My youngest sister was diagnosed with invasive, metastatic breast cancer in July of 2011. This was a huge blow to her, because she had already lived most of her life with lupus and its many side effects, including countless surgeries. Adding breast cancer to the mix didn't really seem fair. But my sister is a fighter and was bound and determined to kick cancer's ass.
Having spent eight years as a comprehensive cancer center administrator and ten years as a medical school administrator, my sister was very familiar with breast cancer. In fact, she was diagnosed while consulting for the cancer program at one of the region’s largest medical centers. (Talk about your work life and personal life colliding.)
Following a lumpectomy in August of 2011, my sister elected to have a bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure. Her surgery was successful (thank God), and afterward she made another choice: to undergo breast reconstruction. Little did she know that getting new boobs was going to be a way bigger ordeal than the mastectomy.
That August, my sister's first plastic surgeon told her, "By summer, you'll be in fightin' shape." What he didn't bother to tell her was which summer.
My sister's initial reconstruction took place in September of 2011, but that was hardly the end of her journey. What followed were many complications and multiple operations. She even enrolled in a clinical research study in hopes of getting things resolved once and for all. Three years after her first reconstruction, my sister was still having issues with her newest breasts. When she followed up with her plastic surgeon, he informed her that one implant had rotated sideways and the other was upside down.
"There’s nothing more I can do for you," he told her as he hurried out of the exam room.
What. The. Fuck.
"As a patient I felt abandoned," my sister explains. "I felt like I’d lost my breasts--AGAIN. True enough, there was nothing more HE could do for me." Fortunately, my sister's journey and knowledge--which she likens to "drinking water from a firehose"--led her to Dennis Hammond, an internationally acclaimed expert in breast reconstruction revision in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dr. Hammond performed his surgical magic on my sister on Tuesday. She came home on Wednesday. So far, everything has gone splendidly. Physically, she's doing great. Emotionally, she's doing even better. She sounds like a totally new person, even if only two parts of her are actually new. It appears as though her three-year roller coaster ride may actually be coming to an end.
Hallelujah, Jesus, and praise the Lord.
My sister is quick to point out that having breast reconstruction was her choice, and that the procedure may not be the right choice for every woman who has a mastectomy. There are questions that need to be asked and informed decisions that need to be made.
Educating other women about the process is one of my sister's passions. In fact, at the onset of her reconstruction journey, my sister agreed to be one of the subjects of a powerful book about breast cancer surgery and reconstruction. The book, by veteran medical writer Patricia Anstett and award-winning photographer Kathleen Galligan, is scheduled for publication later this year and will tell women's stories poignantly through words and photos. It's purpose? To inform the more than 225,000 American women--some as young as 20--who undergo surgery every year for breast cancer, often without much information or medical consultation.
This book needs some help, though. A month-long Kickstarter campaign to raise $18,000.00 has two weeks left and is still shy of its goal. As I write this, the fundraiser still has about $6,500.00 to go. Without that money, there's a very good chance that the book won't get published. And that would be a shame.
If you could possibly make a contribution to this cause--any contribution, small or large--I would be so appreciative. So would my sister. Like addiction, breast cancer touches so many lives. And the more information a woman facing surgery has at her fingertips, the better. This book can truly make a difference.
Let me emphasize that this book is about choices and doesn’t advocate for breast reconstruction; rather, this book seeks to provide much-needed information to women as they make decisions.
"With my professional experience in healthcare, one would think I’d know the the right questions to ask," my sister says. "But I didn't. I was completely unprepared to choose my plastic surgeon, which, in my case, was one of the first steps in my treatment. The lesson: When you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t do what you should do."
Please consider helping other women get the information they need, so they can learn from others' experiences and do what they should do the first time around.
Here is a direct link to this important book's Kickstarter campaign page:
And for more information on the project, along with a great blog on mastectomy, lumpectomy, and reconstruction, visit the Breast Cancer Surgery Stories website at this link:
Thanks for letting me digress a bit with this blog post. This is a cause near and dear to me and I appreciate you taking the time to read about it.
|My sister. Markings like these are often made by plastic surgeons pre-op|
to indicate their surgery plan.