October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Please take a moment to read our patients’ stories. These are some of the brave women who have struggled through breast cancer and breast cancer reconstruction who wanted to share their journey with all of us. They have laughed and cried, battled through difficult struggles, illnesses, doubts and fears – and yet they have overcome breast cancer with faith, hope, and a positive outlook on life which is infectious, and benefits all who have been in contact with them.
If you would like to share your story with us here at the Center for Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery, please email us .
Thank you again to all who have shared their story. We especially want to thank the five beautiful, honest, caring and vibrant women for their contribution to breast cancer awareness.
Dr. Amy Brewster
Dr. Todd Van Ye
My story is not at all typical; I found a lump on my right breast in December of 2014. In January of 2015, I had two mammograms and an ultrasound – all of which came out clean. Because I had a family history of breast cancer, an MRI was ordered, which is how my diagnosis was made.
Dense breast tissue made my cancer more difficult to detect, but I lost my Grandmother to breast cancer, and two maternal aunts had been diagnosed as well. Thankfully, my doctor was able to push for further diagnostic examinations which led to the discovery of my cancer early. Shelly
I threw myself into the hands of the doctors; they gave me options and their recommendations.
My entire family was hit with the diagnosis, as well as my employer and co-workers.
It affected everyone around me, as they could ‘see’ it – I lost my hair; I could avoid mirrors and not see how sick I looked. I went to work throughout treatments as I could. Co-workers had to step in and take up the slack when I was gone; my employer was so good to me, being patient and encouraging through my recovery, not to mention having to pay the cost of my short term disability. My mom felt guilty; it was her side of the family that had breast cancer.
For my treatment, the assumption was that they could cut out the tissue (perform a lumpectomy), but I opted for a full mastectomy of the right breast due to my family history. During surgery, it was discovered that the cancer had traveled to my lymph nodes. The very next day, Dr. Brewster put in my breast implant.
But, my body was having a hard time healing. The plastic surgeon replaced my initial implant with an expandable implant so my skin could heal and my breast was gradually enlarged. I went on to have 16 rounds of chemotherapy over five months after that, followed by one month of radiation. Once cancer has spread beyond the initial site, additional therapies beyond surgery become necessary.
It was during this time that I needed a 3rd implant.
When you have an implant, they put in a drainage tube. My 2nd implant just kept draining and draining; the doctor wanted to be proactive by replacing the implant for the 3rd time, just in case the cause of the drainage was an infection.
Then this past January, I discovered a lump in my left breast.
I decided immediately to have my left breast removed, and had an implant put in. However, in April of this year, an unusual circumstance occurred and I had new implants put in on both sides at that time. Finally, I was nearing the end!
With the surgeries, chemo and radiation, cancer took a whole year away from me. That was the worst part. Losing all of that time.
You look at things differently; that’s good and bad. Vacations, family time-seem more important. But then every bump and bruise gives you a little bit of fear-’is this something I should worry about?’
This journey has made me feel more vulnerable, when prior to this, I felt invincible.
It has renewed my faith in the medical community we have available in Appleton.
When I was sent to The Center to speak with Dr. Brewster, the staff was able to quickly coordinate services and was always available for me.
I am grateful for the great support structure I have in my life that helped me along this journey, including the Cancer-vive support group.
It takes a year to get through it; it’s a journey of ups and downs. Accentuate the ups because there are plenty of downs. The treatment I opted for was a more drastic treatment that either doctor thought I would need, but as it turned out, it was the best choice for me.Shelly
In March of 2013, I was set to have neck surgery for an unrelated issue. As preparation for that surgery, I needed a physical examination, and decided to go in for my annual mammogram as well. That mammogram led to the discovery of a lump, which lead to a biopsy, which led to a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Things moved rapidly after that. Decisions needed to be made. Should the neck surgery or breast surgery take priority? I made my decision. I had the neck surgery first, but then discovered that I had other choices to make. I met with one plastic/reconstructive surgeon but I just didn’t feel comfortable; I didn’t realize that I had a choice. A recommendation from an acquaintance led her to another surgeon.
As soon as I returned to my car after my meeting with Dr. Van Ye, I KNEW that he was the one I wanted to do my reconstructive surgery.
Dr. Van Ye’s bedside manner is phenomenal and his staff is always willing to help.
After my double mastectomy, the reconstructive journey began. Dr. Van Ye put in tissue expanders immediately after the surgery to remove my breast tissue. The reconstruction went beautifully! I was thrilled with the result and thrilled to be done!”
However, in December 2015, while I was in Dr. Van Ye’s office for a routine checkup, Dr. Van Ye noticed a lump under my arm. I told him ‘Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s just scar tissue.’ But, he insisted on removing it right then, right there in the office!
A few days later he called; the scar tissue came back as triple positive stage 2 – a recurrence of the same cancer I had been diagnosed with in the spring of 2013.
A course of radiation followed Sally’s lumpectomy.
The hardest part has been was watching my husband, my daughters, and the rest of my family, struggle with my diagnosis and treatment. Dealing with the physical changes in my body after the treatments has been hard on me.Sally
But I had another choice, and I’ve chosen to be positive, optimistic and joyful despite the initial circumstances.
It was difficult for my husband because he couldn’t FIX this for me. My daughters took it very hard; and when my oldest sister first came over after hearing of my diagnosis, she sobbed.
I still struggle with the many changes that have taken place in my own body. I gained weight during chemo. Some people do, some don’t. The steroids help you feel better but weight gain is a side effect. After chemo you feel good for a couple of days, then you can backslide. Going in to get fluids a few days after chemo made me feel like a new person. Don’t be afraid to do it!
Prayers, my family, and my friends have played a big role in my personal recovery. I didn’t expect people to be so generous-and was so grateful for the many cards I received during my recovery. Even getting a ‘Thinking of You’ card in the mail made such a difference!
Despite the journey, or perhaps because of the journey, I feel that the experience has been a positive one for my family. I don’t take life for granted anymore. Our marriage is closer and we now enjoy as much time as we can with family and friends. I don’t think anyone should go through this alone. You may feel like you are alone some days, but you’re really not.
You have a choice with your care. If you encounter medical personnel that you are uncomfortable with, you can seek out other professionals. Try to stay positive through your experience – a nurse once told me she puts “B+” on patient’s papers; it’s not a blood type but a reminder to stay positive. And take the fluids after chemo! They will make you feel better!Sally
Like most women, at 40 years of age, I began having routine mammograms. Within two years of that initial, baseline exam, in October of 1998, my doctors found an abnormality. I was informed that I had breast cancer. I was scared, I didn’t know what to expect. My treatments included chemotherapy and radiation to rid my body of the cancer, and they worked.
Fast forward 17 years later to 2015, I was diagnosed with a cardiac tumor. I went through open heart surgery and had a bypass. Then, I developed pneumonia, lengthening my recovery, and I ended up off of work for 12 weeks. After this arduous process, I was finally able to return in August of 2015.
In the fall of 2015, only two short months after my return to work, I was back in for my routine mammogram and the results were not good. I, once again, was told I had breast cancer – not a recurrence, but a new tumor.
My oncologist led me to the realization that I should consider a mastectomy. The cancer was caught early enough, so surgery was my best choice. Because of my history, I opted for a double mastectomy.
I chose Dr. Brewster because I’ve worked in the medical field for years and witnessed first hand her dedication to getting the best results. She gave me every option, offered her opinion, but ultimately let me make my own health care decisions. She brought new ideas to the table, contacting my oncologist and general surgeon to see if they would try some of the newer techniques available, or some new post-surgical treatments.Cindy
The reconstructive process was long; my right mastectomy was done in November of 2015 and the left in February of 2016.
Because of my position, I couldn’t return to work with drainage tubes attached to my body. Post surgery, the tubes are necessary to remove any fluid build up around your surgical site. I ended up losing my job due to having missed so much work between my heart surgery and all of my breast cancer procedures. I was devastated – losing my job, having numerous bills to cover from these surgeries and now losing my income. Add to that, a new job search at 60 years of age. That was the most stressful time of my journey.
Fortunately, in mid March, I received a really great job offer. My doctor worked with me to schedule my final reconstruction surgery on March 15th so I could start my new job!
My friends and family helped me to get through this. There wasn’t a day my kids didn’t come by; even my son stationed in England offered to move his family home. These actions meant so much to me. My husband was so attentive. Friends I haven’t talked to since my children were in high school came back around – family, faith and friends. Also, my new position has been a godsend – it was like my Dad in heaven was saying ‘this is your job’. I love going to work everyday.
Over these past 17 years, I’ve become a more spiritual person. I live it more. I used to sweat the tiny stuff. But now, I am certainly not afraid of dying; I believe in heaven.
It hit home that you shouldn’t take your health for granted – I eat better, I exercise. It’s a struggle but I make an attempt. I stay busy, I enjoy my babies, and we try to all get together as a family more frequently.
One of my doctors told me to just treat this journey as a bump in the road – to continue on with my activities and live my life as normal.
So, arm yourself with knowledge, then do what’s best for you. There’s a lot of information and a lot of help out there. We are fortunate that breast cancer has so much support and funding.Cindy
Back in January of this year, my routine mammogram revealed a suspicious node. I had noticed a lump earlier on, but my past 2 mammograms showed nothing. I was told it was a result of being premenopausal, that there was nothing to worry about. This time around, however, my surgeon decided to remove the lump. It turned out to be a 4 cm stage 3 tumor that had gone undetected, even through the use of 3D mammography.
When you have your mammogram, ASK if you have dense tissue. 40% of women have dense breast tissue but most don’t know it. Radiologists are not required to let women know that they have dense breast tissue in Wisconsin. It is a law in other states to report this, but not in Wisconsin. I am working to help bring this law to our state. If you feel something, ASK for an ultrasound. If I had been aware of these facts, I would not have missed as much work and had a better prognosis.Gail
Having dense breast tissue, mammograms are not always the best way to find tumors. The incident rate for breast cancer is 50% higher in women with dense tissue. Had I known what I do now, I would have insisted on an ultrasound two years ago.
As a wife and mother of two teenaged girls, naturally, my first concern upon learning of my diagnosis, was for my children. Steve (my husband) came home early that day. The kids happened to have a snow day, so they were already home when I received the phone call.
We decided to sit them down right away and be honest; we let them know we had good doctors and will do this as a family. We have a lot of people we can rely on that will help us through this. My daughter said that she knew we did, but, of course, she was still afraid of what could happen to me.
We did not want our girls to suffer silently. We made sure their teachers, guidance counselors, coaches and church leaders were aware in case the girls began acting differently.
My surgeon quickly connected me with a cancer specialist and within 24 hours, a nurse navigator guided through the next phases. The navigator set me up with an oncologist, who ordered an MRI and PET scan to be certain the cancer hadn’t traveled beyond my lymph node. By February 23, I had my first round of chemo, with 6 rounds to follow at 3 week intervals.
They ordered genetic testing and found the link; it wasn’t the common BRC gene, but the Chek2 gene. Armed with this knowledge, I chose to have a double mastectomy.
On July 13, the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery was performed. I had no idea where to go; but time and time again, friends brought up Dr. Van Ye’s name.
One of my first prayers was that I’d be led to the right doctors and I was led to three great people. It was meant to be. Everyone at The Center has been wonderful, helpful and has a sense of humor but takes their work very seriously. Dr. Van Ye is the best at what he does.
I did not realize how bad chemotherapy can be. I was nauseated and tried all types of medications, even acupuncture. Everyone responds differently, but I felt completely checked out. I needed help, and it was very hard for me to ask for, and accept help from others.
I returned to work only last week (mid September, 2016) and am scheduled for 30 rounds of radiation and my final reconstructive surgery once those treatments have ended.
I will continue to receive Herceptin, every three weeks until June of 2017. Fortunately, there are very few side effects. My hair is now growing back, I have energy and no nausea.
Now I KNOW that every day is a gift. It doesn’t escape me that I could have missed my daughter’s 16th birthday; I think about what I want to accomplish (travel, what it will be like picking out prom dresses with my daughter, etc.). It’s ironic, but I don’t worry anymore; I used to worry a lot. I try and ignore the negative and focus on the good things I have.
To combat the feelings of fatigue and gain control of my body again, I participate in the Livestrong program at the YMCA. My family also offers great support, and my friends turn my 8 hour days of chemo into ‘themed’ parties.
One of my doctor’s offered this advice: You have to keep moving forward; the key to this is to keep your positive attitude.
I didn’t understand what it meant, but I now know that I need to maintain the attitude that there’s a side to this that I’ll be well again too, even when I am feeling defeated.
Because of this experience, we are a stronger family. I think I found my voice. I am able to be an advocate for myself and for other women. I can use that voice to comfort others, to speak up for the needs of women’s health. I would have never expected that to have come out of this journey.Gail
I am a people person. At my place of employment, I’m typically one of the first faces you see. I am also an advocate for anyone who has breast cancer.
People call me when they know someone, and I talk to everyone and anyone; I’m more than happy to share my story. It isn’t about statistics or the medical side of my journey, it is about what was in my head.
I can’t tell you how many people I have shown the results of my reconstructive surgery to – who are you going to ask to do that? I had no idea what it would look like and it is a big concern for people.
In October of 2012, I was overdue for my routine mammogram. I didn’t think anything of it – I’d never had issues before. But this time, they called me back. They wanted to do another mammogram – then an ultrasound, and finally a biopsy on October 15th.
I was scheduled to go to Maui the next week – a treat from my Dad. I found out on Monday after my Friday appointment that I had breast cancer.
While waiting for the results of my biopsy over that weekend, I was alright on Friday, Saturday was harder, and by Monday I couldn’t even get out of my chair; every time the phone rang, my heart sank. I remember just coming home and crying.
The worst part is not knowing. When you are diagnosed, it can take weeks before you know the details – What stage is it? What treatments will I need? Am I going to die? Once I knew what I was dealing, with I knew I would be OK.Kelly
I never did make it to Maui.
Within two weeks of my diagnosis, treatment was underway. My cancer was caught early and was a non-aggressive variety.
The doctors at my work helped me find a surgeon, but since I’ve worked in the medical field for so long, I always knew Dr. Van Ye was THE guy you go to (for reconstructive surgery), even though I had never met him.
I was under 50, healthy and decided to do the ‘one and done’; I opted for a mastectomy of my right breast.
Within 3 weeks, I was back to work and my stage 1 node came back negative, estrogen positive, so I was treated with tamoxifen. Because I had a mastectomy, I needed no chemotherapy or radiation.
By the end of 2013, I was completely finished with my reconstruction, but in my head – I was worried about getting cancer on the left side. I began to wish I had made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy; both sides. The psychological decision was difficult; it was horrible. I was making myself sick from my doubts. I had plenty of family and friends for support, but I had no one to talk this through with. You don’t know whom to ask.
In the spring of 2014, I had a prophylactic left mastectomy. I was back to work in a week. I wish that I had made that decision earlier.
There were some complications. Because of the medication I received to treat my cancer I had to have a hysterectomy, but I’m healthy now.
I have always had small breasts, so (when I had my surgery) I went up a size and I feel good about my body. I was super happy with the results. Dr. Van Ye was honest with me. I took his advice and I was thrilled.
Dr. Van Ye is so compassionate. He talks to YOU even when you bring other family members along. He is such a perfectionist, I think the world of him. From everyone at the front desk to the girl who held my hand during surgery, they are all so caring.
Next Tuesday, October 4th will be the 3rd annual “Bake it Pink” bake sale and basket raffle. I began this annual fundraiser to help breast cancer victims in need of financial assistance. I have helped raise thousands of dollars for families in need.
I started this after I had breast cancer. So many people came forward for us, I like to bake and I knew this was one way I could help.
There’s no reason not to have reconstructive surgery. Turn something bad into something good. Find a doctor you are comfortable with. Breast cancer surgery is basically a shorter affair; reconstruction is a long term process. You want someone you trust.Kelly