How I Kept a-Breast

Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii!

My name is Melinda Clark and one of of my goals for 2016 is to jump into the world of bloggers and share my story of how I healed from stage 2a breast cancer without losing my breast. So, here is my first blog on how I kept abreast of how to keep my breast.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary the term abreast (adverb or adjective) is used to describe two or more people or things that are next to each other in a line or right next to each other…. just as a woman’s breasts are poised next to each other on her chest. Also, if you are keeping abreast of something, you are keeping yourself informed. I was bound and determined to not lose my breast to cancer and at 21 months post diagnosis I have been successful at keeping my breasts abreast from each other by not only staying abreast of the most current surgical, radiological and medical treatment, but also the huge array of complimentary healing therapies available.

Like anyone diagnosed with cancer, my life  was turned upside down and was certainly a roller coaster ride. One that that lasted for seven months with two other cancer scares (pancreatic and uterine) within two months of my breast cancer surgery. Thankfully those were proven to be ‘nothing’ but they certainly played a roll in the healing program I established for myself after being blessed with the most cutting edge, breast preserving surgical technique for breast cancer.

Living on the Big Island does not lend itself to the best medical care, although for lifestyle, it can’t be beat! Within two days of my diagnosis, friends who were involved in the breast health field highly encouraged me to see Dr. Melvin Silverstein at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, CA. I was certain that my cancer was ‘no big deal’ and that I would have a simple lumpectomy, radiation, take tamoxifen and get on with my life…all with in a few months. I was not going to let cancer disrupt my life in anyway. Well, all that changed as things did get a bit more complicated as I did not merely have a simple case of DCIS, but it had also invaded into my breast (IDC) and was quite large for the small breasted that woman I am.

My cycling friend and surgeon, Dr. Gerry Lau also recommended I see the very best he knew, Dr. Melvin Silverstein, after taking just one look at my biopsy report and physical exam. “You won’t be happy with the way you look if I operate on you. I won’t be able to get you the same results as Dr. Silverstein”.

With two people telling me the same advice, I immediately researched Dr. Silverstein and learned about the breast preserving surgical techniques that he pioneered and has been perfecting over the last 20 years. I was truly blessed by becoming a patient of his and his surgical partner and plastic surgeon, Dr. Nirav Savalia from Newport Beach Center for Plastic Surgery. Since 2008 these two brilliant surgeons have been performing Oncoplastic Surgery on women with tumors <5 cm and are currently pushing that threshold to over 5 cm in certain situations.

So, what is oncoplastic surgery and how does it differ from a simple lumpectomy or a mastectomy with reconstruction? The goal with oncoplastic surgery is to not only remove the cancerous tumor, but preserve the breast and nipple and improve the overall look in just one surgery. Yes, ONE surgery. By combining plastic surgery techniques with   cancer surgery they are more readily able get 1cm clear margins (beyond the scope of the tumor), while also preserving the breast and nipple and either using implants to restore size (in my case) or perform a reduction and mastoplexy (lift) in large breasted women, enabling the woman to wake up from surgery “looking as good as, if not better than before” (quote from Dr. S). No drains, no spacers, no skin stretching, no multiple surgeries, no fake, non -functioning nipple. Plus, if radiation is required it is done after reconstruction which means the plastic surgeon has fresh, non-radiated tissue to work with which provides better results.

I am another success story for the great results that oncoplastic surgery can provide. I  woke up from breast cancer surgery with the tumor removed and two beautiful, improved breasts. I had no bleeding, no bruising and was restored to my normal 34B size that were no longer droopy. I also had the benefit of intra-operative radiation therapy (IORT) which can take the place of traditional whole breast radiation…but I will share that with my next blog.

I hope this blog helps educate women about the breast preserving oncoplastic surgery option so that less women will lose their breasts to mastectomy. We can help make this surgical technique more available by demanding our breast centers and surgeons offer it …or we can choose to go elsewhere, where oncoplastic surgery is offered. We can have a voice that will inspire and demand change, but it must first begin with educating women about all of the options available, not just the ones offered by your surgeon or breast center.

Happy New Year -Live a Radiant Life!

Melinda Marie Clark

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5 thoughts on “How I Kept a-Breast

  1. I’m so excited to read your first blog! Your story of inspiration, knowledge and success will reach many, with the potential of changing the course of treatment and choice in other women and their loved ones. Thank you for starting the conversation!

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  2. Congratulations on finding what works for you with the Oncoplastic surgery and the excellent surgeon that you had. Even better: Getting everything done in one procedure. That IS amazing!

    I am also a breast cancer survivor. Having a bilateral mastectomy four years ago saved my life. I chose NOT to have reconstruction. My husband tried to tell me this beforehand, but I didn’t believe him. I did my homework on the long-term satisfaction of women who have had reconstructive surgery. I discovered that my husband was right. I did not want to have any foreign materials in my body and I had no desire to have surgery that wasn’t necessary to save my life. (I did not qualify for skin-sparing surgery or the Tram-flap procedure.) The people that love me don’t care if I have breasts or not. They only care that I am alive and healthy.

    Losing my breasts was NOT the worst thing that ever happened to me. Losing my life would have been. Am I happy that I lost my breasts to cancer? No. However, I have learned that my body does not define me. What is in my heart does and without my breasts in the way, I can hold the people that I love closer to my heart.

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    1. Aloha Chris,
      Thanks for your reply and sharing your experience. I’m glad to hear you are doing so well! The goal of oncoplastic surgery is to not only save lives, but doing so with breast preservation. This will be the status quo at some point in time, but since it is not offered at most breast centers, I am hoping educate women about this option so they will at least know to inquire…to see if they are a candidate. Oncoplastic surgery is being successfully performed on tumors <5cm with the same survival rate as mastectomy(I was 4.2, stage 2a, no lymph involvement ER/PR + HER2-). By women insisting upon this procedure being an option, we can help drive the medical field to expand into making oncoplastic surgery commonplace. With many women being larger breasted, they are offered a reduction & lift, as opposed to me, who was so small, implants were necessary for reconstruction. It has worked out well for me and the natural shaped "Gummy Bear" implants are very natural looking and feeling. I'll keep sharing more info…wishing you perfect health. Live a Radiant Life!

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