My first exposure to breast cancer was at the age of 13 when my grandmother, who was 56 at the time, was diagnosed. I still remember my mom crying as she told me that “LaLa” was diagnosed with breast cancer and would need to have a double mastectomy. I think I was in shock over the news, but I also did not fully understand the gravity of the situation at the time.
Although tiny, she was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She had overcome many challenges in her life already. She had been diagnosed with a progressive neurologic disorder years before which rendered her unable to drive. And, although walking was difficult, she used a crutch to avoid using a wheelchair. She lived alone, but remained very active, pursuing her favorite hobbies such as crocheting, playing cards with friends and fishing.
My grandmother went on to have a bilateral modified radical mastectomy. True to form, she made a very difficult, emotional and physical time in her life look easy. In fact, it seemed as though it was harder for our family to recover emotionally than it was for her to recover from major surgery.
Living in a small town offered many perks growing up, but when it came to reconstructive options for my grandmother, they were very limited. So, she elected to forgo reconstruction in lieu of breast prosthesis.
Several years passed and my interest in medicine began to strengthen. I entered medical school intent on pursuing surgery. My decision to pursue plastic and reconstructive surgery as a medical student was a natural one, considering the specialties mantra of restoring form and function. I had seen what was “taken” from my grandmother. I knew I could someday help other patients who were battling the same disease.
Everybody’s journey with breast cancer is unique, but the disease is the same. Watching my grandmother ‘s journey has undoubtedly given me a unique perspective on what patients and their families are going through physically and emotionally, from the time of diagnosis through the entire reconstruction process. I feel I am a better doctor, a better breast reconstruction specialist, because of her.
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer and she continued to live her life to the fullest for many years. Although she is no longer with us, her spirit remains strong in my everyday life.