On July 1, 2013, I found out that I had Breast Cancer. Surgery was first and my only option was a mastectomy. The cancer was on my right side and I chose to have bilateral mastectomies, removing my left breast as well. That day in the surgeon’s office, the same day I received the diagnosis, I remember them telling me “you will have reconstruction…your insurance covers it…do you have a plastic surgeon in mind…” At that point, the only thing on my mind was I WANT TO LIVE. I did not care about reconstruction. I cared about my husband, my two-year-old daughter, and our future. I was 31, while I had a long life left to live I did not think at that moment that how I looked would impact me so much. I just wanted to make sure I was healthy.
The next month was filled with tests and doctor’s appointments. After my surgery I found out that eighteen lymph nodes were removed; ten were positive for cancer. I awoke that afternoon with tissue expanders in place of my breasts. But the cancer was removed and I was moving on to the next step soon, chemo and radiation. Reconstructive surgery was still a distant thought.
As I progressed through the side effects of chemo; loss of hair, nausea, weight gain, fatigue, nails discoloration, etc. I continued to live my normal life. I continued in my goal of furthering my career. I packed lunches, made dinner, read books, and said “I love you” – I was still a mom and a wife. I remained active and participated in family events, went to church, and celebrated holidays. I smiled through the tears and I tried my best to live each day as best I could. Cancer would not stop me.
In addition to the above, I lived every day with painful tissue expanders. Everyone talked to me about the technical part of reconstruction but no one truly talked WITH me about how long the process was or listened to my questions. I had this responsibility of figuring things out on my own while also dealing with a terrible disease. I realized a year after my surgery that I needed a second opinion on my reconstruction and at that time I saw Dr. Barone.
I cried at my first appointment. I cried because I finally felt some relief; relief from the physical pain and relief that I was going to have the best care for my reconstruction. I had someone discussing options WITH me, guiding me through the process, showing me what each phase would mean for me and how we would eventually get there together. I had a team of professionals who understood the feelings I was having – inadequacy of how I looked, fear of the pain and what the future held, confusion about all the different options and the entire process. I held my head high, I pushed through each day because it was what I needed to do – but deep down, I was scared and worried. I was thirty one. Baggy shirts, dresses I could no longer wear, and uncomfortable bras were now part of my every-day life. I knew after this appointment that I wouldn’t have to feel this way for much longer.
Dr. Barone and his staff have surrounded me with care and love. I feel like I am their only patient each and every time. I no longer have anxiety prior to an appointment but instead look forward to what is to come. In one year I have come so much farther than I ever anticipated at that first appointment; I am grateful for the opportunity to have such a hard-working and dedicated team on my side. I enjoy looking at the before pictures, knowing that the after pictures keep getting better.