Susan Ryan talks about navigating breast reconstruction options and the factors she considered when making decisions. Join us Wednesday, February 17 to listen to Susan and a panel of others who have considered reconstructive surgery discuss their experiences in our free webinar, Let’s Talk: Making Breast Reconstruction Decisions.
“It is crucial to find doctors who will listen to your thoughts, needs and feelings. Why? Because a cancer diagnosis pulls the rug out from underneath our feet. We need to exercise some control over some decisions.”
The quote comes from Susan Ryan’s e-book, Cancer Is Not My Boss – Today or Tomorrow, a pre- and post-mastectomy resource for people diagnosed with breast cancer who have also experienced child abuse. Susan wrote those words not only as a clinical psychologist, but also as a woman who understands those feelings.
After her own diagnosis in 2012, Susan ensured she asked the right questions and felt comfortable with her doctors as she navigated diagnosis and treatment. This was especially important to her when it came to making decisions about breast reconstruction.
In the first blog post of the Let’s Talk Breast Reconstruction Series, Susan tells Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Digital Media Specialist, Josh Fernandez, about her crash course in breast reconstruction, including talking with providers, understanding her options and empowering others.
Josh: Why did you decide to get immediate breast reconstruction?
Susan: My plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Becker was available to operate on me after my breasts were removed.
I thought I could return back to my life more quickly because there would be less surgeries vs other reconstructive surgeries. I had a great sex life before cancer and wanted it to continue after breast reconstruction. Cancer would take away my breasts, but it was not going to ruin my marriage or my sex life.
I thought I would look more natural which would be less upsetting to those around me including me.
Josh: You got tissue expanders with silicone implants. How did you decide on that option?
Susan: I consulted with Jane Brannon of Komen of Knoxville and she was extremely helpful. She gave me a crash course on breast reconstruction. She told me that the Dr. Matthew Becker is known as the “magician in the community.”
She told me that there were other options out there, but since I like to work out it might change the way my body works, i.e. abs would not be as strong, or if they took the dorsal muscle, swimming might weaken on one side. Since I like to swim, bike and run, implants seemed like a good fit for my lifestyle. Implants offered fewer surgeries than the other methods, which was a big plus. I also found out that they do not leak.
Josh: How did you feel about communicating your concerns about reconstruction with your provider(s)?
Susan: Communication with Dr. Becker was awesome. He listened. He was not rude. He answered my long list of questions at each visit. He gave me eye contact and smiled at me.
He only wanted to create the breasts that I wanted. He was never critical of my body nor did he ever try to sell me on more procedures or products. I told him I wanted as close to what I had before and that is what he gave me.
He was responsive when I had issues. He saw me right before he had to catch a flight to California when I had called that morning about by chest being red. He put me on antibiotics right away. He called me later to tell me to go to the hospital when he thought my labs looked off and he was right. He called throughout the weekend to check on me. I had a leaky expander in Sept of 2012 (he replaced it in 3 days, a staph infection in November of 2012 and capsular contracture. A compassionate doctor makes a huge difference.
Josh: In addition to your practice, writing and volunteering at events, you’re also an LBBC Breast Cancer Helpline Volunteer. What’s the biggest piece of advice you give to callers concerned about making breast reconstruction decisions?
Susan: Being comfortable with your doc is so important. Research shows that usually a patient’s immune system gets stronger with a good bond between doctor and patient, we recover faster when we go through an illness and/or complications. I encourage women to be open with their doctors. If there are any issues that are bothering them, it’s a great idea to put them on the table. It’s very important that when she is done with surgeries she has the size breasts that she wanted and not just what her surgeon thinks looks good.
Josh: What other important point would you like our readers to know about making decisions around reconstruction?
Susan: The choices belong to you. Breast reconstruction can be a time for transformation. It can be a time to go smaller or bigger or stay the same size. There are many choices out there. It can be the chance to never have saggy breasts again. In spite of the fact that I thought I looked a bit like Frankenstein post-mastectomy, it changed dramatically within six months. I went from not caring who saw my chest to wanting privacy because my chest began to look like I had breasts again. I tell newly diagnosed women that my breasts are beautiful. That when a doctor has to examine me, he or she always tells me how great they look. More importantly, I feel good when I look in the mirror. I see a woman who survived not only child abuse but breast cancer.
Susan Ryan is a clinical psychologist who helps people work through trauma. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Cancer taught her very quickly that her self-care needed improvement. At the time of her diagnosis, there seemed to be very little written about specific techniques for people with cancer to psychologically cope, especially if they’ve had a history of child abuse. This motivated her to write an e-book on Amazon, Cancer Does Not Own Me – Today or Tomorrow, as a resource for those working through trauma in addition to a cancer diagnosis. When she’s not working or competing in 5K races, Susan volunteers in her community for mental health events and for LBBC’s Breast Cancer Helpline.
Get helpful insight on breast reconstruction during our free February webinar. Register now for Let’s Talk: Making Breast Reconstruction Decisions.