The News is Really Good
We have all heard of it, and most of us know others who have had it. But very few of us really expect it will happen to us. The diagnosis of breast cancer is a woman’s fears realized. Questions like why me? How bad? Will I survive?
Then a second wave of questions rushes in, like will I need chemo? Will I lose my hair? Will I have to lose my entire breast? What does reconstruction mean? Well, there is hope for these questions.
Thankfully for many in the 21st century, a breast cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, but an opportunity to be a survivor and even a thriver. New technologies allow breast cancer to be diagnosed sooner, and needle biopsy techniques allow diagnosis without a surgery. Many advances have also been made in breast reconstruction to reduce recovery time and optimize symmetry for long term satisfactory results.
In the past a mastectomy was a disfiguring, guillotine style surgery. Now the breast tissue can be removed, leaving behind the breast skin envelope, sometimes even the nipple. This can be filled at the time of the mastectomy using a direct-to-implant procedure, avoiding the many stages which were standard five years ago.
A partial mastectomy or lumpectomy, followed by radiation therapy, has become a routine way to handle many breast cancers. In the past this could leave a woman with a “sunken cupcake” look, resulting in asymmetry. As innovators, plastic surgeons applied their unique skills to developing oncoplastic reconstruction. In this technique the breast is reshaped and lifted at the same time as the lumpectomy. This helps a woman’s result to be not just as good, but sometimes even better in size and shape!
Thankfully, a federal law mandates that insurance covers the reconstruction of the affected breast, as well as the surgery necessary to reshape the other breast to achieve symmetry. Despite this, some women choose not to have reconstruction because they have been misinformed, or are overwhelmed by the deluge of information associated with the diagnosis of breast cancer. It is essential each woman have a consultation with a qualified plastic surgeon, who can offer them and explain the range of modern reconstructive options. When you are informed, it is easier to have the peace of mind which is key for recovery and healing.
Some plastic surgeons, like myself, focused their training by doing a specific fellowship in breast reconstructive surgery. As part of that training, I also became interested in the nutritional aspects of women dealing with breast cancer. I routinely do a nutritional screening prior to surgery, to optimize individual healing and recovery, and have found most patients are nutritionally depleted with low vitamin D levels, low zinc and low B12. Diabetes will also affect healing and recovery.
You win a marathon by getting off the sofa and running regularly. Applying that marathon preparation strategy to nutrition and activity, as you are dealing with health challenges including cancer, can make the journey a little easier and and a lot more hopeful.
Diane G. Bowen, MD, is owner of Golden Isles Center for Plastic Surgery, PC – 1015 Arthur J. Moore Dr., SSI., with a full medical spa and on-site plastic surgery suite. 912.634.1993. Dr. Bowen is founder and director of newly formed business, Centered on Wellness, at the same location.