Moving Beyond Breast Cancer and Revision Surgery
I’m currently only weeks away from my one year “cancerversary” from being diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer at age 37 and am finding myself taken back to where I was last year in getting ready to be on the “other side of the scalpel” as I prepare for reconstruction revision surgery. In some ways, this feels similar, in terms of the worry about complications, how my recovery’s going to go, and the impact it will have on my family, work, and exercise routines. But in so many other ways, this time is different, and complicated in ways I never expected, despite having performed so many breast reconstruction revision surgeries myself as a plastic surgeon. Here we will talk about moving beyond breast cancer and revision surgery.
While my first surgery was overwhelming because of all of the cancer unknowns, like whether or not my lymph nodes were involved and if I’d need chemotherapy, this time feels “elective,” which brings a new set of emotions with it. When I reassure my patients that their initial or revision breast reconstruction surgery will be covered by insurance because it’s not their choice to have breast cancer or a gene putting them at high risk for breast cancer, I like to think it gives them permission to truly accept the surgery as reconstructive, and not cosmetic (which it of course isn’t). And even though I completely believe this for myself as well, somehow it still leaves me wondering if going through surgery again is something I really “need” to do. I’m cancer-free and honestly have a pretty fantastic result thanks to my amazing surgical team, which makes me question if I should just ignore the subtle divots and asymmetries left from my cancer treatment instead of going through another surgery? Is it worth it to put myself and my family through another recovery when I’m truly grateful every day to feel so healthy and am completely settled back into all of my pre-cancer exercise and work routines?
And then, in the midst of all of this doubt, I remember what I promise my patients, which is that I will do everything I can to get them back to feeling and looking like themselves after surgery as quickly and smoothly as possible so that they’re not reminded every day when they look in the mirror that they had cancer. I think about how happy it makes me when one of my patients says that they can barely remember which side they had cancer on because they’ve healed so well or that they like their breasts even more than they did before their cancer surgery thanks to their oncoplastic breast reconstruction. And it reminds me that I too deserve to look in the mirror every day without a reminder of cancer and to head into my revision surgery with the permission to look as healthy and cancer-free as I feel.