Lynette Dilbert, whose sister died from breast cancer, was determined not to let the disease take over her life when she was diagnosed in August 2000. "I'm in charge of what I decide," explained Dilbert about her treatment.
Just eight months after Judy Tanner's husband died from a brain tumor in June 1998, she found a lump on her right breast while dressing. Devastated by her husband's death, the diagnosis of breast cancer was hard to bear, but like Sawyers and Dilbert, Tanner would not let the disease take her life.
Through research and discussions with physicians and breast cancer survivors, these women made a firm decision - after mastectomy they would undergo breast reconstruction.
This year, more than 175,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. However, if diagnosed and treated the survival rate is greater than 90 percent. For those women, whose treatment includes either partial or full mastectomy, advances in breast reconstruction and breakthrough legislation helps make this devastating news easier to bear.
"Strength and determination are simple words, yet they are strong terms that truly describe Lola, Lynette and Judy," said American Society of Plastic Surgeons President Walter Erhardt, MD, Albany, Ga., about his patients. "Choosing breast reconstruction is a big decision when facing this life-altering disease, but as any plastic surgeon can tell you, after breast reconstruction, survivors have a renewed sense of self-esteem and confidence.
"After breast reconstruction, no one can tell I had cancer," explained Dilbert. Tanner noted that she felt like a whole woman again. "I'm looking better than I did before," she said. "Even my co-workers have noticed a positive change in me."
Nearly 79,000 breast reconstruction procedures were performed last year, a 166 percent increase since 1992. The passage of the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 has aided this increase. The law mandates insurance coverage for breast reconstruction and the alteration of the opposite breast for symmetry for women who have undergone mastectomy. The law applies to women with group health insurance or a health insurance plan purchased through a health insurance company.
Discussion about breast reconstruction can start immediately after diagnosis. Typically, plastic surgeons make recommendations based upon the patient's age, health, anatomy, tissues and goals. The most common procedures include skin expansion followed by the use of implants, or flap reconstruction.
"Breast reconstruction gives patients the ability to feel whole again," said Dr. Erhardt. "As a plastic surgeon it's rewarding to see my patients develop a renewed confidence and love of life."
When confronted with breast cancer, Sawyers, who is known as the lemonade lady in her community because she's taken life's lemons and made lemonade, reminds woman to look at all the options. "Make reconstruction a personal choice based on what you believe and what you know," she says. "Let the final decision be yours."
"Loosing a breast is not the end of the world," said Dilbert who is active in her community's breast cancer advocacy programs. "I constantly remind women to schedule their mammograms."
Tanner strongly advises women to ask questions when choosing reconstruction. "Find out all you can about the surgeon's credentials, talk to other patients and do your homework," she reminds.
ASPS, founded in 1931, is the largest plastic surgery organization in the world and the foremost authority on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. For referrals to ABPS-certified plastic surgeons in your area and to learn more about cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery, call the ASPS at (888) 4-PLASTIC (1-888-475-2784) or visit www.plasticsurgery.org.
Dr Chrysopoulo is board certified in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and specializes in breast reconstruction surgery after mastectomy for breast cancer. He and his partners perform hundreds of microsurgical breast reconstructions with perforator flaps each year including the DIEP flap procedure. PRMA Plastic Surgery, San Antonio, Texas. Toll Free: (800) 692-5565. Keep up to date with the latest breast reconstruction news by following Dr Chrysopoulo's Breast Reconstruction Blog.