Breast cancer patient - 'I did something for me'

November 16, 2003|LIZ MAPLES

Before Pam Brown was wheeled into surgery a nurse wrote, "No," on her left breast.

Then it hit her. She was losing a breast. In its place there would be a concave hole and a scar. Brown decided that if the doctors had to take her right breast to save her from cancer then she was going to get a new one to save her femininity.

Brown wanted a real breast, not a foam falsie.

She didn't want to have to make such a choice. She didn't want to lose her breast, but it was the choice she faced when doctors found cancer shortly after her 44th birthday.

The night she found out, Brown was sitting in her living room watching TV. Her doctor, Jack Cody, called. He told her they had found several spots on her mammogram about the size of pencil tops. Brown asked Cody to repeat himself, two or three times, while she tried to digest the news.


"I heard him, but I didn't want to listen," she said.

A biopsy later that week confirmed her fears.

The American Cancer Society estimated that there would be 3,200 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Kentucky women in 2003. Of those, 600 likely would die.

Brown had ductal carcinoma in situ. The cancer cells were contained to her milk ducts. It is one of the most common forms of breast cancer and has a high survival rate among those diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In Brown's biopsy the doctors found cancer cells on the edge of her breast sample, which means that there was likely more cancer in the ducts.

Cody, who is now retired, advised that she have a mastectomy.

Brown wanted a second opinion and sought out Dr. Thomas Baeker, an oncologist at Commonwealth Cancer Center. He agreed that a radical mastectomy - having her breast completely removed - was her best option.

"I heard mastectomy and it boiled in my gut," she said.

Her other option was to have only a portion of the breast removed and then to have radiation treatment. After the mastectomy, she knew she had made the right decision because the doctors had found more cancer cells hiding behind her nipple.

Brown remembered how her grandmother got breast cancer in the early 1960s. The doctors had to remove one of her breasts. Back then there were no options for her. There was no such thing as breast reconstruction. Women rolled tube socks up and put them in their bras. It wasn't perfect, but it prevented stares.

Brown wanted to take advantage of one of her options, so she saw a plastic surgeon, Dr. Susan Wermeling of Bluegrass Plastics in Lexington. Brown said she was, like many women, scared to death.

"Part of it is that it's painful, part of it is the unknown," she said. "I said, 'If I'm brave enough to take it off then I'm going to have one put on.'"

She had three options: saline implants, silicone implants or transflap reconstruction. Brown chose the third option. First a breast was created from her abdominal muscles. Then her surgeon tattooed an areola on it and transplanted part of the nipple from her left breast to create the one on her right.

The recovery, as Brown expected, was painful, but quick. She said she got up every morning, got dressed and put on make up. She tried to do something for herself every day. When she was completely recovered, she said it was worth it.

"It's true what they say, 'No pain, no gain.'"

Brown said she is proud of the new breast, and that the reconstruction makes her feel completely healed from the mastectomy.

"It's all me," she said. "These are my body parts and this is my breast."

Brown said it was important to her to be an example for her daughter, Tiffany, and granddaughter, Taylor.

"I'm just so proud. I did something for me," she said.

Central Kentucky News Articles