Just after Maria's 49th birthday in September 2010, cancer surfaced in her right breast. She is a curvy, 36 DD size, so having her breast or breasts removed was difficult to digest. She opted to have chemotherapy first and contemplated that being her only course of action against this first stage cancer.
The thought of having her breasts removed followed by reconstructive surgery, frankly, revolted her. Her mother had breast cancer in 1980 and had one breast removed without reconstructive surgery, but Maria's mother and her family encouraged her to explore her options. She had tested negative for the BRACA genes. So, it seems the cancer was not genetic but rather a double misfortune in her family that through her deft ability to research she turned into a fortunate situation that she is proud to share. Maria is an esteemed academic with a degree from Harvard University. She is now Ph.D student at USC Davis School of Gerontology.
While she was undergoing chemotherapy, she began to make appointments with reconstructive surgeons to discuss her options for breast reconstruction. She doesn't overwhelm easily, but as she sat in a two-hour meeting with a male plasic surgeon telling her about how he would place expanders, deflated temporary implants, at the same time as mastectomy. She would then have to return to his office to get them pumped up, a process she envisioned to be like going to the gas station to fill up these rafts that would stretch her pectoral muscle to eventually be able to hold a permanent implant placed on the second surgery, overwhelmed her. After visiting three reconstruction surgeons, she landed in the office of Dr. Lisa Cassileth. The first woman breast reconstruction surgeon she met. And the words that resonated with her most was,
"These breasts will move and feel like real breasts," Dr. Cassileth said. "When you lay on your side breasts should move to the side and have these will have the same motion as natural breasts."
Dr. Cassileth was a combination of witty, creatively, aesthetically and spatially gifted. And being a woman, she understood what Maria was looking for. She gave Maria the gift of being able to wake up from a mastectomy with a natural-looking set of breasts. NO second surgery. NO visits to the pumping station. NO waking up with a flat chest.
Maria sighed with relief.
"I'm so glad I waited to find Lisa," she said. "Not all women battling breast cancer have the energy to visit with four reconstruction surgeons before finding the right one."
When Maria woke up from the mastectomy, just as Dr. Cassileth promised, her breasts were intact. And yes, they do move like real breasts when she turns on her side. Dr. Cassileth has concealed the tiny scars from her surgery with nipple reconstruction. There is no visual trace of the mastectomy.
"My breasts feel and look natural," Maria said. "I even wear a bra to protect them from gravity."