PREVENTATIVE MASTECTOMY & BREAST RECONSTRUCTION: A ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW WITH A YOUNG PREVIVOR
Say hello again to Tiffany. She’s been on our blog before and we asked her back for a Q&A. She so articulate and has an amazing story. Tiffany is a 33-year old busy mother of three (including a pair of twins), a wife and an entrepreneur. Tiffany is also a breast cancer Previvor. Breast cancer has afflicted the women in Tiffany’s family across generations. As a result, Tiffany opted for a preventative mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. Dr. Capizzi is her plastic surgeon. The reconstruction occurred in two parts: expander placement followed by expander removal and placement of Gummy Bear breast implants. This is a 3-4 month process. The Stillwater website offers lots of informative info on reconstruction approaches, but what can be more powerful than one patient’s insights.
STILLWATER: Let’s get started. First, with your surgeries behind you, tell us what three words describe the way you feel about yourself right now, today …
TIFFANY: Confident. Strong. Happy.
STILLWATER: You are fortunate that nipple-sparing mastectomy was an option for you. Can you tell our readers what this is and what it meant for you in the reconstruction process?
TIFFANY: The nipple-sparing mastectomy is what really made me 100% confident with my decision. This procedure allowed me to keep my own nipples and breast skin. The breast surgeon came in and cut the crease underneath my breast and removed the breast tissue. Then Dr. Capizzi came in and worked his magic formed a “pocket” and placed the expanders in. To be able to keep the basic look of my skin was important to me and knowing the scar was in the crease was also a huge plus for me.
STILLWATER: Can you give us a snapshot of the timeframe?
TIFFANY: The initial surgery was mid-December. During that procedure they removed the breast tissue and placed the expanders and also gave me my first “fill”. So when I woke up I still had something there. Because I am a small-framed person and was going with a smaller implant I only need a few additional “fills” in the expanders. My exchange surgery where Dr. Capizzi removed the expanders and placed the actual implants was in mid- March. During this time frame I was closely monitored by Dr. Capizzi and his staff. They encourage you to ask questions and always made me feel comfortable enough to call with even the smallest issue.
STILLWATER: Gummy Bears are all over the news. Tell us what your decision-making process was like relative to type of implant.
TIFFANY: This was kind of a no brainer for me. Dr. Capizzi has actual examples of the implants in his office for you to see and touch. The gummy bears to me feel so much more natural and have more shapes and textures available. I currently love mine!
STILLWATER: Pretend your speaking directly to another woman who’s making a decision like yours. Thinking specifically about the reconstruction process … what advice would you give her as she’s considering her options?
TIFFANY: My biggest piece of advice is to ask questions. A lot of them. Research and read up on plastic surgeons in the area. The plastic surgeon and his office will be with you throughout the entire journey, which can span over months of time. It is important to be comfortable in their care. Ask about your options for reconstruction. Everyone is different. Every recovery is different. Keep in mind that the plastic surgeon comes in after the breast surgeon – and also that they are surgeons, not miracle workers. No one knows for sure what is going to happen at the initial surgery so try not to get stuck on just one plan. The more open minded you can go into it the better chance you have to be pleasantly surprised.
STILLWATER: Angelina Jolie has said that her preventative mastectomy and breast reconstruction decision in “no way diminishes my femininity.” You go, girl! Can you comment on your feelings about femininity?
TIFFANY: I can’t lie. I had my moments. While I thought I was mentally and physically prepared for the changes I was making – I soon realized that I was not. Yes, I had moments that I thought I looked horrible. I cried. I got down. But it was short lived. When I felt that way I had to remember why I made the decision. And how blessed I was to be able to undergo a procedure that truly may save my life. Each day that I healed it looked better. Eventually (months into) I felt normal again. You can’t tell in a swimsuit. You can’t tell in clothes. No one would know unless I told them. Even though I had rough patches I feel like a complete women. I also feel strong which I think gives me a new confidence that I did not have before.
STILLWATER: Dr. Capizzi has said that a strong support network is the single most important factor facilitating a healthy reconstruction recovery. Tell us about the people who had your back.
TIFFANY: This is so true. I have the most amazing husband. He was completely behind me in this decision. He made me feel attractive and loved even when I had drains in! He took care of me in every possible way and I absolutely could not have done this without him. My children were so resilient throughout my recovery. They loved all the time with Daddy – and movie and popcorn nights in the bed with Mommy!
Secondly, I have the most amazing family and friends. My older sister flew in the day before my surgery and was there at the hospital through it all. My neighbors, my church, my kids schools, my husband’s work, everyone wanted to help.
I had a Caring Bridge site set up and a schedule set up for friends and family to help us with the children and meals. I had so many people try and help it literally filled up in a few days time and we had people emailing and texting if there was any other days they could help. I ended up with over 1,000 followers on my site of people just checking in to see how I was doing. It was overwhelming and humbling and I only hope to be able to pay them all back one day!
STILLWATER: We know you’re a fan of Dr. Capizzi (it’s mutual). If other plastic surgeons are reading this looking for tips, what can you tell them about your experience of Dr. Capizzi and Stillwater that made it special and positive?
TIFFANY: Dr. Capizzi and his staff are amazing. They know your name every time you walk in. It never feels like a “doctors” appointment. After the first few visits it felt more like I was headed in to see friends- who could also take care of me! I have recommended Dr. Capizzi over and over again for this and other reasons! (Like his work is fantastic!) My advice to other surgeons would be to make it as inviting as possible. For someone like me who was headed in for reconstruction after a large surgery it was nice to feel relaxed coming in to the office. I had enough to be stressed about!
STILLWATER: There’s a quote in a country western song that goes “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” Perfect health is always going to be everyone’s #1 pick, but given that you made this empowering decision for yourself and your family, can you tell us what this experience has taught you? Has it made you a better person?
TIFFANY: It has made me a more confident person. In the past I could not imagine being as open as I have been about this procedure and to share my story and my procedures with as many people as I have. I just know how hard it was to find young women who had underwent the same procedure and I told myself in the beginning that I would make myself as available as possible to provide support to women potentially making this decision.
STILLWATER: You have a family history of breast cancer. You have a young daughter. Tell us what you hope for her in the future.
TIFFANY: My biggest hope is that she will never have to be faced with this decision. I know that this may not be the case. I hope that by the time she even has to consider it that new and advanced options will be available for her. I hope there is a cure for breast cancer.
In the meantime, I hope that the research continues. For women with the BRCA genes and those like myself and my family that do not have that specific gene – I hope that the screening becomes more widely available for everyone. I hope that the media still continues to bring attention to the subject. I hope that women will research and educate themselves on all the options that are available for them. I hope that surgeons like Dr. Capizzi and his staff will continue to be on the most cutting edge of all the technologies and advancements and continue to make us all feel beautiful regardless of our circumstances.
A warm thank you to Tiffany for opening up to us and our readers.
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