Ask the Doctor: I am Ready for My Second Mastectomy. What are my Options and Can I do a Lymph Node Transfer at the Same Time?

purple crocus

This week, Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question about breast reconstruction.

Question: I am looking at reconstruction options after a right mastectomy in September, ready for other side mastectomy and reconstruction in June. I’m interested in lymph node replacement also.

Answer: We would be more than happy to help you any way we can. We work with several breast oncology surgeons, and routinely do immediate reconstruction with DIEP flaps, GAP flaps, or pre-pectoral implants (usually just local patients for implants, though, as they actually require more postop visits than flaps).

We usually don’t recommend doing lymph node transfer at the same time as flap reconstruction, because 1) doing the nodes at the same time entails compromises in the flap placement, the node placement, or both, and 2) placing a healthy unradiated flap will sometimes improve lymphedema by itself. We do, however, routinely incorporate lymph node transfer in second-stage flap surgeries, and that has worked nicely from a technical standpoint.

I would be happy to chat with you more about your options, or see you any time you would like to make an appointment.

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

Ask the Doctor: Do You Take Medicare Replacement Plans for Breast Reconstruction?

This week, Gail Lanter, CPC Practice Manager, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question.

Question: The worst part of my battle was with a Medicare Advantage Plan HMO. I’ve switched to a different plan and am thrilled with the way my breast cancer situation has turned out. We are not objects for the medical community. Most women would never initiate what I have had to go through. I am so thankful that I have gone the route I did.

Answer:  Thanks for reaching out. Sounds like things are going well for you, that’s great to hear!

We understand completely the problems many patients are having with Medicare Advantage (Replacement) plans, both the PPO and HMO’s. They are difficult and sometimes impossible to deal with from both the patient and provider perspective. We have decided that our practice will not accept new patients with a Medicare Replacement plan going forward for microsurgical free flap breast reconstruction procedures – only Traditional Medicare.

Maybe one day we’ll reconsider – but not until some significant improvement in both the provider service and claims processing areas within those payers takes place. It’s awful the way two of the top 10 largest insurers in the United States who offer Medicare Replacement Plans treat patients and their providers and it should be stopped.

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

Ask the Doctor – Would Reconstruction Be Successful For Me?

This week, James E. Craigie, MD, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question.

Question: I had implants put in 33 years ago, got breast cancer, had a lumpectomy, radiation, and got rock hard implants as a result. I just recently decided to have the implants removed and a great deal of scar tissue. They put in expanders that caused me to get an infection. I had to almost beg them to believe me as the pain was horrific. I had a 2nd doctor remove the expanders. I now have a very deformed left breast and a severely drooping right breast. I contacted the doctor who put my implants in years ago. He is no longer in the area but told me about this procedure.

I guess my question is if this procedure would be successful for me? I do not like the way I look, and it is painful as well. I am a teacher and would need to know the time frame this would entail. It has been a horrible summer with this ordeal. I almost wish I left the rock-hard implants in. Please let me know what you think. I am very much interested in hearing your thoughts. 

AnswerThank you very much for your question. I’m sorry you have had so much difficulty. Your situation is unfortunately quite common, but the good news is that natural breast reconstruction with your own tissue can often help dramatically. Fortunately, a history of radiation (&/or multiple failed attempts at implant reconstruction) does not at all decrease the success rate of subsequent reconstruction using only your own tissue. We have successfully reconstructed hundreds of women in your situation.

Our first choice for a donor area, if you have some extra tummy tissue, is the DIEP flap. If you do not have adequate tummy tissue, the buttocks (sGAP flap) is also often an excellent donor area.

It is important to realize that natural tissue reconstruction is not just an operation, but a process. The first operation, the microsurgical transfer of the flaps, is by far the largest. It usually takes 6-8 hours, requires a 4-day hospital stay, and a total stay in Charleston of about a week. Recovery takes approximately 6-8 weeks.

After you have healed fully from the first surgery (usually 6 months if you have been radiated), 1-2 additional surgeries are required to achieve optimum results. These are much less involved, ordinarily requiring only one night in the hospital, and you can usually go back home as soon as you are discharged.

While the process can be lengthy, once you are done, you are REALLY done. Most women reconstructed with their own tissue come to regard their reconstructed breasts as their own, and are finally able to put the issue of breast cancer behind them.

I would be happy to call and discuss your situation in more detail if you wish, and thanks again for your question.

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

Ask the Doctor- What Are My Reconstruction Options Using Only My Tissue?

This week, James E. Craigie, MD, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question.

Question: I am 39 years old and seeking options regarding a double mastectomy with reconstruction using only my own tissue. I was treated for an aggressive breast cancer in my left breast 3 years ago; went through neoadjuvant chemo, then a lumpectomy followed by radiation. Due to my lifetime high-risk status, I feel a double mastectomy is necessary using my own tissue for reconstruction.

Answer: Thank you for your question, I am glad to hear that you have completed your breast cancer treatment 3 years ago and are doing well. It is very likely that using your own natural tissue is going to be a very good option for you.

Since you have already had radiation on one side the option of removing the remaining breast tissue and having a preventive mastectomy on the other side is the most effective option to minimize your chance of getting breast cancer again.

Although I imagine it is already very low. Have you had any previous surgery on your tummy? Do you feel that you have extra fatty tissue there or any other area of your body? If so then you can probably achieve a proportional natural tissue result without having to sacrifice your important muscles.

If you like I could arrange a convenient time to answer any other questions by phone. Let me know and I’ll have one of my staff contact you to make arrangements.

Thanks again.

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

Ask the Doctor – I Am 3 Years Post Mastectomy With Radiation On My Right Side And I Am Interested In The Diep Flap Surgery.

This week, Audrey Rowen, PA-C, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question about breast reconstruction.

Question:  I am interested in the DIEP flap surgery. I am 3 years post mastectomy with radiation on my right side. I am 56 years old and live in Columbia and I have spoken with one of your patients who was happy with her breast reconstruction. I would like to make an appointment.

Answer: Thank you for reaching out to us! My name is Audrey and I am the physician assistant here at the practice. We would be happy to make an appointment for you to come and see us! Which days work best for you? Our normal clinic days are Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. If you’d prefer to schedule over the phone vs. email, feel free to call our office at 843-849-8418 anytime over the next few days and we can set that up for you.

Did you have bilateral mastectomies or just the right side? Are you interested in bilateral DIEP reconstruction? Once we get you on the schedule, we like to try getting some of your records in regards to your oncology and surgery history so it is a huge help if you could get us the names of our Oncologist, PCP, and breast surgeon so we can start requesting those records before your appointment. I am also happy to chat with you over the phone if there are any questions you would like answered before you make the trip out to see us.

Please let us know which days and times work best for you to schedule an appointment and let me know what other ways I can help! We look forward to meeting you soon!

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

Ask the Doctor- I’m Having Pain After My Last Latissimus Flap/Implant Reconstruction. What Can I Do Now?

This week, Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question about breast reconstruction.

Question: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, and had a mastectomy on my left side followed by chemo. In 2014, my mammogram began showing tumors and I would have an ultrasound every time. This caused panic attacks and I choose to have my right breast removed because the type of cancer I had was Stage 4 Aggressive. In April 2015, I had a bilateral latissimus flat and received implants. Now I am experiencing pain across my back where I was cut and my chest gets uncomfortably tight. The site of the drainage tube is swollen and doesn’t feel good. I stopped seeing my reconstruction doctor because he did things I was not informed of. I am worried because I do not know what is going on anymore. Could you please advise me as to what might be going on or what to do?

Answer: I’m sorry you are continuing to have problems, but you are not alone.

I can’t speak about your situation specifically because I haven’t examined you, but here are some thoughts in general about patients with symptoms like yours.

There is no question that many people with implants describe symptoms such as yours. Often, there is no discernible reason why they should feel discomfort, but they do. Nonetheless, many of them feel relief when the implants are removed. This does not mean that you would or should, it is just an observation.

The latissimus flap can be done with or without dividing the nerve that makes it contract. I have known some patients with latissimus flaps done without dividing the nerve to have discomfort associated with the muscle contracting. Some have experienced relief when the nerve was subsequently divided. Obviously, I don’t know if this is your situation or not.

Sometimes people have complex, persistent pain after surgery or injury which is out of all proportion to what would be expected. This can be difficult to treat but thankfully is rare.

When evaluating a patient with symptoms like yours, we usually start with a careful history and physical evaluation. Sometimes, especially if we have concerns about implant rupture, fluid collections, infection, etc., we then get an MRI and/or CT scan Following the complete evaluation, we then decide together how to proceed.

Hope this helps at least a little. I would be happy to chat with you further by phone about your specific problem or see you in person if you can come for a visit.

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

Ask the Doctor- Can You Do Repair and Nipple Reconstruction Surgery at the Same Time on the Same Breast?

This week, Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question about breast reconstruction.

Question: I had hybrid DIEP reconstruction at another facility, and I am disappointed with the results. There have been many issues. For example, my breasts are different shapes and sizes, no node involvement and no microinvasion. The surgeon who did the mastectomy said the path report said the margins were not wide enough and he will need to cut additional skin out during the next surgery. The next surgery is supposed to be to reconstruct the nipple. Can you do both procedures on the same breast at the same time? Please Help!!

Answer: I’m sorry you are having to go through this.

Did you have a complete mastectomy on the left breast or a lumpectomy? If your margins were positive (unbeknownst at the time of surgery, obviously), and you had an immediate DIEP flap, that could be a little complicated to resolve, although I’m sure we could work through it. Given that your scenario is a little bit unusual, it would probably be best if we talked by phone. Please let us know what works for you.

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask!

“A Learning Experience” In HIS Words

by:  Richard M. Kline Jr., M.D.

learning is a giftI think the biggest thing I learned was how important it is to have providers you trust when you are facing surgery. For me, this was relatively easy, as my wife worked with these people all the time, and I found them immediately likeable when I met them. But how is a lay person to know who to place their trust in? I think the initial step is selecting your surgeon. He or she should immediately look you in the eyes, really listen to everything you say, answer questions honestly, and never be afraid to say “I don’t know.” I think it can help if they have already operated on people you know (as I mentioned, this surgeon had operated on my Dad), but that’s usually not going to be the case. Once you have found a surgeon you trust, the rest should start to fall into place, because they will select the best team they can to help them take care of you. As it turned out, my surgery took longer than expected because it they couldn’t do it laparoscopically, and had to “open me up.” This bothered my surgeon, but it didn’t bother me. I had trust in my team, and felt that however it worked out, it was for the best.


I also noticed that, by and large, everyone I came in contact with on the day of my surgery seemed to be “tuned in” to how I was likely feeling at an unusually vulnerable time. I had previously lacked firsthand experience of the importance of that empathy to patients.


I think that I also gained some appreciation for how the patient can sometimes contribute to a good outcome. I think my preoperative efforts to lower my blood pressure and improve my overall fitness were helpful.  On the morning of surgery my blood pressure was normal, and I think my postoperative course might have been a little easier because I was in a little bit better shape due to the exercise.


And I will still prescribe to my patients those Lovenox shots, because I care about their safety – but I will do it with much more sympathy.

Hey doc how are you

Recovery daze…..

By:  Richard M. Kline Jr., M.D


pain scaleI woke up and wasn’t sure where I was. I thought about it a while, and finally asked. A nurse said “the recovery room.” I asked how long I had been there, and she said “30 minutes.” I asked how long the surgery took, and they said “about two hours”. I knew this was longer than was planned, but I didn’t worry about it, as I felt pretty intact. They asked what my pain was on a scale of (0-10), and I said “3.5.” She asked if I wanted some Dilaudid, or if I wanted to go back to the room without it. I said I wanted it, so they gave me 1 mg i.v. While the pain hadn’t been terrible, it was significant, and the Dilaudid did a great job of reducing it. It didn’t get rid of it completely, but it did produce a kind of “warmth” that made me not care too much about the residual pain.

I then went back to the same room I’d been in before surgery, and stayed only briefly before deciding I was ready to go home. When I got up to get dressed, I immediately got nauseous. The bubbly i.v. specialist nurse was there again, and she came over and held an alcohol wipe to my nose until the nausea went away. Then home I went, happy that it was over, and not feeling too badly.

For the first few days it hurt to get out of bed. I would lie there thinking about getting up for several minutes, planning the best way to do it, and only then proceeding. Once I was up, though, moving around wasn’t bad.

About two weeks postop, I noticed that coughing or sneezing didn’t make my incision hurt any more. I started walking on the treadmill at the gym. It hurt a little, but not bad. After that, I started to forget about the surgery.

The final installment of this 4 part series will post April 30.

Surgery Day (and other tidbits)

hospital sign

By:  Richard M. Kline Jr., M.D

My wife took me to the hospital at 6 a.m., and I sat in the preoperative waiting room with the other surgery patients. Eventually my name was called, and I was taken by a female technician to a room to be weighed. I wanted to say “NOT FAIR!” when she weighed me with clothes, shoes, and cell phone, but I realized it didn’t really matter. Next she took me to a private preoperative room, handed me a gown, and told me to take off “everything”, use the bathroom, and put on the gown. This was definitely unsettling, as I’m not used to taking off my clothes in front of strangers, but I realized I was going to have to comply if I was going to get through this. As I put on the gown, I couldn’t help but think about Jack Nicholson with his butt sticking out of his hospital gown in “Something’s Gotta Give.” After I had changed, the young lady returned, and directed me to lie on the stretcher. She then announced she had to “remove my hair,” and mentioned that others would be coming to check her work. I was a little surprised because plastic surgeons have learned that there is really no need to remove hair before surgery, but the last thing I wanted to do at this point was upset the routine. As I lay there trying to be calm while she trimmed my lower abdomen and groin with clippers, she chatted pleasantly, asking at one point if I wanted the “full Brazilian wax.” After she finished, her female supervisor came in, lifted my gown and inspected the job, then told her to trim another inch of hair off the bottom.  After this was done, I got a short reprieve, after which a third woman came in and “checked my prep” again. At this point, I was starting to get over being inspected, and just wanted to move forward.

Another nurse, the self-proclaimed “i.v. specialist,” entered. She was very bubbly and chatty (perhaps even more so after I told her I was terrified of needles). She complained about me grinding my teeth when the local anesthetic went in my hand, but after that I didn’t even feel the i.v. catheter go in, which was a relief. At that point I thought I was safe, but then she pulled out a syringe, smiled, and said “Lovenox!” That needle went into the left side of my freshly prepped abdomen. I didn’t realize until then that Lovenox burns going in. Ouch.

At last I was prepped, and my wife was allowed in. What a relief to see her again! Soon the anesthesiologist came in to see me. I’d never met him, but I knew my wife worked with him frequently and thought highly of him. He was very calm and matter-of-fact, exactly what I wanted. The surgeon then entered for the final preoperative visit, confirmed the procedure, and marked the surgical site. He was calm and reassuring.

Before they wheeled me from the preoperative room to the operating room, they gave me a dose of i.v. Versed, to “take the edge off.” This was a good thing, as the process of being wheeled down to the O.R. in a stretcher was, for me anyway, surreal. I’m usually the one pushing people down these hallways – this was too weird! As the team wheeled me down the hall I said “this is a very different vantage point from down here,” and they all agreed. Once we got in the OR, they had me move myself from the stretcher onto the table. The oxygen mask went over my mouth and nose, and the last thing I remember was the slight burn of the Propofol anesthetic going into my hand and wrist.  —Lights out—

(Part 3 of this series will post April 23)