The breast cancer questions that I get asked more than any others pertain to my reconstruction. This does not surprise me at all. I had so many questions myself 2. 5 years ago when I felt like I had nowhere to turn or anyone to ask. How could that be? How can 1 in 8 women be diagnosed with this disease yet when we are it feels like we are alone? My 2 cents: because women do not speak up and share their story because a) the reconstruction results didn't go well or b) they feel like breast cancer is too intimate to discuss. These reasons right here are why I created this blog, speak openly about my journey and why I competed in Mrs. America Inc. Pageant so that women could see there are others like them and that speaking out and sharing your story is not only okay but it is needed.
Most of my early on questions were things like:
Should I have a bilateral mastectomy?
How do I know if I am a candidate for a nipple sparring mastectomy?
How will I look after they take all of my breast tissue and I am left with implants?
Should I get implants?
What will life be like in my 40s with complete reconstruction?
And these above questions are just name a few. Every time someone approaches me with questions of their own I am an open book with my answers. I have no doubt the reason I am so transparent with my journey is the passion I have to show women that we can thrive and feel beautiful after breast cancer. However, I also know that my passion, my drive and my confidence in that knowledge would not be possible if it were not for the results I got from Dr. Garrett Harper.
In an earlier post I talked about my decision in going to Charlotte to Graper Harper Cosmetic Surgeons and what led me to that decision (plastic surgeons locally telling me I would look "reconstructed" and that being my original natural size was impossible) but I have not had a chance to really talk about the results and what that looks like a year post reconstruction.
To provide a little back story about my day to day life. My family and I live at the lake in beautiful South Carolina. We spend countless summer hours on our boat and enjoying the warm weather most of the year in cute shorts and tank tops. Needless to say having 2 children and being in my 40s was already taking the usual aging toll on my body. Now, add on a double mastectomy to that natural aging process and I thought for sure the days of looking remotely confident on a boat or in a tank top were long over and I would be the one in the coverup sweating. I was wrong. DEAD WRONG!
When I was diagnosed I knew immediately I wanted a double mastectomy. I also knew I wanted the tissue and the cancer gone and I wanted to have the least chance of reoccurrence. Now your oncologist will tell you that it is a radical surgery and that science shows that taking the other breast does not lessen your chance of reoccurrence. They are correct about one part- it is a radical surgery. As far as the stats on lessening reoccurrence I just do not believe it. Why? Because the countless women I have spoken to that opted for removing the one breast and were back after cancer came back in the other to have that one removed and now MORE treatment was staggering. I knew even then I wanted them both gone for a multitude of reasons and here is why:
I was told a mastectomy would need to occur because the mass was so large.
I would always be concerned the cancer would return in the other breast and peace of mind was huge in my healing process. Thank goodness I opted for that because they thought before the surgery I had no lymph node involvement when in fact I did thus increasing my reoccurrence chances.
I knew for the best results a double mastectomy would allow for better symmetry and end results.
Typing number 3 always gives me pause. Why? Because we as women are so conditioned to not appear vain. So anything that would be above just getting rid of the cancer seems frivolous and perhaps self-absorbed. The mindset was "just get rid of the cancer- who cares what you look like." I get that. Those that love me just want me here and to survive but anyone that says that has not been in my shoes. Why can't there be more? Why is it a choice between the two? Why can't I want to be rid of the cancer and also look good after? Why should we feel bad if we want the cancer gone and still want to look and feel good or maybe even better?
I have no doubt that the hope that Dr. Harper gave me prior to surgery about what I will look like is exactly what helped me focus on the end of this journey and actually look forward to the end result. For me it was like taking a sledge hammer to your kitchen and just being happy that you still had floors and walls. Sure we still have walls and a floor and we can make do with that but if we have the ability or know someone who has the ability to put it all back together and perhaps upgrade it with all new equipment why would we not? And that is just what Dr. Harper did.
I could not be more happy with my results. I was a 34D natural and he made me a 34D again. I opted for the nipple sparring mastectomy because both my surgical oncologist and Dr. Harper agreed the cancer was far enough away from the nipple that this was absolutely ok. I had Mentor expanders during my treatment of cancer and radiation and then once healed I had implants and lipo at time of the reconstruction surgery. Lipo??!?!?! Dr. Harper is an artist and when he does reconstruction he does it right. He took fat via liposuction from my abdomen and put it in the breast area for a more natural/tissue look since all of my tissue was taken during my mastectomy. If you are meeting with plastic surgeons who do not do this I highly recommend you talk to one who does. It makes all the difference in your results. This type of surgical process and over and beyond care is what made Dr. Harper standout above the rest.
At one of my last tissue expander "fill ups" and checkups before my final surgery I inquired about adding on a tummy tuck. I was already going in for reconstruction and lipo so it seemed that this would not be a far stretch to add on. Dr. Harper thought the results would be amazing and not much more invasive with everything else I was doing. So on surgery day I went in for my breast reconstruction, lipo for the breast tissue area and a tummy tuck. I came out of that surgery with not only breasts again but a complete mommy makeover made possible by a surgeon who cared. I came out of healing looking and feeling better than I have in years. I was more confident both physically and mentally than I was prior to breast cancer. I had a mission and a purpose!
Never settle for thinking that you can't and should not want more. You, my blonde bombshell beauts, are a warrior. You have the scars to prove it! And your medal of valor can and should be a great surgeon who will make you look and feel more beautiful than before!