Pink has always been Tammy Smith’s favorite color. For clothes, accessories and yes, even for the highlights in her hair, pink is her preference. She now believes in the power of pink to help find a cure for breast cancer, something she was diagnosed with on March 28, 2014, one day before her 47th birthday.
Throughout her early 40s, Tammy’s mammograms uncovered numerous cysts, and biopsies became a routine part of her life. Her mammograms increased to every six months. A suspicious lesion was detected on a breast ultrasound in early March 2014. Unfortunately for Tammy, it turned out to be a cancerous mass.
“I knew immediately that I’d have a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by breast reconstruction,” Tammy says. “Breast cancer turned my life upside down. I felt that breast reconstruction would give me a sense of normalcy again.”
After discussions with Deborah Harris, DO, Tammy’s general surgeon, and Thomas Flanigan, MD, her plastic surgeon, two surgeries were scheduled. She would have a bilateral mastectomy, followed by the first step of reconstructive surgery, at ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital.
“It took me a month before I could look in the mirror,” says Tammy. “I experienced a lot of pain from the tissue expanders that were stretching my breast skin and chest wall muscles in order to make way for the permanent breast implants. As a single parent, it was the support from my 16-year-old twin boys, Dakota and Jay, that kept me going. They were ready to shave their heads if I would have had chemo or radiation.”
Tammy has the BRCA 1 cancer gene, which means that in addition to breast cancer, she is also at risk for ovarian cancer. Last October, she again had two surgeries done back to back. After her permanent breasts were implanted, she underwent a hysterectomy.
Tammy feels that with all she’s been through, she could be very helpful to others experiencing similar circumstances. She plans to find a way through volunteering or mentoring, to help others facing the same challenges. “My physicians were wonderful, and helped me prepare for this as best they could,” says Tammy. “But women need to talk with other women who have made the choice, and hear first-hand what the experience is like.”
Choosing the Right Reconstructive Surgery
Most women who have had a breast removed (mastectomy) or both breasts removed (bilateral mastectomy) can opt to have reconstructive surgery, suggests Dr. Flanigan, a board-certified plastic surgeon with ProMedica Physicians.
“Surgery allows us to rebuild the breast mound(s) so that it is the same size and shape as it was before. This is important to women who want to permanently regain their breast shape,” Dr. Flanigan says. “Tammy had immediate breast reconstruction done, meaning at the same time as the mastectomy. An advantage to this is that the chest tissues are not damaged by radiation therapy or scarring. This often means that the final result looks better. Immediate reconstruction also means less surgery.”
Dr. Flanigan continues, “Delayed breast reconstruction means that the rebuilding is started later. This may be a better choice for some women who need radiation to the chest area after the mastectomy. Radiation therapy given after breast reconstruction surgery can cause problems like delayed healing and scarring. Your overall health, the stage of your breast cancer, the amount of tissue available, the size of your breasts and the size of implants are some of the personal factors we’ll discuss before surgery,” says Flanigan. “As with every surgery, it’s important for the patient to understand the benefits and risks, and be fully informed before making their decision.”
Early detection is key for surviving breast cancer. Learn more about the services and options at ProMedica Cancer Institute.