Sarah was just 25 years old when diagnosed with breast cancer; she vividly recalls the date, April 1, 2014 – a cruel joke, that was no joke. Breast cancer did not run in her family so she never even thought about it and especially not at the age of 25.
Weeks of chemotherapy preceded her surgery which was scheduled for early September. Sarah decided to have both breasts removed so she would not have to worry about reoccurring cancer in the other breast. She also chose to have breast reconstruction.
Ten months after having both breasts removed, Sarah had reconstruction surgery and she says she could not be happier, singing the praises of the team of surgeons at Plastic Surgeons of Northern Arizona. Sarah was determined to remain the woman she knew she was and not let breast cancer overtake her life. She is enjoying life and says she is empowered to be the woman she wants to be.
Tania, a mother of three boys, felt a lump in her breast. That same day, she called North Country HealthCare and was connected to a patient navigator with the organization’s Well Woman HealthCheck program. Based on her income, lack of insurance and symptoms, Tania was enrolled in the program and immediately was scheduled to see a physician.
Tests showed a mass in her left breast and a biopsy confirmed she had invasive carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. Because the cancer was invasive and the tumor had grown significantly in size – from the size of a grape to the size of a lemon in less than two months – the plan was to immediately begin six months of chemotherapy treatments to shrink and stop the growth of the tumors.
After chemotherapy, the next step was a mastectomy, followed by eight weeks of radiation therapy. Tania chose a unilateral (one breast) procedure with the option of breast reconstruction following surgery.
Nearly nine months after finding the lump in her breast, Tania finally began to feel like she had her life back and like herself again. Her hair started to regrow, her cheeks regained color and she once again had the energy to keep up with her kids.
About breast reconstruction surgery
Breast reconstruction is an important part of the journey for women battling breast cancer. Following the surgical removal of the breast(s), reconstruction can help restore a sense of wholeness by recreating what cancer has taken.
Most women who have had a mastectomy are able to have breast reconstruction, regardless of when the breast(s) was removed and post-cancer treatments. Additionally, many women who have had lumpectomies, resulting in breasts that no longer look the same, may be candidates for breast reconstruction.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than 106,000 breast reconstruction procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2015. Yet, it is estimated that nearly 75 percent of women are not aware of the options available for breast reconstruction following a breast cancer diagnosis, and misconceptions about breast reconstruction have kept thousands of women from having this life-changing surgery.
Flagstaff’s Adam Boettcher, M.D., is board certified in plastic and reconstructive surgery. He answers some questions about breast reconstruction:
Q: If I had a mastectomy 20 years ago, can I have breast reconstruction surgery now?
A: Yes! Breast reconstruction can be done at any time, even years later, following a mastectomy.
Q: Can I have breast reconstruction if I had radiation?
A: Yes, but you will need to wait a few months to give the radiated area a chance to heal before undergoing breast reconstruction.
Q: When is the best time to start breast reconstruction?
A: Breast reconstruction can begin at the same time as the mastectomy or it may have to wait until after radiation and chemotherapy. Either way, the plastic surgeon can be part of the surgical team performing the mastectomy to help minimize scarring and prepare the area for reconstruction.
Q: Are there different types of breast implants and reconstruction options?
A: Yes. There are two main techniques; the best option depends on the extent of the mastectomy and the desired result. Implant reconstruction consists of inserting an implant filled with saline (salt water), silicone gel or a combination of the two. Autologous or "flap" reconstruction uses tissue and/or fat transplanted from another part of the body such as the belly, thigh or back.
Q: Does breast reconstruction surgery require a hospital stay?
A: Sometimes. If the reconstruction is part of the mastectomy, then a one- or two-day stay is required as part of the mastectomy recovery. If the breast reconstruction is after a mastectomy, then most often the procedure(s) can be done in a licensed outpatient surgery center, with no hospital stay.
Q: Is breast reconstruction surgery covered by insurance?
A: Yes! Breast reconstruction following a breast cancer diagnosis is covered by insurance. In 1998, The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act mandated insurance plans that cover mastectomies must also cover breast reconstruction, including reconstruction of the breast that was removed and reconstruction of the other breast to make the breasts symmetrical or balanced; external breast prostheses before or during reconstruction; and healthcare for physical complications, including lymphedema.
Comprehensive care for breast cancer patients in Northern Arizona
Those diagnosed with breast cancer can now benefit from the newly formed Northern Arizona Breast Cancer Clinic. The clinic is a collaboration in care between Arizona Oncology, Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare, Flagstaff Surgical Associates, Northern Arizona Healthcare, Northern Arizona Radiation Oncology, Northern Arizona Radiology, Pathology Associates of Northern Arizona and Plastic Surgeons of Northern Arizona. The clinic brings expert physicians, surgeons, nurses, therapists, dietitians and other support staff all together to provide seamless care for breast cancer patients. For more information on the clinic, call Nancy Foreman at 928-213-6213.
Is there a health topic you would like to know more about? Contact Starla S. Collins, health writer and life coach, at StarlaSCollins@gmail.com.