A Patient's Perspective: Breast Reconstruction after Mastectomy

"Deciding to have reconstruction was my way of not letting cancer win."

We've come a long way with breast cancer! The emotional and physical results of this disease are very different now than they were even just 10 years ago. With more research, developments, and treatments women have more choices and better outcomes with breast cancer surgery than ever before.

Breast reconstruction is often sought after by women going through breast cancer. It can help restore the look and feel of the breast after it has been removed from a mastectomy.

So why do women choose to have breast reconstruction after mastectomy? There are many personal reasons involved. Some reasons include:

  • To have a more balanced looking chest
  • To avoid wearing a prosthesis
  • To permanently regain breast shape and size
  • To feel more confident about body shape
  • To give a sense of wellness

The Breast Reconstruction Decision

The long-term affects of living without a breast or part of one is different for every woman. It's a very personal decision and often it's not an easy one to make. There has been a rise in breast reconstruction rates, with more than 102,200* procedures performed in 2014. According to the plasticsurgery.org website, "studies show that reconstruction can greatly improve a patient's quality of life and self-image. But, not all breast cancer patients undergo breast reconstruction, in some cases because they are not informed of all of their reconstructive options."

A Patient's Experience

One of our breast cancer patients, Stephanie, explains why reconstruction after a mastectomy was important to her.

Stephanie, at the age of 32, while pregnant with her 5th son, found a lump in one of her breasts. Sixteen weeks into her pregnancy the results revealed she had invasive ductal carcinoma. Stephanie says, "Having breast cancer came as quite a shock, as it does for everyone. WIth 4 little boys and one on the way it was hard to imagine how I could get through it all. I just wanted to be back to normal." The cancer growth accelerated due to increased hormones during pregnancy. Because of the aggressive nature of the tumor Stephanie had to immediately begin treatments while pregnant. She was able to take a break from treatments a few weeks before delivering her baby and last summer their family welcomed a baby boy into their lives.

Stephanie returned back to chemotherapy treatments and prepared for a double mastectomy. She says, "I told my boys that what I was going through was a lot like having a cavity, which unfortunately they know a lot about. They had to cut the cancer out to prevent it from doing more damage to my body. Once my breasts were removed they could be filled back up, just like a filling, so my appearance could be like before…or in my case, after nursing four boys, my new additions would appear a little better, but they don't really need to know that."

She goes on to explain, "Deciding to have reconstruction right after my bilateral mastectomy was my way of not letting cancer win. I wanted to take back what was mine and move forward with my life. Like many do, I spent some time online searching for what to expect after my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I know, I know, you shouldn't seek medical advice online, but we all do it anyway. After seeing pictures I thought I had a good idea of what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to wake up from anesthesia to the beginnings of my new self. It was not what I expected, but much better. Dr. Jensen's skill and care were notable from the first placement of the tissue expanders. Let's be honest here, reconstruction isn't exactly fun and comes with it's share of pain, but I love the thoughtfulness, empathy, and care that Dr. Jensen and his amazing staff have shown me during these unfortunate circumstances. I look forward to the great relationships that will continue with Dr. Jensen and his breast cancer recovery team."

Stephanie chronicles her breast cancer journey at https://www.facebook.com/Stephaniespinkribbon

With so many advances, especially in the past decade, for breast reconstruction surgery, it's possible to rebuild a woman's breast in a way that allows her to gain her silhouette back and oftentimes feel once again whole. Breast reconstruction is a very personal decision, one that can be carefully thought through by talking to other breast cancer survivors, close family members and friends, and of course your doctors. To optimize surgical results it's a good idea to talk with your plastic surgeon BEFORE any surgery that removes a tumor or breast. This allows the entire surgical team to plan a treatment that is best for you if you choose to have breast reconstruction either immediately or down the road.

As it is with most things in life, it is important to educate, engage and empower yourself to make an informed decision about your breast cancer diagnosis and breast reconstruction options. The most important thing is to follow a decision that feels right for you and keeps you on a track of healthy living.

*statistic reported by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2014 annual report