Jackie Roth, PhD: “They Put Us Back Together”

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

Breast cancer is not something you are thinking about when you are 28. I was a student and a newlywed at the time, yet I found myself spending the last years of my twenties in strange doctor’s appointments, losing my hair, and making important decisions that would affect the rest of my life.

I met with my plastic surgeon very early on in this process. I wanted to make sure that I understood all of the steps that I would have to take on this cancer journey, the last of which included reconstruction. After the first appointment, however, I left with more questions than I had at the start!  “What is a tissue expander? You are going to make a flap using my back?  You can tattoo on nipples?  Huh?!?”

It all seemed so strange and confusing to me. Luckily, I had time to figure it out because I had my chemotherapy first. I sought second and third opinions about reconstruction and sure enough, I was hearing the same thing from everyone: I was going to need some sort of flap surgery because I was having radiation. My understanding was that since radiation will damage my skin and muscle in the area, the surgeon would bring new skin and muscle from somewhere else on my body. This procedure would help prevent a capsule from forming around the implant, which could ultimately lead to my body rejecting the implant. Since I am petite, the only option that I was given was the latissimus flap. They would take part of my latissimus muscle and use that to create a new pocket for my implant.  After finishing chemotherapy, I had my double mastectomy with tissue expander placement. Next, I completed my radiation, and then waited 6 months before my latissimus flap surgery.  This was by far the hardest surgery. I had drains and incisions on both sides of my back and both sides of my front.  For weeks, there was no way I could even lay down.

After the latissimus flap surgery, and some expansions, I have to admit that I was very concerned with my results. My breasts were uneven, mis-shaped, and all together too small for my liking.  They were a small B. I was super nervous that the results were not going to be what I expected. I even considered putting off my swap-out surgery because I just wanted to be prepared for what might not be the outcome I expected. Luckily, my plastic surgeon assured me that I would have a great outcome and so I decided to proceed with the surgery as scheduled.

On the day of my swap-out surgery this past April, I wrote a “to do” list on my hand to my surgeon which he could look at during surgery and thus be reminded of everything we talked about in our last appointment. My doctor is one of the best plastic surgeons in the area, and really does not need a “to do” list from a patient! The top thing on the list said “BIG”! I just wanted to be the same size as I was before my mastectomy. After reading this, my surgeon was laughing so hard! He made me laugh too, and today, I actually don’t remember what the rest of the list said!

My feelings towards the final outcome of my reconstruction are easily summed up by a conversation that I had with my physical therapist. He saw me for the first time after my swap out surgery and asked if I like the results. I said “I look down every morning and I can’t believe I get to “wear” these great accessories every day!” After he realized that I was referring to my new breasts as accessories, he was rolling on the floor laughing!

Well, clearly, I could not be happier with the results. I am the size that I wanted, and I’ve decided to hold off on any decisions about tattooing on nipples for a while as I get used to my new body. At my last appointment, I admitted to my plastic surgeon that he was right about everything. In some ways, I think that they have the hardest job in all of this. They have to pick up the pieces after we have been operated on, had toxic chemo running through our veins, and been zapped with radiation to the point of severe burns. They put us back together. To my plastic surgeon, a sincere thank you for everything you’ve done for me and the many other women you help! At the beginning of my cancer journey, I never imagined that I could be this happy with my final results!

Jackie is a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who was diagnosed with Stage III A breast cancer at the age of 28.  Jackie was a part of LBBC’s 20th   anniversary blog series and just completed her reconstruction surgery this past April.   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.

5 thoughts on “Jackie Roth, PhD: “They Put Us Back Together”

  1. I have to tell you that not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to have been able to undergo immediate reconstruction. I underwent a DIEP (or muscle sparing) procedure where my surgeon reconstructed my breasts using my stomach. He did a wonderful job and I am extremely happy. The surgery was a lot to go through but in the end it was so worth it and I am elated. After the initial surgery, I had a clean up surgery where he fixed what needed to be fixed. He then reconstructed the nipples and tatooed the areolas. You cannot tell by looking at me that I had any of this done. I do change in dressing rooms and in the gym and no one would ever be able to tell unless I tell them. My scar lines are all tucked underneath. I had a very skilled and kind plastic surgeon, Dr. Sameer Patel, from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and believe me when I tell you I don’t know where me or my family would be without him. I was very luck to get a very warm, caring and skilled doctor. His skill as a plastic surgeon takes a back seat to no one. For me, I am a four year survivor now and don’t think I can be any happier with my results. I have my doctor, Dr. Sameer Patel, to thank for that.

  2. By the way, the nipple reconstruction and tattooing were very easy office procedures and I worked for a portion of both days and had these done in the afternoon. No sweat there. My whole experience turned out to be a great one, mostly because Dr. Patel really does know what he is doing. His skills are wonderful and he was extremely kind to me. We need more doctors like him.

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