Helping Breast Cancer Survivors Feel Whole

Breast cancer is a disease that threatens and sometimes takes lives. But even?women who win their battles with cancer suffer scars, often literal ones. Some lose portions of or all of their breasts, and that physical change can be traumatic. For women who have been through that battle, plastic surgeons can provide an important service, helping the patient regain self-esteem and a sense of normalcy after a struggle with cancer. Dr. Kathleen Meyer,?a plastic surgeon at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, has experience working with cancer patients. ?With breast cancer, there are?often social issues, as well,? Meyer said.??With some women, much of their identity is tied up in their femininity and body type. (And) some women could experience rejection from their spouse because of breast cancer.? The decision to have reconstructive surgery can be hard on the patient both physically and emotionally. A patient goes through physical trauma of treatment and mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries. But even more than the physical effect, the emotions around getting plastic surgery can be intense, as patients deal with their bodies changing and?their personal experiences with cancer. Surgeons are trained to identify the best options for each case. Meyer said she begins each consultation by balancing the patient?s risks versus the benefits for each choice available.?Meyer presents different choices, but also makes sure the patient knows which plan she recommends and why. Patients have options including reconstruction or a less-permanent prosthesis. The choices a patient has also depend?on the treatments before a mastectomy and other health concerns. Radiation, for example, makes a reconstructive surgery more difficult, as does diabetes and smoking. Meyer recommends patients learn as much as they can about each option. ?I think the women who are best educated are a lot more comfortable with their choice,” Meyer said.?”If they understand the pluses and minuses of reconstruction and their own uniqueness of what that means to them, I think they?re the happiest with their reconstruction.? It?s important for the patients to know themselves and what will be best for them in the long run. For example, a prosthesis could work well for someone who is not very active,?while someone with a more active lifestyle would do better with reconstruction.?Some patients need more time than others to process and think about a decision. In November 2015?when Tara Mondloch?was diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors recommended surgery. A month later, she had a double mastectomy.?For Mondloch, the choice to move forward with reconstructive surgery was easy after she heard her options. ?I made the decision (to have reconstructive surgery after the mastectomy) right then and there,? Mondloch said.??The reconstruction actually wasn?t hard. I think I had the hardest time when they first told me I needed the mastectomy. After that, it was easy to say I wanted it all done and finished.? Before reconstruction surgery, many patients like Mondloch go through tissue expansion. Right after a mastectomy, a plastic surgeon places expanders under the skin to slowly stretch and expand the skin and muscles. Through the course of several weeks or months, a medical professional will gradually inject a salt-water solution through a valve to expand the area. It is a slow process, allowing time for the body to prepare for the more permanent implant. ?There?s quite a change in your physique for that amount of time,? Mondloch said.??The expanders are not a good look, but the end result was good.? Mondloch?s advice for anyone going through cancer or other health issues is to find a good support system and learn how to handle the process. ?The people around you make a huge difference,? Mondloch said.??Everybody handles it a little bit differently, but making sure that you deal with it in a way that works for you is important.? Contact reporter Caitlin Shuda: 715-424-7307 or?[email protected]; on Twitter @CaitlinShuda

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At Nashville Plastic Surgery, we have a deep understanding of the important role that physical image plays in life, yet we never lose sight of emotional well being. Our approach to plastic and reconstructive surgery integrates these fundamental principles to promote overall health.