By Becky Wiese
Katie is a unique case. Diagnosed with Stage IIIB breast cancer at the age of 28, she elected to have a double mastectomy as a proactive measure. She also knew from the start — in large part due to her age — that she would have reconstructive surgery.
After undergoing chemotherapy for six months prior to her surgery, having a double mastectomy with reconstruction using silicone implants, and then enduring radiation treatments, her body had been through a lot — physically, mentally, and emotionally. On top of all that, her husband, Ryan, passed away unexpectedly in the summer following her radiation treatments.
Understandably, she has faced a lot of fears.
“My first big fear was probably losing my hair due to the chemo,” she says. When faced with the reality, she shaved her head proactively because she didn’t want to watch it fall out in clumps.
Then there was the fear of putting life on hold. She and her husband had been trying to have a baby when she found a golf ball-sized lump that ended up being cancerous.
Oddly enough, she didn’t really fear (at least not too much) the worst case scenario. “I had a lot of support from friends and family in Pontiac, where I grew up, and in Bloomington at my job,” she explains. Even though her breast cancer was diagnosed as “aggressive,” she never wanted to know the statistics and chances of the worst case happening. “I didn’t want to know those details — so I stayed away from the Internet and put my trust in the doctors.”
During her chemo, surgery, and radiation, her husband was “my rock, so losing him was hard.” Her fear of the cancer coming back has lessened due to that specific loss. “It’s a matter of perspective — I know I’ve beaten cancer before — it’s nothing like losing someone you love.”
Undergoing reconstructive surgery was not something she feared, although it has taken longer than she anticipated to get to the point she’s at now. She’s still not finished.
Katie elected to start reconstruction immediately, which is an option that not everyone does or can do during the initial surgery. Even if it’s possible, many elect to wait for healing to take place prior to undergoing more surgery to reconstruct the breast. “Everybody is different,” she says, “so it’s important to talk with your surgeons — both the general surgeon and the plastic surgeon — to develop a plan.”
She also notes that reconstructive surgery, regardless of when a patient elects to begin, is considered to be part of the treatment, so insurers must cover the cost of breast reconstruction — including any surgeries needed to the non-cancerous breast in order to maintain symmetry. She also advises others to research the various physicians — oncologists, general surgeons, plastic surgeons — because “you do get to pick your medical caregivers.” She suggests checking online for reviews as well as talking with several people who’ve gone through similar experiences for their advice and input.
Katie’s initial silicone implant was damaged during radiation, so she had another surgery in May 2013 in which muscle, skin, and surrounding tissue was taken from her back and used to reconstruct the breast that had the cancer. This procedure, called a latissimus dorsi flap, included silicone implants to complete the shape.
The reconstruction process has taken longer than anticipated. “It’s been three years, and I’m still having additional surgeries to ‘fine tune’ the shape of my breasts, so my advice is pick someone you really like because you’re likely to spend a lot of time with your plastic surgeon!”
Although the process has taken longer, she is very happy with the results. “My plastic surgeon is amazing — I’m amazed at how little scarring I have, even though I’ve had multiple surgeries.”
Breast cancer takes both a physical and emotional toll. Even though she may face additional reconstructive surgeries, she feels she has a bright future. “There’s so much to live for! You get to a point that your cancer care consumes your whole life,” Katie explains. “It helps to know that there’s life at the end of this tunnel.”
The board-certified plastic surgeons at Twin City Plastic Surgery bring you the latest procedures and newest technologies, along with the attentive care and comfort you deserve. For more information on any procedure, you may contact Dr. Laura Randolph — 309-664-6222, Dr. Chad Tattini — 309-664-1007 or Dr. Paige Holt — 309-664-4444 at Twin City Plastic Surgery or www.twincityplasticsurgery.com. Their office is located at 2502 E. Empire in Bloomington.
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