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With her family history, breast cancer was always at the back of Karen's mind. "My whole family has had breast cancer. And we knew my sister had the BRCA-1 gene, so you kind of feel like you know that you're going to get it eventually, so when it actually happens, it's almost like, 'Oh, here it is and now I can deal with it.'" As a plastic and reconstructive surgeon herself, Karen was familiar with breast reconstruction and knew that it was the right choice for her.
Karen's career and her family history did, to a certain extent, prepare her for the journey ahead. "I think for me, the choice of what I was going to do was a little different than for other women because, as a reconstructive surgeon who did a lot of this surgery and also as the granddaughter, daughter, and sister of breast cancer patients, I had a lot of time to think about it. And so I had always pretty much known that if I was diagnosed I was going to have bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction."
After bilateral mastectomies (removing the right breast prophylactically), Karen underwent immediate autologous breast reconstruction, with a DIEP flap on the right and a SIEA flap on the left breast. DIEP flap breast reconstruction uses fat and tissue (not muscle) from the lower abdomen to create the breast mound. A SIEA flap also uses skin and fat from the lower abdomen, but uses a different blood supply. She chose breast flap reconstruction (rather than implant reconstruction) for several reasons:
- As a self-described "large woman," she had sufficient tissue in her abdominal area for the flap.
- She has a tendency to be allergic to foreign substances.
Karen feels that she made the right decisions for her breast reconstruction surgery. "I have great breasts," she says. "They are so much better than they were before. I'm really proud of them. They're beautiful and I feel beautiful . . . because of them." In fact, she feels her experience with cancer and reconstruction has made her a better doctor by fostering empathy for her patients.
Karen advises women to exercise their right of choice when considering reconstruction, and to thoroughly investigate their options by talking with their surgeons and drawing on the experience and strength of other women.
The method of reconstruction you choose will depend on a variety of factors. The best way to determine which procedure will best meet your goals is to meet with a qualified surgeon. You can use our Doctor Finder to find a breast reconstruction surgeon near you.
Read the full transcript of Karen's story.