Issue No. 20
New BeginningDate: April 19, 2013
Pam Vierra is healthier and happier than ever after cancer treatment and breast reconstruction
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2011, it was a nightmare. But after doing a lot of research, I discovered that knowledge is a powerful tool. And that’s when I took charge of my health.
I encourage every woman to explore all of her options, and the physicians who will be treating her, very carefully. After speaking to a surgeon near my home in southern Pennsylvania, I went to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion. That was the best decision I could have made.
Even though I took a lot of trips back and forth to Johns Hopkins, which is 90 minutes away, I don’t regret a single one. Because of their multidisciplinary approach, I worked with a team of experts who helped me decide what was best for me.
The cancer was only in one breast, but I chose a bilateral mastectomy because I didn’t want to spend my life worrying about the cancer coming back.
I also decided before my mastectomy that I’d have reconstructive surgery, using tissue from my stomach instead of implants.
During my mastectomy, breast tissue expanders were inserted to prepare me for the reconstruction, which was done in three stages. I waited three months between each procedure to give my body time to heal.
The results are beautiful. Best of all, I’m cancer-free and I feel wonderful.
Breast cancer started out as an awful nightmare, but it turned into one of the best things that ever happened to me. It motivated me to take better care of my health, and being given the power to make health decisions has made me a stronger person.
Treatment Can’t Wait, But Reconstruction Can
Breast reconstruction can be performed at the same time as a mastectomy, or anytime after surgery when a woman decides it’s right for her.
Johns Hopkins surgeons educate women about the options, including the type of reconstruction and whether chemotherapy or radiation is part of treatment. It’s a complex decision to be made in light of so much information, says Michele Manahan, M.D., FACS, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Johns Hopkins.
“There are many reasons women delay reconstruction. There’s no one right answer,” Manahan adds. “Some choose to wait so that they can make the decision when they have more of their mind free to think about it. Some wait to see how they do with the initial surgery and then plan from there. Others just want to do it at another time that’s more convenient.”
Women also have the option to revisit their decision, even 10 to 15 years after their mastectomies, whether they originally opted for no reconstruction or they want a previous reconstruction revised.
“It’s never too late to have a reconstruction performed,” she says. “There is no deadline.”
To watch a video of Pam Vierra telling her story, visit hopkinsmedicine.org/mystory. For more information, appointments or consultations, call 877-546-1872.