My family history of breast cancer runs deep and includes all the cancers that are attached to the breast cancer gene. Following my first biopsy at 20, I spoke with a geneticist who told me genetic testing was not an option, and I should continue to have annual mammograms. That was the defining point of the dark grey cloud that I walked under for years. It was no longer a question of “if,” but “when” I would get breast cancer. When I reached 33, I was significantly impacted with symptoms from multiple sclerosis. At that point, my gynecologist sat me down and explained that it might be the right to consider a prophylactic removal of breast tissue while my body was healthy enough to handle it. That was the start of my journey in finding the right procedure and location to have it, a road that eventually led me to The Center for Restorative Breast Surgery.
Who would do the procedure?
I hoped to stay close to home and be able to use my own tissue. I knew I did not want implants, because that could further complicate the disease processes of my multiple sclerosis. With my criteria established, I set out to find the right doctors, starting with one in my town and then looking a little further out, yet still in the same state. The first doctor I went to said I was too skinny to use my own tissue. The second one said that I could always use prosthetics. WOW, for a considerably young woman, early 30’s, I thought that doctor was crazy. It actually made me a bit angry at the process, but I knew I needed to do something. My dad heard my frustration and told me about a friend of his who had an experimental procedure done at The Center. It was far from home, but worth looking into.
Why I chose the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery?
From my first contact, everyone I spoke with was immensely empathetic and kind. For the first time in several doctor visits (including those with the multiple sclerosis issues), the people at the Breast Center made me feel like I had value and that they cared about me. Coupled with the fact that they could do the surgery using my own tissue and did not have to move muscle tissue, my decision was made easy. The Breast Center it was. Now for all the details …
My Procedure Process
Before travels to the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery:
My first hurdle to overcome was the request to take pictures of myself and send them to the Breast Center. They needed to physically see whether I was a good candidate for the procedure without the huge expense of traveling to their location. Once I got over that part, the decision to go to the Breast Center and the several month wait for the procedure was easy to handle. During the time I waited, I had a DNA test that came back positive for the BRCA 2 breast cancer gene. This further confirmed that I was making the right decision for the prophylactic procedure. The Breast Center also offered names and contact information of women who volunteered their information as references. They had already gone through the same procedure I was having—the DIEP Flap. I chose this option since I did not have enough fat on my tummy. The women I spoke to told me it was the best experience of their lives. I was honestly confused (but seriously impressed) how anyone could say that about such an extensive surgical procedure. From their testimonies, I had become very excited about my pending procedure.
On site, meeting the doctors and staff before stage 1:
I was deeply awestruck. WOW, I felt like a princess! When I arrived on site, I found that the feeling of value that I experienced on all of my phone calls to The Breast Center was just as genuine, if not more. I had to go through only one more awkward moment. This was when I had to disrobe for the surgeon, Dr. Sullivan, to draw his surgical lines on me. As an artist myself, I explain it as if he was the artist and my body was his canvas. Once I started looking at it that way, it was not so bad. I knew that this procedure was necessary. That evening, my husband and I were able to play tourist around the area, which was an excellent distraction the night before a major surgery. The next morning, a local pastor came for a pastoral visit before my surgery, and then down the hallway I went.
The worst symptom for me after waking up was the very dry mouth. Then I quickly noticed that I still had breasts. I never once had to see myself without breasts. I cannot explain how wonderful that was—priceless! This was an amazing time for me. Before the surgery, I did not know what to expect. What level of pain I would have or would I have neurologic consequences? Surprisingly, my pain was very well managed without narcotics and I had no neurologic effects. I did what was necessary to expedite getting out of bed. Within a few hours post-op, I was cleared to walk. I got up and walked a lap around the unit, almost every hour on the hour, even throughout the night. The more I walked, the better I felt and the quicker my discomfort went away. I stayed ahead of the healing curve and overall felt fantastic. The patient to medical staff ratio is unheard of and totally worth the experience. I love that we, my husband and I, were both treated so well. It felt like we were in a high-class five-star hotel! The food and conversation with staff were wonderful. I felt like I had worth, like a princess, for my entire stay! I was actually sad to leave and looked forward to returning for stage 2.
Three months later, I returned for stage 2 of the reconstruction and the complete hysterectomy. This experience was different because it took place at a local public hospital, due to insurance requirements. After I was discharged from the hospital, I had a level of pain from the hysterectomy and removal of endometriosis that created a need for narcotics. I called the Breast Center and they immediately called in the prescription. My husband was able to pick it up within 30 minutes of making the call. By the next day I was able to manage my pain with non-narcotic medication. I imagine if I had not elected for the hysterectomy, I would have had a second stay at the Breast Center that would have matched the first stay. I’m not saying the second hospital was not good, it was just not as amazing as the Breast Center’s surgical building and staff. Throughout the process, I knew if I had any concerns they would be addressed more quickly by the doctors at the Breast Center than with my local doctors!
Lastly, I have compared scars with several other post-mastectomy patients. There really is no comparison. I have cried with the other ladies for what their surgeons did to them. When you are looking at cost, think about it as an investment. When I look in the mirror it does not look like someone chopped me to pieces, which sadly is what the majority of these women have shown me.
About the Author
I am a 43-year-old military wife of 20 years and a mother of two. I have also fostered three teenage boys and helped them successfully graduate from high school. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Campbellsville University in Campbellsville Kentucky, which gave me the opportunity to work with dolphins and sea turtles as a graduate student at the University of Central Florida. I received my Graduate Degree in Christian Leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando Florida. Currently, I work as an author, artist and public motivational speaker. To find leisure and center myself, I practice yoga, ballroom dance and take walks on the beach. I had my double mastectomy in 2008 and still believe it was the best decision I made with respect to my treatment and reconstruction.