chose to have a Nipple-Sparing Prophylactic Mastectomy and Direct to Implant in June 2015. I chose implant surgery due to the long-distance travel required (I traveled from Singapore to San Antonio, TX for the surgery) and short window of recovery time available. I’m also a mom to three young children…I needed to be back on my feet as soon as possible. My husband was fully supportive of implant surgery, not minding that my breasts might not feel as soft as some of the other amazing tissue-using surgeries offered today, such as DIEP.
Next thing I knew, I was waking up and realizing that it was all over. I was free from fear. I had done it. I stayed two nights in the hospital with the greatest of staff members you could ask for. They kept me in minimal pain, I was Facebooking immediately upon returning to my recovery room and blogging 12 hours after surgery.
I’m pleased to say that after my surgery, although several cysts were found, my pathology report was clear. You think you let out that huge sigh of relief once the surgery is over, but when you get that paper in your hand to say you were free from cancer…you can’t beat that moment. Overall, my breasts are beautiful and I couldn’t be more pleased with my results. Today, I’m simply a mother to three beautiful children, who I get to look at with hope that I’ll be able to watch them grow up. I’m free from fear.