It seems that every day is a national this or that kind of day; just get on Facebook and check out your newsfeed. Generally I don’t keep up with national donut day or bring your pet to work day, but October is one month I never forget – Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer affects every one of us, some directly and indirectly, but it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored. Currently there are 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States (this includes those undergoing treatment and those who have finished). With 85% of breast cancers occurring in women who don’t have a family history of cancer – anyone can be at risk.
As a double-board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, I have seen just how important breast cancer awareness is during my 20+ years helping reconstruct breasts for women after their fight. Education and self-awareness are two major proponents of helping women reduce their risks and I feel a personal responsibility to help in any way I can. If I had to narrow down the most frequently asked questions about breast reconstruction, here are the top three:
Q: Is breast reconstruction mandatory for my health?
A: In short, no it’s not mandatory. Breast reconstruction is considered an elective procedure because it isn’t mandatory to keep a patient in good health. The choice to undergo breast reconstruction lies entirely on the patient and their personal wishes for how they would prefer their breasts to look following breast cancer treatment. Some women who have a mastectomy or lumpectomy choose not to do anything to their breasts at all while others may factor breast reconstruction into their treatment plan from the very beginning of their diagnosis. It truly depends on what a patient feels comfortable doing physically and emotionally.
Q: When is the right time to undergo breast reconstruction?
A: I actually do not like the concept of there being a “right” or “wrong” time for breast reconstruction. When talking about, let’s say, a breast augmentation, we use the right/wrong term for women who are considering childbirth because the physical effects take a toll on the breasts. It’s more a general rule of thumb but is far from law. For breast reconstruction patients, it isn’t a matter of physical timing, but personal timing. When do you feel you’re ready for an elective procedure to restore the breast/s? There are two options for breast reconstruction: immediately or delayed. As the name would suggest, breast reconstruction can be performed immediately following a mastectomy/lumpectomy and it can also happen at a later time. If a patient isn’t sure they’re ready, breast reconstruction can wait until after cancer treatment is completed or when they feel ready to begin the next part of their journey.
Q: How do I know what breast reconstruction technique is best for me?
A: With all breast reconstruction patients we start with a consultation. This is the time when I can evaluate the breast and other areas of the body where skin, tissue and muscle may be utilized when restoring the breasts. My ultimate goal is to replace the breast tissue, skin and nipple-areolar that were removed during the mastectomy to rebuild a new breast mound that gives the patient more symmetry in the breasts. Breast reconstruction in general is a complicated procedure and is different for each and every patient. For this reason treatment must be tailored to each patient in order to help create natural looking breast reconstruction results. When we do work together to formulate your breast reconstruction treatment plan, we’ll go over the various techniques (there are several tissue flap procedures including one of my primary methods, the TRAM flap) , based on your goals, and thoroughly go over every minute detail until you can feel confident in your decision and excited for what’s to come.
Having seen the toll breast cancer has on women has always been part of the reason I am so passionate about helping women complete their journey as they embark on breast reconstruction. When I first created Life After the Fight, I wanted it to be an interactive business directory for breast cancer survivors who went on to start their own businesses to connect with others in the community. I find it inspiring the fervor these survivors have for living life to the fullest in the face of adversity. It’s of the utmost privilege that I get to work with such courageous patients and I will always be an advocate in any way I can. We would love to discuss breast reconstruction with anyone who has any questions regarding this life-changing procedure; don’t hesitate to contact Southern Plastic Surgery – we’re just an email or phone call away!
*Statistics provided by Breastcancer.org