Breast Reconstruction: Two Women Share Their Stories
When you get the devastating news you have breast cancer, you’re suddenly asked to make lots of decisions very quickly – decisions for which you feel woefully unprepared. Lumpectomy or mastectomy? Traditional or fast-track radiation? Chemo: yes or no?
One of the toughest decisions of all doesn’t even impact your cancer. But it’s one you’ll live with the rest of your life; a decision, good or bad, whose results you’ll see reflected in your mirror every day.
Breast reconstruction: yes, or no? Do you opt for a surgically rebuilt breast after mastectomy – or go with an external prosthesis? (Or nothing at all?)
Two of our health guides, PJ Hamel and Phyllis Johnson, share their stories here. PJ opted for reconstruction; Phyllis didn’t. Here’s how they came to their respective decisions.
PJ chose to have a body tissue breast reconstruction after her mastectomy.
A dozen years ago, after being scheduled for a mastectomy to remove my right breast, I was asked if I wanted to consider breast reconstruction.
“Um, what’s involved?”, I asked. The words the surgeon had uttered were clear enough: breast; reconstruction. But what did it mean, exactly?
After looking through a photo album the plastic surgeon had compiled of her work – all of it autologous (body tissue) reconstruction, not implants – I got the big picture.
Thankfully, she’d left me alone to peruse the photos: a series of women’s torsos, arms outstretched, the better to display their new breasts.
“Wow,” I remember thinking. “If these are the good ones, I’d hate to see what the failures look like.” Read more>
Phyllis considered breast reconstruction after her mastectomy, but eventually ended up with a prosthesis.
Before I had cancer, I read about a woman who had breast reconstruction after breast cancer. One of the reasons she was happy with her reconstruction was that she could now wear low-cut clothing. How vain, I thought. Why would anyone have surgery for a neckline?
Then I had a mastectomy myself. Because the doctor found two tumors on my chest wall, he had to remove my chest muscle to get clear margins around the tumors. Because I had inflammatory breast cancer, he recommended that I wait at least a year to have reconstruction. I still had more chemo and radiation to go after my surgery. He said that I wouldn’t be a candidate for implant reconstruction because of the type of mastectomy I had and the radiation damage to my skin, but that TRAM flap would probably work. He would be happy to recommend a plastic surgeon when I was ready.
I quickly learned why someone would want reconstruction. I had trouble finding clothes that didn’t show the dip below my collarbone where the muscle was removed. Anything with a vee or scoop neck was problematic. I learned to wear a tank top on backwards beneath open collar blouses. Being unbalanced made my back hurt by the end of the day. A small thing that really irritated me was finding a place to put my prosthesis when I showered at the gym or changed into a gown at the doctor’s office. Read more>