In Her Words: Moving Forward in a Post-Surgical World

 Everywhere you look, it seems there are blogs, posters, and articles that talk about how to stay positive while battling breast cancer. This is not a bad thing. It’s important for women to be encouraged and think good thoughts as they are dealing with such a serious illness.

However, when our only focus becomes positive reaffirmations and fuzzy pink boas, we forget to talk about another side of having cancer—a side that needs to be discussed.

We forget to talk about the ugly, dark, painful, uncomfortable, and scary side of having cancer.

We know, this isn’t a conversation that anyone enjoys having.

But it’s important.

Why? Because understanding the “uglier” sides of battling cancer is a part of what helps women move forward after their courageous battle.

Betsi Green, a breast cancer survivor and a patient at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, wants to help women who are in the same situation as she was by sharing her story.

She hopes her story will help breast cancer survivors find peace and comfort as they make the transition into a post-surgical world—despite the challenges and discomforts that come with recovery.

Here’s Betsi’s story in her own words…

“Cancer is ugly.  Cancer is raw.  Cancer is painful.  Cancer is more than simply losing your hair.” – Betsi Green

On the first of November, Dr. Paul Baron did a right skin sparing modified radical mastectomy with lymphatic mapping and sentinel node biopsy. In short that means Dr. Baron removed my right breast and a handful of lymph nodes.

In the operating room, Dr. James Craigie inserted an expander where my breast had been. The expander, as its name suggests, is used to expand the skin and keep the tissue viable for the reconstruction surgery.

During surgery, the expander is filled with air.  Shortly after surgery, in a follow up appointment, the expander is filled with a saline solution.  This is done in the surgeon’s office.  The syringe is inserted in the center of the expander.

Let’s talk about the expander.  It wasn’t painful. It was uncomfortable. It was very uncomfortable.

It was difficult to bend over.  I felt like I had a brick on my chest.  It was difficult to have water from the shower hit my tender skin. It was difficult to have material touching my skin.

Did I say it was uncomfortable?

The skin felt very thin and pulled, which I expected, just didn’t expect it to be as tight as it felt.  Sleeping with the expander kept me to my left side or on my back.

It wasn’t until the first week of December, I noticed something was wrong.  The bottom half of my expander had turned red.

Anytime you have a foreign object in your body, you want to keep a close eye on how it looks and/or feels.  This bright red color told me something, and it was not good.

I did not feel any different.  I had no pain.  The uncomfortableness of the expander remained. These days, I really didn’t care what my chest looked like.  However, in this case, looks mattered and I “kept an eye” on it.  I was hoping it would simply go away on its own.

It turned out my expander was infected.

I share this with you for one particular reason:  SPEAK UP!  If you are uncomfortable, go see your team. If you think something is wrong…it probably is!  There are things they can do to help the comfort level.

Don’t be shy.  You are (or should be) in control of your cancer journey as much as possible. The doctors and their staff are not mind readers.  Let them know if you need an “adjustment”.

Ask them how they can help you be more comfortable.

The cancer dance is an ongoing experience.  My dance has been ongoing since June 2016.  It will continue thru the 2017 calendar year.  One appointment, one diagnosis, one doctor, one surgery, one chemotherapy treatment, and one CT scan does not complete the experience.

There are a lot of ugly things that can happen as you recover from your battle with breast cancer. But if you know about them, and speak up, you will be able to get the help you need.

You can make a huge difference in how your own personal cancer treatments affect you.

Be confident and as comfortable as possible as you move forward thru your own individual journey. And by all means…keep moving forward.

-Betsi Green

Check out Betsi’s blog and read more about her journey here.

Do you have any words of wisdom on recovering from breast cancer? Share them below!


In Her Words: Deidre Dixon

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction is so proud to publish this moving essay from Deidre Dixon, survivor and a source of inspiration. Thank you Deidre for sharing your story with the world.

Today is the 1-year anniversary of the first in a series of 4 surgeries I underwent last year to reduce my risk of breast cancer and to be reconstructed using my own tissue. The (most likely) final surgery was December 6, although nothing compared to the initial one, which involved arterial grafting, lasted 12 1/2 hours and included a visit to ICU.

Now, one year out, with a risk level at 3% rather than 62, I can’t help but reflect on the incredible year that has just ended. When people spoke at Thanksgiving of the many things for which they were thankful, I realized there were many little things I previously took for granted which I had never considered as being worth the slightest attention. That has all changed.

I will never think of those think of these most basic things as being less than a blessing. And I feel that I should, in celebration of having reached this point, mention a few.
I am thankful for being able to:

1. Pull open a door on my own
2. Take a bath
3. Take a walk
4. Raise my arms above 45 degrees
5. Reach up or bend down to get something off the floor
6. Drive a car
7. Use my hands to support my weight
8. Do anything without being absolutely exhausted
9. Zip my own zipper when it is in the back, or
10. Pull anything over my head or spend an inordinate amount of time selecting my clothes based on whether I can actually put them on by myself

I hope I never forget what a gift that even the most basic things can be, when you suddenly are without them. And I hope I never forget what a blessing my friends are and have been throughout this experience.

You’re Not Alone: The Best of “In Her Words”

As we enter October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s more important than ever to make sure the message is clear: You are not alone.

Every day, walking among us, are women who just received their diagnosis, who just underwent their first biopsy or their first radiation treatment, who just met with a doctor they will see for many years as they fight for their lives, who just scheduled their first surgery or their reconstruction.

There is a saying, “A woman is like a tea bag…you never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.”

That’s why we are so proud to present this archive of In Her Words guest blogs.

These women have gone through tremendous challenges to overcome cancer or stand up for those who are breast cancer survivors or current patients. We hope these stories give you comfort, inspire you, and show you that you are not alone. Feel free to share these with the loved ones in your life, too, and don’t hesitate to contact our Center if you are seeking breast reconstruction information or options.

From Our “In Her Words” Archive:

With love and support,

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction


Gift of the Present: An Interview with Heidi Sermersheim

Heidi Sermersheim

Heidi Sermersheim is an absolute inspiration to our team at the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction. Dr. James Craigie wrote a recommendation letter on behalf of Heidi for her Cancer for College scholarship application, and Heidi was selected as the recipient! She received funds to continue her education, and we are so proud of her! Take a few moments to read her inspiring interview, and feel free to share this story with the loved ones in your life.

Congrats on your recent scholarship! Tell us a little about your award and what it means to you personally.

Thank you!

In April  I received a generous regional ‘Carolina’ scholarship of a one-time $1000 donation through Cancer For College for the 2013-2014 academic year.  I am significantly humbled to receive this honorable scholarship award, and deeply appreciative for the financial support.  I plan to use this scholarship to help cover the additional expenses beyond the initial tuition costs, while continuing my education in Human Services at Southern Wesleyan University. Without the generosity of scholarship patrons like this, there would be many students, much like myself, struggling to meet various educational expenses. 

Tell us a little bit about your story and how you survived through breast cancer?

There were five children in our family, four girls and a boy. By birth order, Gail was second to the oldest and I was the youngest. Despite the age difference of 14 years, we were connected genetically, shared a spiritual bond, and had become the best of friends.

In 2004 Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, she was forty-eight years old. Gail was a nurse, so she began to strongly encourage the women in her life to obtain a mammogram. Her persistent encouragement inspired me, and I, reluctantly, scheduled my first and consequently the last mammogram of my life. Two weeks later the results of my mammogram revealed suspicious spots in need of biopsy. Within three months further tests had revealed that I too, had the most aggressive form of what is classified as ‘triple negative’ (high grade – ER/PR-negative, HER2Neu negative) infiltrating ductile carcinoma breast cancer.

I found myself following behind my sister, stepping carefully in her footprints, mapping out my own cancer treatment and surgery. Soon, Gail and I were side-by-side in our journey, as our bi-weekly chemotherapy appointments were only offset by one week of each other. After six months of treatment, we were blessed to have 2 years of remission.

Unfortunately, her cancer returned with a vengeance in 2006 and sadly, Gail passed away. Gail’s compassion for life, desire to mentor, and willingness to share her experiences provided me with a heightened appreciation for the “gift of the present.”

Did you have breast reconstruction surgery? If so, what type of breast reconstruction did you have? Would you recommend it to other women who might be contemplating natural breast reconstruction?

Yes, after my diagnosis and meeting with multiple physicians, oncologist and plastic surgeons along with a significant amount of research; I chose to have bi-lateral skin-sparing mastectomies, with immediate DIEP reconstruction. I was blessed to discover Dr. Craigie and Dr. Kline of the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction. Their office staff graciously coordinated the details of my surgery. The overall attention to detail, kindness and care which I received from Dr. Craigie and his professional staff was absolutely priceless. I simply cannot express the impact this has made on my life, during treatment and my recovery. Not only would I recommend this procedure to other women, I have recommended it and will continue to do so.

What is the one thing you want all women to know about breast cancer?

First and foremost, aggressive breast cancer among young women is on the rise in America. One of the best ways for detection of breast cancer is through a mammogram, in my case, my first and last mammogram saved my life!

Upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, become your own best advocate by asking questions (remember there are no ‘dumb’ questions) and seeking out answers. Knowing all the surgical and reconstruction options is very important in making an informed decision.

I must add that, during this journey, I became significantly aware of the importance in human compassion during cancer diagnosis and treatment. When diagnosed with breast cancer, women often experience a feeling of their womanliness being robbed by breast cancer surgery and treatment. Flap reconstruction procedures are better than former surgical reconstruction options. However, in my opinion DIEP is the gold standard of reconstruction because it provides the least problems, offers a faster return to normal activities, and has a better long term surgical outcome than most other reconstruction options available.


You have achieved so much and given back since being diagnosed with cancer. What is next for you in life?

Surviving the diagnosis of breast cancer has helped to clarify my personal worldview and pinpoint my calling in life to serve others. In doing so, I am currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree human services program, with aspirations to complete a graduate degree in social work, counselor education or youth development leadership. I plan to combine my degree with my life experience, in order to advocate, mentor, and assist people by teaching and helping with navigating higher education and oncology healthcare systems. By obtaining a bachelor’s degree in higher learning, I believe that my life will be enriched and I will be better prepared to fulfill this mission.

The journey of life and learning continue to propel us forward and provides opportunities to examine our mirrors of reflection introspectively and reflectively. All-the-while, our heart’s motive is revealed to us and becomes better illuminated and more transparent with time. I am forever grateful to live on my sister’s coattail, because my cancer diagnosis helped me blaze my life’s pathway. It is through her death and my battle with breast cancer that I have grown into a better person with an intimate knowledge of God’s grace, love and mercy. Overall, the ‘gift’ of breast cancer has bestowed upon me a ‘bucket list’ of goals, higher aspirations, and provided multiple opportunities to give back. Indeed, I am blessed.

For more information about me, please feel free to explore my website:


One Breast Cancer Survivor’s New Take on Life: Laugh More and Love Harder

Today we are delighted to share this In her Words post featuring Regina McCray. Diagnosed at only 37 years old,  Regina shares her story with everyone she meets and is a ray of light for women diagnosed with breast cancer.

See below for our inspirational interview with Regina.

Tell us a little bit about your story and how you survived through breast cancer?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 10, 2009 at the age of 37 years old. I had no family history, but because I work as a radiation therapist and see young women with cancer every day I started having mammograms at the age of 35.  My tumor was aggressive and was stage 2, grade 3, with one lymph node involved. I had a right breast mastectomy 3 weeks later and started chemo in April of 2009. I survived because of my faith in God, and the love of my parents and 11 siblings (I am the oldest child).  I also have a great support system of friends, co-workers and family.

You had to experience radiation as part of your treatment plan. What advice or information would you give to other women who need to experience radiation as part of their breast cancer treatment?

About 3 weeks after completing my last chemo treatment ( I did 6 round lasting from April to August) I started radiation, 33 treatments. Radiation only affects the area being treated so my skin got irritated like a bad sunburn, but my aloe vera plant worked wonders. Skin will be sensitive about 2 weeks into treatment and may start to get sore as treatment progresses, but the prescription creams given by the radiation oncologists usually work great. About 3 weeks after completion of treatment (usually 28-33  days Mon.-Fri) the skin will start to get back to normal.  For any woman needing radiation, it’s not as bad as most people think. You don’t feel the treatment, and it normally takes less than 10 minutes to receive treatment. Please don’t let the radiation horror stories scare you out of a treatment that is designed to kill microscopic cancer cells that may have been left behind. It is so worth the peace of mind!

You’ve been a great advocate for The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction and a wonderful support source for your community. Tell us what you’ve been doing to support women who are experiencing breast cancer or know of someone who is?

After surgery, chemo, and radiation, I wanted to get my life, and body back so I joined support groups and started sharing my story with newly diagnosed women to help them get through the initial shock.  I speak to lots of my patients about my experience in order to let them know that they can get through it. I did a talk at my church to bring awareness to breast cancer, and I tell everyone that I come in contact with that if they know anyone that is battling this disease and need someone to talk to, they can call me anytime, day or night.

How has your life changed since being diagnosed with breast cancer?

Breast cancer has changed my life in so many ways, I never thought that something so painful, could make me a better person. I am grateful for the little things. I tell the people I love that I love them more often, and I don’t take for granted that I will have the chance of a tomorrow.  I live each day to the fullest, not caring nearly as much about pleasing others as I do about pleasing God and being happy.  I travel now and see places that I only dreamed about before, because now I know that tomorrow is not promised.  Even if I don’t make it to retirement,  God has given me today and I am enjoying Life! I laugh more and love harder.

What type of breast reconstruction did you have and would you recommend it to other women who might be contemplating natural breast reconstruction?

In May of 2010,  about 14 months after being diagnosed with breast cancer I went into the hospital for bilateral natural breast reconstruction along with a left mastectomy. Dr James Craigie (along with Dr Kline) performed the DIEP flap procedure  taking
fat and blood vessels from my tummy to make my beautiful new breasts. This procedure helped me feel whole again! I am so pleased with the results that I tell my patients, support group sisters, and anyone that is considering reconstruction that this is the way to go. My breasts feel like a part of my body, and I even have some feeling in them, not to mention they look great and I can wear a bathing suit and anything else, and look and feel great with my new girls and my flat tummy! I highly recommend the procedure and for anyone contemplating reconstruction please call Dr. Craigie’s office. He is in my opinion, the best Dr. on the planet. Skillful, patient, and his bedside manner is better than any other physician that you will ever meet. The staff is also awesome, courteous, patient and helpful.  I think the team from The Center for Natural Reconstruction was put here by God to give women like me a second chance, and they will always have a place in my heart!

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How One Woman Discovered the Positive Outcomes of Reconstruction Surgery and Cancer

Today’s In Her Words post comes to us from a past patient of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, Jakki Grimball. Jakki is a breast cancer survivor who lived in Columbia, SC and traveled to Charleston to receive her DIEP reconstructive surgery. Today, her and her husband live in Charleston where her husband is the director of The Neighborhood House, an organization providing services for people in need, including food pantry, soup kitchen, emergency assistance, sewing classes, resume writing, and more.

See below for our interview with Jakki:

What type of reconstruction surgery did you have and how do you feel about the results?

I had the DIEP flap procedure done October 2007 by Dr. Craigie. The outcome far outweighs the surgery and recovery time. I am very pleased with the results and having a tummy tuck as an added benefit!

Would you make the same decision again if you could go back?

I would definitely make the same decision. I had a friend who had implants and she now wishes she had done the DIEP flap procedure. She’s had several complications. Of course, I believe I had the best plastic surgeon in South Carolina perform my surgery.

What advice would you give to women who have undergone a mastectomy or double mastectomy and are unsure about natural breast reconstruction?

I would and have advised women to have the DIEP flap surgery. It is far better to have natural breast reconstruction than to have a foreign substance placed in the body. I realize advances have been made in breast implants and there are fewer adverse effects; however, I believe that using my own tissue left little opportunity for infections and other complications. I have never regretted having the surgery or choosing Dr. Craigie as my surgeon.

In what ways has breast cancer both negatively and positively affected your life?

The only negative affect breast cancer had in my life was the mastectomy and the chemotherapy. I firmly believe God has a purpose for everything and having breast cancer made me more aware of how fragile life can be. Breast cancer brought my family and friends closer and I hate to say it, but it weeded out those who were truly not my friends. I found out I had breast cancer three days before my wedding and I gave my fiancé the chance to cancel the wedding. He told me he would marry me at my bedside if necessary. So the diagnosis also brought us closer together. I now cherish every moment and I don’t sweat the small stuff (sometimes not even the big stuff).

You and your husband recently relocated from Columbia, SC to Charleston, SC where your husband is the Executive Director of Neighborhood House. Tell us a little bit about this non-profit organization and how it helps the community.

Click here to view a document from The Neighborhood House, outlining their mission and daily services to the community.

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How One Survivor Used Meditation and Support to Find a Brighter Future

breast cancer survivorWe’re superexcited to share Part II of our guest interview with Debbie Woodbury on our blog, today!

For those of you who missed Part I of this interview, click here.

See below for Part II of our guest interview, where Debbie shares more of her inspirational story, including a look into her Meditation Mondays:

1. Our team at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction loves how you started a Meditation Mondays blog series! Tell us what inspired you to begin meditating and what benefits it provides to you.

Thank you, I love that series too! I was inspired to begin meditation by simple necessity. My cancer diagnosis completely blindsided me. Up until that point, I thought of myself as a healthy person, who looked and felt fine. However, as testing and treatment chipped away at my body, I slowly sunk into sickness. My mastectomy cured my noninvasive cancer, but healing was a whole different matter.

Physically, I had lots of guidance and healed with rest and good care. Emotionally, I was on my own. Luckily, I discovered guided imagery just a few weeks before my mastectomy and used it to calm my anxiety about the impending surgery and loss of my breast. I continued searching for emotional healing and discovered meditation.

Meditation provides me with many, many benefits. As a cancer survivor, it is so easy to drive yourself crazy, worrying about doctors’ appointments, tests, and every ache and pain. Through meditation, I became aware of the voice in my head whose job is to worry. Meditation brings me back to the present moment, where the only thing that exists is what is happening right now.

The funny thing is that I actually had an easier time meditating during my disability, when there was lots of time to sit still. Now that the stresses of family, home, work, and survivorship fill my day, finding time to meditate takes a bigger commitment. It is well worth it, however, and can be done in just minutes a day. Meditation is one of the many gifts cancer brought me and I am so grateful for the “Peace and Joy, Love and Light” it brought into my life.

2. What one piece of advice would you give to women who are struggling with breast cancer and are finding it difficult to look toward a brighter future?

When I was actually going through the diagnostic and treatment phases, I kept going by sheer force of will. I just needed to get through it, especially for my husband and children. After my mastectomy, however, the emotional fallout was overwhelming. Luckily, my cancer center offered free oncology therapy, which I committed to on a weekly basis for approximately a year. I don’t know how I could have processed it all without the help of my wonderful therapists. Without their help dealing with cancer’s losses, I never could have eventually recognized cancer’s gifts.

My one piece of advice would be to get all the support you need, from family and friends, but also from professionals. No one can walk this road alone and no one person can be your only source of support. Ask for and find the help you need to create your brighter future beyond cancer.

Debbie WoodburyAbout Debbie Woodbury:

Debbie Woodbury is a cancer survivor, blogger, speaker, and advocate. She entered the diagnostic and treatment phases of breast cancer in 2008. When she completed treatment in 2009, she was left to deal with cancer’s emotional impact. With the support of family, friends, and wonderful oncology therapists, she was able to create her Gifts and Losses List and eventually realize that “Survival > Existence.” The Gifts and Losses List became the heart of, a community of survivors sharing the gifts and losses of lives lived beyond cancer.

Connect with Debbie on Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to visit her blog, Where We Go Now; it’s one of our favorites!