BayCare Clinic plastic surgeons discuss Breast Reconstruction Awareness

When I see a patient for the first time, one of the most important things I think I can help her with is to slow down the process. Often times patients feel compelled to rush right in and if they’re not in the operating room within two or three days, they feel that their their life is slipping away, and that’s just not the case. They have time to think about their options and think about the implications of the different surgical treatments that they’ve been given, so that when they look back in five years, they’re very happy with the choice that they made and it’s the right one for them. We have a multidisciplinary team. This includes the breast cancer surgeon, the hematologist, the radiation doctor, the genetic counselors, and the plastic surgeons. And so we’re all present. The radiologist comes, the pathologist comes, we all review the cases at a multidisciplinary conference and we can coordinate the care and that really takes a lot of the work out of the patient’s hands. In addition, we have a great cancer team with cancer coordinators and they help arrange appointments and pick up, kind of, the things that get left so that people know where they’re going and how to contact someone at all times. The reconstructive physician will stay with the patient for a long time – sometimes a year or more. So, we really get to experience this with the patient, we really get to see the process from start to finish, and it’s pretty amazing – the transition. Patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer have a variety of responses. Some are a little bit stunned by it and you don’t see any emotion in them, some are quite traumatized and emotional. When things come together well and patients are pleased and happy, that’s really a payoff for the job. Having a happy patient in your office who says, “I feel great and I’m doing great” and, you know, sometimes hugs and emotion, it’s a fantastic experience. One of the aspects of breast cancer that can be most fear-invoking for patients is that they feel that out in public for the rest of their lives, they’ll be marked by having had cancer surgery, and so helping them get back to a normal life, to wear normal clothing, to do normal things, all those sorts of things are very, very rewarding and seeing that confidence come back in a patient is something that is just really tremendous. There have been many studies done now over many years that have determined what the role of reconstruction is, because obviously we’re not doing surgery just to do surgery and put people back to the way that we think that they should look. This is something that’s done for the patient. So, there are many people who have elected not to have reconstruction in the past and we see several of those folks who have lived without breasts and who have come to us and say, you know, this is not the way I want to spend my life. Some of my happiest patients are patients who have lived without breast reconstruction for several years and these are the people who really understand what it’s worth. We can tell somebody before mastectomy what breast reconstruction is worth and what it’s going to mean to them and they can understand that certainly, but somebody who’s lived without breast reconstruction for several years can appreciate it much better, and those are some of the happiest patients after reconstruction. Oftentimes in treating a cancer, and especially breast cancer, getting rid of the stigmata of having had the disease is very important, so it’s not a constant reminder to the patient that “I am a victim.” Instead, we want to get them forward to the point where they say, “I’m just a person again.” And so breast reconstruction is one of those procedures that we do that really moves those patients forward and allows them to just get on with life and almost forget that they ever had this disease. Patients really like to have a bit of control.They have no control when they get diagnosed with this; they lose all of that. And being able to choose reconstruction, help choose how that goes, and then feel like they’ve had some control and they’ve gotten past cancer, they’ve done something to control the situation and to move forward and I think that is priceless.

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