Sutter Cancer Centers
Kimberly - Positive Attitude Goes a Long Way in Breast Cancer Treatment
As soon as she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, 46-year-old Kimberly was determined to beat the disease and return to a normal, healthy life. Her oncologist, Dr. Uma Gowda, recommended a mastectomy – either removing only the left breast, which had the tumor, or removing both breasts. “It was an easy decision,” Kimberly said. “I opted for the double mastectomy.”
Since Kimberly’s top priority was winning her battle with cancer, she figured a bilateral mastectomy was the best way to ensure the cancer would be removed and would not recur. “And I’m not defined by my breasts,” she added. “But I knew I’d miss them so I threw them a ‘Bye Bye Boobie Bash’ a couple days before my operation.” This pre-op party was attended by her girl friends, each of whom gave her a homemade card. “Those cards did a lot,” Kimberly said. “I’d read them whenever I was having a tough time dealing with my cancer treatment.”
Her mastectomy, performed by Dr. Lisa Guirguis at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, was complication-free. She took advantage of both the breast cancer and breast reconstructive services offered at Sutter Medical Center. Her plastic surgeon, Dr. Alan Lim, worked with Kimberly and her cancer surgeon before her mastectomy. This collaboration ensured an approach that is easier on the patient and more efficient than one in which breast reconstruction begins after cancer treatment is completed.
“I had a consultation with Dr. Lim before my mastectomy to discuss what I wanted from the reconstructive surgery,” Kimberly said. “On the day of my mastectomy, he was in the operating room with my breast cancer surgeon and put in my expanders at the end of that procedure.” Expanders are temporary breast implants that stretch the skin and breast tissue to make room for the permanent implants. When inserted, expanders are filled with a small amount of saline, but are supplemented with more saline on subsequent office visits, until they are a little larger than the size of the permanent implants to accommodate a more natural breast crease.
After her mastectomy, Kimberly went through four months of chemotherapy. “That wasn’t easy,” she said. “That’s when I really needed the cards from my friends.” Even though the chemo took a lot out of her, Kimberly was determined to stay positive and maintain a sense of humor. “As I was losing my hair, I had my hairdresser give me funny, short styles. My favorite was a Mohawk! I figured if I had to lose my hair, why not have some fun.”
When her chemo ended, Kimberly and her husband were able to talk about her battle with breast cancer – from the heart. “He was in ‘taking care of me’ mode since the diagnosis, but now that the surgery and chemotherapy were over, we could both decompress and let everything sink in,” she said. Kimberly also found another source of comfort and support. “I joined an online support group, it was wonderful. I could communicate with people going through the same things as me. I would recommend that anyone battling cancer take advantage of some sort of support group.”
Six months after her mastectomy, Kimberly had her reconstructive surgery. “Compared to my cancer treatment, the reconstruction was a piece of cake,” she said. “It was an outpatient procedure; I went home a few hours after the surgery.”
Today, a few months after her reconstructive surgery, Kimberly feels great. “I’m still getting used to my ‘foobies’,” she said. “That’s what I call them, they’re not breasts. They are fake boobies – foobies!” Kimberly says that her triumph over breast cancer has taught her to be more accepting of life’s minor annoyances. “I’ve always been a positive and happy person. But now I’m even more easy-going – which means I’m even happier since few things get me down.”
Kimberly is grateful for her health, her new attitude and her doctors at Sutter. “I can’t say enough about them, they’re wonderful!” She is especially fond of her plastic surgeon, Dr. Lim. “I can tell he’s got a great sense of humor, and he went out of his way when I needed him.” As a way to thank him, Kimberly wrote this poem:
Ode to My Body
The dictionary states
is the sum of ALL of its
p a r t s.
I do not think I should be able to argue with that,
for that is true,
I want to argue!
Does that hold true for humans,
If parts are removed, then
does it follow,
I am not whole?
Others have argued
is GREATER than
the sum of its
p a r t s,
and as I look at myself…
my physical vessel…
newly battle scarred
like its former self did
just twenty-eight days ago,
I want to kiss whomever said that,
for I wholeheartedly agree.
run across each mound
of discolored flesh from underarm to sternum.
Signs of previous biopsies,
and each suture still visible,
yet, not there, dissolved,
are stretched tightly over
that have yet to reach
their potential glory,
meant to begin the reconstruction
of my formally lethal breasts.
Beneath each mound,
close to the rib cage,
and off slightly to the side,
though not exactly in the same spot,
(symmetry isn’t the goal)
lie small scars still struggling to heal,
where long tubes once
drained lymph and other fluids
needing to escape the trauma.
Just above where my right shoulder,
if moved forward
is a thin diagonal incision,
where a port has been placed,
threaded into my blood stream,
round and hard
just beneath the skin.
an interesting term,
for it denotes safety in a storm,
but I fear my storm has yet to begin...
its formation is lurking
in a ferocious mix of chemicals
to be fed into the mouth of this port
sending a man-made tornado into my body.
my body looks
like it used to
just twenty-eight days ago,
and I rejoice in its abstract art-like visage,
and in its resilience,
for I now see
how much GREATER
than the sum
of my parts.
A message from Kimberly:
Now that I’m done with treatment and reconstruction, will I wonder if cancer is back with every new ache, pain, or unfamiliar sensation? I don't know. Right now, I am in awe of my body and of its resilience. I trust that if I give it what it needs, my body will do what it knows how to do.
I know that nerves, which are trying to reach out and reconnect, will not be comfortable and could take many months to regenerate. I know that the numbness in my shoulder blades and running from my armpits down to my elbows will eventually go away, and that the feeling as it does will not be pleasant. I know that the range of motion in both arms and shoulders will take time to return and that the tight and tender tendons and muscles, which have been traumatized, will once again be flexible. I know that as I build up my currently non-existent muscles that they will ache more than before, as it will take them longer to re-establish themselves. I know that my stamina will not return overnight and that my body will tell me when it is time to rest. I know that my bones will complain as they recreate themselves from the inside out after being repeatedly assaulted. I know that I will feel more at my chest wall than I have ever felt without the cushion of breast tissue once there, yet, that feeling will remind me to listen to my heart and the wisdom of my intuition. My body has been taken down to the barest of essentials. Like a beautiful ancient forest, destroyed by a raging fire, what remains are the makings of a new and thriving ecosystem, and I, like the forest, will be present at every moment to witness the miracles.
Thank you to all of my wonderful doctors at Sutter!
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