Reconstructing a cancer-free future
All three of Teresa Decker's half sisters had breast cancer. When her biological father found out he had the cancer gene, his wife decided it was time that the family reach out to Teresa, who grew up with her mother and adopted father. It was then, Teresa, nearly 50, learned she was adopted, discovered her biological father, and found she had an 85 percent risk of contracting cancer.
A genetic oncologist recommended a hysterectomy, which Teresa underwent last year. An MRI of her breast tissue came back negative for cancer cells. But she decided to go ahead with a double mastectomy, duct removal and reconstruction, in order to guarantee a life free of cancer.
Oncoplastic breast surgeon Dr. Toni Storm-Dickerson and plastic surgeon Dr. Allen Gabriel began the operation, which was to encompass a removal of the breast tissue while saving the nipple tissue, as well as reconstruction of Teresa's breasts. But, while Teresa was under, the doctors found abnormal cells in the right breast. The surgery was halted to analyze the tissue, which revealed ductal carcinoma in situ. DCIS is considered the earliest form of breast cancer and was not detected by the MRI.
Teresa had all the breast tissue and ductal tissue removed but had to wait for her reconstruction because of the DCIS. Despite this setback, Teresa was elated with her new lease on life — and the doctors who gave it to her.
"Dr. Storm-Dickerson and Dr. Gabriel were incredible. I couldn't have asked for anyone better," she said. "They were both so amazingly positive. I had absolutely no worries, whatsoever."
Even though Teresa was facing a life in a different body, a body that she uses to hike, bike, drag race and even unicycle, her doctors put her at ease. And she was completely happy with her reconstructed breasts, saying, "You cannot even tell. I have a whole new admiration for cosmetic surgery."
Because of lifting restrictions, Teresa couldn't return to work as a surgical nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center for six weeks. But when she did go back, she had more empathy for her patients.
"I have a new perspective on taking care of my patients," she said. "I can empathize with exactly what they are going through. It's a huge connection."
Teresa has one son, age 24, and she will have him tested for the gene. But for now, she is focused on her bright future: "My doctors saved my life. I didn't have to have chemotherapy or radiation," she said, adding even better news, "and I can't get breast cancer."
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