Jennifer’s surgeon used a new technique to reduce the risk of side effects from breast cancer surgery
Jennifer* is proactive about her health. She has annual wellness exams and screenings. For her, breast cancer screenings included a mammogram and ultrasound because she has dense breasts. However, she never worried about breast cancer. That is, until a momentous Valentine’s Day when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was gobsmacked that I had breast cancer.”
On January 21, 2022, imaging revealed an abnormal finding in Jennifer’s left breast. Jennifer, a 57-year old living in Connecticut, then had her first stereotactic biopsy to test for breast cancer at the Breast Center at Norwalk, Main Avenue. On February 14, 2022, the results came back positive — she had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is an early stage of breast cancer that does not usually form a noticeable lump.
“I was gobsmacked that I had breast cancer,” said Jennifer. “I come from a large family with many women, and no one has had breast cancer.”
The next day, Jennifer was able to see Dr. Susan K. Boolbol, system chief of breast surgical oncology and breast program at Nuvance Health. Dr. Boolbol recommended Jennifer have further testing based on the imaging results. Jennifer had three additional stereotactic biopsies, which showed DCIS was throughout her left breast.
“Hearing I needed to have a mastectomy was gut-wrenching because I thought it would affect my womanhood.”
Dr. Boolbol recommended Jennifer have a mastectomy to remove the entire left breast given the extent of cancer in it.
“Hearing I needed to have a mastectomy was gut-wrenching because I thought it would affect my womanhood,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer has a demanding job and she is passionate about her work. She is also married and has three adult children. She did not want breast cancer to interfere with work or upcoming family events that were important to her.
“Nurse Navigator Cheryl Hoffman scheduled every single one of my appointments. She arranged my preoperative appointments around my work schedule. I was able to work right up until my surgery,” said Jennifer.
“Cheryl deserves a medal — she was efficient and kind, and she answered all my questions,” said Jennifer. “Everyone at the Dyson Breast Center was terrific — I felt well cared for and also like I was talking with old friends.”
Jennifer had breast surgery at Nuvance Health’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center.
“I was having an anxiety attack before surgery. But the pre-operative nurses helped relieve my nerves. They also told me they were going to play Bruce Springsteen in the operating room — Dr. Boolbol knew I liked his music!”
Dr. Boolbol performed a nipple-sparing mastectomy, which is a type of oncoplastic surgery that combines traditional breast cancer surgery with plastic surgery to achieve the best possible cosmetic outcomes.
Dr. Boolbol also performed the mastectomy using Magtrace® lymphatic tracer, a new surgical technique to reduce Jennifer’s risk of developing lymphedema. Lymphedema is a common side effect from lymph node removal or damage due to cancer treatment or surgery. Lymphedema can cause pain and swelling in the arms or breasts from abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid.
“I was very happy to hear that the lymphatic tracer was an option, and that Dr. Boolbol would not need to proactively take a sentinel lymph node biopsy just in case I had invasive breast cancer,” said Jennifer.
“My friend had metastatic breast cancer and I observed her struggle with lymphedema; it seemed very painful for her.”
Pathology from the mastectomy confirmed the cancer was stage 0, which meant it was noninvasive and had not spread. Dr. Boolbol successfully removed all the cancer so Jennifer did not need chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
During the initial surgery, Jennifer’s plastic surgeon Dr. Heather Erhard placed an implant as a temporary breast reconstruction before Jennifer would have DIEP flap surgery.
Jennifer ultimately wanted DIEP flap breast reconstruction using her own natural tissue from her abdomen rather than keep the implant, even though she said it “looked great.”
“I was in a bathing suit for three weeks in Florida and no one knew I recently had a mastectomy.”
After the mastectomy, Jennifer said, “I did not have pain and only ever took acetaminophen. I healed beautifully.”
About ten days after surgery, Jennifer was at a gala celebrating a cause near and dear to her heart.
“I had to find a specific dress because I still had surgical drains hanging off me! But I was able to spend two and a half hours at the gala.”
About four weeks after surgery, Jennifer was there for her youngest child’s high school prom and graduation. She then went to her home in Florida because she loves the beach.
“I did most of my recuperating at the beach,” said Jennifer. “I was in a bathing suit for three weeks in Florida and no one knew I recently had a mastectomy.”
“If something bad does happens, find the right people and treatments to help get you through it.”
While she is several years away from it, Jennifer said she is looking forward to spending her retirement in Florida and “rocking it in a bathing suit!”
Jennifer kept her journey private to protect her elderly parents from worrying and also because she wanted to live as normally as possible. However, she wanted to share her experience in case it helps others going through a similar situation.
“The things you worry about might not actually happen, and then things you never worry about can randomly happen and sideswipe you,” said Jennifer. “I worried about heart disease because it runs in my family, but not breast cancer. I learned that it is not worth worrying. If something bad does happen, find the right people and treatments to help get you through it.”
Jennifer wants to thank her care team, husband, children and close friends for their support.
*The patient’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
Disclaimer: Treatment and outcome for cancer varies from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.