Breast Cancer Survivor Shares Reconstruction Success Story

according to shirleyWe are so happy to share with you another In Her Words post, this time with Shirley Trainor-Thomas, a breast cancer survivor, Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, and reconstruction success story!

Shirley was a patient of ours at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction and we are delighted to share her story with you.

See below for the interview (*Don’t forget to download a copy of According to Shirley, a short story / information booklet written by Shirley about her breast reconstruction experience):

When you were diagnosed with breast cancer in your left breast, you chose to have a double mastectomy. What influenced this decision? In other words, what factors did you consider when deciding whether or not to have a double mastectomy?

“It’s not good, princess.” Those were the exact words Dr. Bob Flowers used when he called to tell me the results of my biopsy. I promptly informed him that it was not the right answer! And after I caught my breath, I asked what we were going to do about it. He said he would get me to a surgeon that very day. True to his word, my husband and I were in Dr. Stan Wilson’s office that afternoon and we started discussing options. I was a bit of a difficult case because many years ago I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and radiation to my entire torso—which is what likely caused my breast cancer. There was a lot of discussion among physicians and tests that were taken to make sure we had all of the information we needed to make the best decision.

The waiting to get answers and opinions that would lead to a plan was excruciating. All I could think about was breast cancer and I spent endless hours on the Internet trying to learn everything I could about my diagnosis and choices. My husband and I were in a fog.

Long story short, it appeared that chemo and mastectomy was my option. But, Dr. Wilson wasn’t totally convinced chemo was the really indicated and sent my tissue to have the Oncotype test.   As we waited on those results, we were moving forward with the chemo option. On a Thursday evening, I was preparing for surgery to take place the next morning to have a port put in—and at 8:00 pm, Dr. Wilson called with the Oncotype results—they were great. We opted to not have chemo.

Because other cells in my breasts were described as “busy” by the pathologist, I knew there was a chance of cancer striking my other breast. Given the painful waiting and emotional impact we went through, my husband and I said that we need to eliminate the chance of having to go through this again. Playing into that decision was that I was aware of the DIEP reconstruction option. I’m lucky, not everyone knows about that option and most people have to do a lot of research to find it or the right surgeon. I knew right out of the gate that the only person I would allow to do this procedure was Dr. Richard M. Kline, Jr. of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction.

2. What type of reconstruction surgery did you have and how do you feel about the results? Would you make the same decision again if you could go back?

I had DIEP. The great thing for me is that I went into surgery with bosoms and came out with bosoms—and a flat tummy. Bi-lateral mastectomy and reconstruction were done in one surgery.

Recovery was frustrating. As Dr. Kline kept telling me, “It’s a process.” No matter what he told me, I was convinced I would be back to normal in just a few weeks. Okay, so it took longer.  I got tired easily and couldn’t stand up straight for a while because of the stomach incision. But, my job requires travel and I was able to get on an airplane six weeks after surgery and get back to work.

My energy level took some time to return—it’s a big surgery. But, if faced with the same decision today, knowing what I know, I absolutely would do it again.

My bosoms are perfect.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough tummy fat to make them bigger than they were (my one chance—had I known, I would have eaten a lot more over the years!). Even my oncologist has marveled at how real they look and feel. But I would only allow Dr. Kline and Dr. Craigie to do it. I’ve read some horror stories online about women who went to surgeons who either weren’t trained properly or didn’t have the skill level needed for microsurgery. I actually communicate with women around the country to share my experience and to alert them that they really need to investigate their surgeon’s success record.

3. You decided to write a short story / information booklet about your breast reconstruction experience titled According to Shirley. Why did you choose to write this book and what do you hope readers will get from reading it?

I love Dr. Kline and his entire staff. But, when planning for surgery they gave me a booklet of what to do and expect. After going through the experience, I let them know they left A LOT of information out! It was written by medical professionals who never actually experienced the procedure. When I told them that the information was technically good, but needed to include more practical information, they said fine—write one. So I did. It’s really meant to give women a better idea of what to expect throughout the process and to keep positive about the experience.

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

Research, research , research. Unfortunately, not all plastic surgeons will present options that they are not capable of providing, such as DIEP. Talk to several surgeons and get a feel for the success rate of the surgeon. Talk to their patients. It’s a major procedure. Women need to know how many procedures the surgeon has done and what his or her success rates are.

Have you downloaded your copy of According to Shirley? If not, click here.