A Mother and her Two Daughters

04 November 2010

Restoring My Shadow - Check!

In most cases, breast reconstruction is performed at the same time as the mastectomy, referred to as Immediate Reconstruction (IR).  However, for some of us, the type or stage of the cancer doesn’t allow reconstructive surgery to be an immediate option.  This is known as Delayed Reconstruction (DR), meaning the opportunity for reconstructive surgery is delayed for weeks, months or even years.

For women who aren’t able to have immediate reconstruction, the physical appearance post-surgery can be devastating, a real blow to your self-confidence and body image.  For me, not only was the surgery painful, to look at myself was almost impossible.  If you think about it, your body is the only real possession you will ever truly own.  To forfeit a piece of it, the part that makes a woman different from a man, is rather difficult to endure without some heartache.  I’m sure the same is true for those who lose an arm, a leg or some other body part. 

Since February, I’ve met several women who have chosen not to undergo breast reconstruction surgery for a variety of reasons, and I can understand that.  As for me, I’ve never seriously considered any kind of cosmetic surgery, never considered myself a candidate, and actually went into my mastectomy not sure what I would ultimately decide. 

At the time of my diagnosis, I was told that reconstructive surgery was not going to be in my future for at least a year, as Inflammatory Breast Cancer typically does not have a complete response to chemotherapy, requiring further chemo treatment.  However, following my cancer-free pathology results, my UAMS medical team made reconstructive surgery an available option, but only if we moved very quickly so radiation therapy could soon begin. 

I ultimately made the decision to “restore my shadow,” a gift to myself following the heartache of cancer.  And for two months now I’ve gone to UAMS once a week for saline injections in my chest area to get my silhouette back to where it used to be.  Today will be my last day for these injections, and I’m glad. 

I’ve been very fortunate to have Dr. Yuen as my reconstructive surgeon.  A bona fide plastic surgeon, he’s been at UAMS since 1993 and has performed hundreds of surgeries, mostly involving cancer patients.  He’s not only brilliant but reminds me of an OCD artist - a stickler for sanitary condition and fine detail. 

About the great Dr. James Yuen:  At a recent gathering of  survivor friends, there was hands-down agreement that Dr. Yuen was a the most masterful reconstructive artist in the region.  Hooray!  Lucky for me!  So glad to hear it, and now experience it.  His masterful work has helped me realize that I’ve not only survived this nasty cancer, but I’ve also begun to heal from the physical remnants of mastectomy.  And while some women make the choice not to endure breast reconstruction, this magical process has put the physical scars of cancer behind me. 

My timeline has been updated.  Dr. Yuen will finish this reconstructive process during surgery scheduled for November 15th.   In mid-December I’ll begin daily radiation treatments for six weeks, hopefully completing my cancer treatments by the end of January.  The end will come only two weeks before the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis. 

No doubt, this will go down in my personal history book as a very long year.  I will forever consider it one of my worst and best years.  But it feels very gratifying to finally see a light at the end of this very long tunnel. 

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