Archive for the ‘Reconstruction’ Category

Our New Vision and Mission

August 20, 2013

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This morning, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s CEO Jean Sachs released the following message to our friends and supporters:

Dear Friends:

All of us at Living Beyond Breast Cancer are excited to share our new vision and mission statements with you:

Our new vision

A world where no one impacted by breast cancer feels uninformed or alone.

Our new mission

To connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support.

These new statements were developed with the help of over 1,200 of you who responded to a survey we sent out earlier this year. Your input was used in a day-long retreat with members of the board of directors and staff. We learned what LBBC services are valued most and why so many have come to depend on our educational programs and services that allow for connection to others diagnosed with breast cancer.

For me, these new statements say with clarity what we strive to do every day and what we hope to achieve over time. Yesterday, I spoke with a long-time friend who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was overwhelmed, scared and shocked. Our conversation and the resources I was able to put in her hands grounded her and provided her with enough comfort and confidence to take the next step.

This is what LBBC does every day, and it is exactly what the new vision and mission statements express.

I hope you share my enthusiasm and, as always, if you have comments I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Jean 

Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP

Chief Executive Officer

LBBC

“Hit it hard and hit it fast.”

March 13, 2013

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Last week, we introduced you to LBBC’s newest blogger, Laura Renegar, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2011.  When we left off, Laura had asked her surgeon if the results he had just delivered did indeed mean she had TNBC.  Trying to be as compassionate as possible he stated, “Yes darlin’, it does.”   

Always the southern gentlemen even as I was being told I have been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.  Here I was, thrown back down to the lowest point of the roller coaster ride yet. By this point, I had done enough research to know that I should be frightened. The research that I had seen showed the statistics and the prognosis of TNBC are not as positive as some other types of breast cancer, that there is not any targeted therapy for TNBC and that is usually very aggressive. Now I understood why my surgeon wanted my tumor out a few weeks prior. I understood why he didn’t want to waste another week waiting for the insurance company to decide the fate of my diagnosis while debating coverage for a blood test.  All things became clear. I had to become my own advocate and I had to seek every bit of information I could find and I had to do my research.  I didn’t know anyone that had triple-negative breast cancer, in fact, I had barely heard of it.

I had a port placed in my chest a few days later and in a few weeks, I began chemotherapy. Three days before chemotherapy I met my first survivor friend who had TNBC. She was coming up on her five year mark and I was impressed. She looked good and she was healthy. I became focused on just getting through chemotherapy because my oncologist said we were going to “hit it hard and hit it fast”, and we did.

I put my BRCA test results out of my mind and I gave 100% attention to staying well through chemotherapy. A month after my last chemotherapy treatment was my 48th birthday and it was time for me to make my decision for further treatment. Because of the fact that my cancer was triple-negative and the fact that I have the BRCA2 gene mutation, my decisions seemed pretty clearly defined. My oncologist seemed to think so, my surgeon seemed to think so, but yet, I had to make the final decision, and live with that decision, whichever path I chose.

I didn’t have to have a bilateral mastectomy. I didn’t have to have my ovaries removed. But if I didn’t have those surgeries, would that encourage a recurrence?  I clearly remember lying in my bed on my birthday and thinking “in order to have more birthdays, I have to do everything in my power to protect myself”.  I remember weighing my options. Even though my cancer was not in my lymph nodes, and I had chemotherapy, the fact that I was BRCA2 positive remained. My chance of a recurrence was extremely high; and the prognosis of recurrent triple negative breast cancer is poor. I had to do everything I could to secure my future and my life. I began researching bilateral mastectomies and what it meant to have my ovaries removed and what it would be like to be put in medical menopause at 47 years old. This option did not seem to be an easy path, but it did seem like the safest treatment path, to secure a future for myself.

The bilateral surgery, along with the oophorectomy (Ed. Note: the surgical removal of an ovary), was a hard surgery for me.  It was hard physically and emotionally, and my roller coaster ride continued through reconstruction while learning to live with menopausal symptoms and my new body.

March 1, 2013 was the date of my two-year survivor anniversary. I look back now and am so proud of the path I took and the decisions I made to ensure my health. I did everything I could possibly do to beat my triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis and reduce the chances of a recurrence.

Would I do the same thing over again? Yes I would!

My story is still unfolding but I live each day the best way I can. I volunteer a lot for the American Cancer Society, I continue to update my blog, I write stories and articles when I am asked to, and I tell my story when I am invited to speak about it. Mainly, I try to encourage women to be their own advocate, to get their annual mammograms, to have their yearly physical, and to do self exams. I encourage them to know their breasts and to know their health history.

I will continue to try and shine a light on TNBC until a targeted therapy is found. I now know 19 women with triple-negative breast cancer. Two years ago I was not fortunate enough to know, and love, these women but I consider this one of the many blessings of this diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with TNBC, please reach out to people in your community and to find other TNBC survivors. How? Ask your doctors to introduce you to some of them.  See if there is a local support group for TNBC.  You can also call the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and contact the American Cancer Society and ask for a TNBC volunteer with Reach to Recovery.

I also encourage you to seek out the many services available at LBBC for women with TNBC including their Guide to Understanding Triple Negative Breast Cancer, expanded sections of content on their award winning website and their upcoming free webinar featuring Dr. Eric P. Winer.

Take advantage of these resources and find other women – because they may need to have you in their life just as you will want them to be in yours.

On April 17, LBBC and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation will host a free webinar at 12:00 p.m. EST.  Also accessible by phone, the webinar’s featured guest is Dr. George W. Sledge Jr. Chief, Division of Oncology, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine.  During the call, you’ll hear about today’s standard of care in treating breast cancer that tests negative for the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 neu receptors and gain insight on making the treatment decisions that are right for you.  In addition, how to access clinical trials and get an insider’s look at the latest research on the horizon will also be discussed. Register online or call (610) 645-4567.

In addition, you can order a free copy of LBBC’s Guide to Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer,  that offers helpful information, whether you have just been diagnosed or you are moving forward after treatment.

Be sure to check out Laura’s blog, too!

“Yes darlin’, – it does.”

March 6, 2013

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If we followed format, this is where we’d introduce you to LBBC’s newest blogger, Laura Renegar, with a few polite lines that could never  do justice to this amazingly talented and funny lady.  We’re still laughing over this offering of honesty:

When I had expanders in my chest they kind of formed a shelf below my collar bone. When I was sick and in bed and would eat propped up, I would CONSTANTLY have toast crumbs or Oreo crumbs on that “shelf” on my chest. Once I found a whole chocolate chip sitting there and once I found a piece of turkey. There are funny moments during expansion and reconstruction. 

Here is the first of a planned series of blogs where Laura will share her experiences as a woman diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

On March 1, 2011, I received the call that every woman dreads. I was at work, sitting at my desk, holding my cell phone that showed the name of my OB/GYN calling. My mind debated about not answering the phone, but quickly considered the possibility that this phone call could be good news. When I answered that call, my life, and the life of my family and friends would be forever changed. “You have breast cancer” my doctor said, “I am sorry.” We talked for a few minutes as I sat numbly at my desk writing the name and number of the surgeon he suggested on a small piece of scrap paper.

A few days later my husband and I met my surgeon and his nurse. Right in the beginning of the appointment the doctor said “can I joke with you?” Are you kidding me? This was my kind of doctor! Not only did I want him to be able to joke with me, I needed him to be able to joke with me. No matter how serious breast cancer can be, I needed my medical team to be brutally honest, caring, and compassionate yet able to lighten some of the moments with a joke or some laughter.

My surgeon recommended genetic testing and I agreed to see a genetic counselor for my BRCA test. I had the blood test and genetic counseling and the waiting began. One week became two weeks. My insurance company was negotiating with the genetic testing company about my coverage for this $3,400 blood test. Two weeks! My surgeon scheduled my lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy because he couldn’t allow my cancer to continue to grow and spread while waiting for the insurance company to make a decision. At this point I began to realize that my cancer was most likely aggressive. I was told that my cancer would be staged, and further diagnosed, when the tumor was removed during the lumpectomy. I felt lost and left somewhat in the dark. Every day seemed as if we were hurrying up for a test or an appointment and then we were waiting. I felt like we were always waiting for a call, an answer, or a test result. I felt immediate relief the night of the lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy surgery, knowing that my cancer had been removed. I was very happy to have the surgery behind me, but little did I know that my real roller coaster ride was just beginning.

Two days after my surgery I got a phone call from the genetics counselor. Once again, a phone call that I was hoping was going to deliver good news – but I heard hard news instead. The phone call began with “I am sorry to tell you this, two days after your surgery, but your BRCA test came back positive yesterday.” What? The BRCA2 gene mutation put a whole different spin on my diagnosis. Now I felt as if I was at the bottom of the roller coaster loop and I began researching. My odds of getting breast cancer were obviously 100% (since I already had it) and the test showed my odds of getting ovarian cancer were over 50%. But what does this test say, and prove, about my chance of recurrence? I was recuperating from the surgery yet my mind and heart were nagged by this BRCA test result and worrying already about a recurrence. Five more days passed and we still had not gotten news on my pathology report from my lumpectomy. No news is good news right? Eight days after my lumpectomy, I was at work, and my phone rang; it was my surgeon’s nurse. No news was good news! My lymph nodes were negative for cancer and he was able to get clear margins. I am ecstatic, we are all celebrating and dancing around, and now I feel like I am on one of the upper tracks of my roller coaster ride.

Clear margins AND clean lymph nodes? How blessed am I? I am on the top of the world!

The next day I receive another phone call, this time it is with the result of my her2 neu test. I was still riding high on the lack of cancerous activity in my lymph nodes and the fact that he was able to get clear margins. My surgeon stated that my her2 neu test came back negative. I got very quiet and said to my surgeon, “this means I am triple negative, doesn’t it?”

He paused on the other end of the phone and said “Yes darlin’, – it does.”

On April 17, LBBC and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation will host a free webinar at 12:00 p.m. EST.  Also accessible by phone, the webinar’s featured guest is Dr. George W. Sledge Jr. Chief, Division of Oncology, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine. During the call, you’ll hear about today’s standard of care in treating breast cancer that tests negative for the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 neu receptors and gain insight on making the treatment decisions that are right for you.  In addition, how to access clinical trials and get an insider’s look at the latest research on the horizon will also be discussed. Register online or call (610) 645-4567.

In addition, you can order a free copy of LBBC’s Guide to Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer,  that offers helpful information, whether you have just been diagnosed or you are moving forward after treatment.

Be sure to check out Laura’s blogtoo!

Eve Wallinga: “It’s beautiful. It’s me.”

August 6, 2012

On Tuesday, August 21, 2012, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host a free teleconference, Breast Reconstruction: Considering Your Options, featuring Frederick Duffy, Jr, MD, FACS. LBBC is lucky to have a wonderful network of women willing to share their stories on these more personal, yet under represented matters in the breast cancer community. Join the LBBC Blog in welcoming Eve Wallinga, as she shares why she chose reconstruction.

When I learned I’d need a mastectomy, I never considered not having reconstruction. I  didn’t even care if I was symmetrical, as long as I didn’t wake up with a blank chest.

Maybe I’m not as strong as other women, not as sure of who I am, as confident of my femininity. Or maybe I’m stronger. Strong enough to endure more surgery, pain, and recuperation to restore my breast. Strong enough to draw the line at losing that part of myself to this relentless disease. I needed to know I’d done all I could to fight and win.

I was fortunate to be referred to a plastic surgeon. Not all women are even told about reconstruction. But I was offered only two techniques, because those were the ones the plastic surgeons in my area performed.

I didn’t like the idea of abdominal muscle being cut and my tissue being tunneled up through my body while it stayed attached down below (called a “pedicled TRAM“). So I opted for an implant, which would be placed at the time of mastectomy and gradually filled over several months. Didn’t sound fun, but at least I wouldn’t wake up with nothing.

An hour before surgery, fate intervened with a twist. Seemed my cancer was a rare type. Maybe I’d need radiation after all. Since radiation and implants don’t mix, I’d have to delay reconstruction and face my nightmare scenario of waking up without a breast.

When I first took off that wide white bandage, I squinted my eyes to blur the sight. I turned away from the mirror when I dressed, closed my right eye to block any peripheral view of the empty space, wore a bikini top to bathe, a padded bra during the day. For sleeping, I cut out the left side of an old padded bra, so my left breast would be unfettered, but my right side covered.

But now, I can honestly say the delay was the best thing that happened. I had time to research options and realized I wasn’t limited to local reconstruction techniques. I saw online photos where I could hardly tell which breast was the original and which was the reproduction, and women whose bodies looked better in the “after” pictures than the “before.” I took an informed leap of faith and headed to New Orleans for stacked DIEP flap reconstruction.

Living without a breast for a few months made me better appreciate waking up with my new one. It’s beautiful. It’s me. Like my old breast was magically resurrected. I don’t feel like I ever had a mastectomy.

Despite your desire to get the cancer out of your body quickly, in most cases you can and should take the time to do homework. Depending on your circumstances, you can have immediate reconstruction or delayed, even by years. There are now skin-sparing mastectomies, even nipple-sparing, where basically the cancerous “stuffing” is removed and replaced with an implant or your own tissue. More fat sources are available for flap reconstruction, including gluteal flaps (your derriere), which I chose to reconstruct my other breast, prophylactically, several years after the first.

Your choice of surgeon is as important as your choice of reconstruction technique. Find a specialist with experience specific to what you want, and if you want a flap, don’t let the doctor dissuade you by saying you don’t have enough fat. Maybe that surgeon wants you to go with the only procedure they know, or they’re not experienced enough with flaps to make it work. Ask how many procedures they’ve done, what their success rate is, look at their before and after pictures, and talk to a former patient or two.

You can check out sites like www.breastcancer.org where there are discussion boards about all different kinds of reconstruction, and you’re sure to find women in the same situation as yours, as well as those further down the road, happy to share what they’ve learned. If you decide on reconstruction, there are many possibilities, though unfortunately none of the techniques are easy. But being a cancer survivor, you’ve already endured worse. I’ve made it a personal crusade to try to help empower women with knowledge about their choices. Whatever you choose, best of luck!

Eve Wallinga is a 6-year breast cancer survivor who lives in St. Cloud, MN with her husband and Yorkshire Terrier. Her two children have flown the nest. She is a co-founder of the Breastoration Foundation. Click here to read her blog, “The Breast of the Story.” Also, be sure to check out the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Event Page where you can get more information on the upcoming August teleconference on Breast Reconstruction: Considering Your Options.


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