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Feeling Whole After Mastectomy: October 22, 2013

Treatment for breast cancer used to take a kitchen sink approach, throwing in a little bit of everything. But we’ve come a long way since then.

“Because there’s so many choices and it’s not a cookie-cutter approach anymore,” says Rie Aihara, surgical oncologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Surgery is the first leg of treatment, removing tumors and looking into lymph nodes. What follows for many women is a mastectomy. How they look afterwards is up to them.

“Ninety-five percent of women, I would say, choose reconstruction. The most common way is at the time of the mastectomy, the tissue expanders are placed and gradually filled with saline until the desired cup size. And then they would have to have a second surgery to replace that with a final implant,” says Dr. Aihara.

Replacing a horrible image of mastectomy, women are using plastic surgery and even tattoos to restore their look.

“It’s a tattoo of the nipples. The makeup artist adds different shades to it, so it really looks 3-dimensional,” says Dr. Aihara.

Life after mastectomy is a series of progressions. Beginning with surgery women have choices - personal decisions that give them control over how they want to look and feel moving forward.

“This is where we bring the ladies in and this is where we fit them for their breast forms and for their bras,” says Lindy French, coordinator of Cookie’s Place.

Cookie’s Place within the Regional Cancer Center specializes in post-op garments.

“Once the drains come out this is velcroed and then you wear this until you heal,” says French.

And it’s no secret; specialty bras can be pretty too.

“This is a real popular one with the younger ladies,” says French.

Breast cancer is not a one-size fits all disease. Likewise there is a world of ways to help a woman feel whole.

“I don’t think there’s anything any happier than to see a woman walk out of here with the biggest smile on her face,” says French.