One Woman's Journey
When 47-year-old Vancouver resident Janet Bauer and her husband, Ron, were unloading boxes from the car, the last thing on her mind was a mammogram. But suddenly she felt like she'd pulled the muscles in her armpit and pectoral areas. The area was still sore the next day, and Janet felt a lump. "My girlfriend texted me: This is your phone. Now use it and call the doctor!"
Janet's primary care physician referred her to PeaceHealth Southwest's Kearney Breast Center, and the staff made an appointment even before the center opened. Everything, including the mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, happened in one day, and the nurse reassured Janet, "You're going to be taken care of."
"My doctor called," writes Janet in her blog entry (from caringbridge.org). "I hung up and had to say the words out loud: 'I have breast cancer.' I think Ron had a lump too, but it was in his throat."
From mastectomy to preparation for breast reconstruction
"When I met my surgeon, right away I felt comfortable in what she had to say, how she focused only on me," Janet says. "I had researched my type of breast cancer, but I just assumed that I would be told what to do next. I found out I had options."
Janet opted for a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy to be followed by reconstruction surgery. Her plastic surgeon, Allen Gabriel, MD, of PeaceHealth Medical Group Plastic Surgery, worked alongside Janet's surgeon during the mastectomy surgery, placing expanders that would stretch the pectoral muscles and tissue to make room for the implants.
Usually the stretching can take several weeks, causing muscle spasms and pain. Janet agreed to take part in Dr. Gabriel's clinical trial in which Botox is injected into the muscle before placing the expanders.
Janet says, "I have read many discussion boards where women go through so much pain. Dr. Gabriel was able to have me fully expanded in a short time after my mastectomy, and I experienced no pain!"
From chemotherapy to recovery
Janet underwent mastectomy surgery in October, followed by weekly infusions of Herceptin and four chemotherapy treatments beginning in November. By December, her hair began coming out in handfuls. "My girlfriend Kat didn't have the heart to shave it off, so she gave me a 'short sassy do,'" Janet says. "Then it was off to the wig shop.
"When the chemo wiped everything out of me, I had to rely on my family and friends." she says. "That was hard, because I've always considered myself more of a giver. But I learned to accept that people feel good to be able to help me, and I am forever grateful."
"My hair started to grow back near the end of February," Janet says. "It's a sign of new growth, new life and new health. I will be much healthier and stronger, which will help me to heal quickly from the reconstruction surgery."
From reconstruction surgery to now
Janet celebrated her birthday in March with breast reconstruction surgery. "Ron and I got settled at the hospital. Dr. Gabriel measured everything and marked me up. It's quite an art. (There are different sizes and styles for breast implants.) The surgery took a little over three hours. I loved waking up in the surgery room to see Dr. Gabriel and his wonderful nurse Rachel."
During the first weeks of recovery, Janet faced a reality check. "Once I was home and recovering, I had this overwhelming sadness come over me. I told my girlfriend Christine, 'I should feel so lucky and blessed to be alive and to even have breasts, so why do I feel this way?'"
Christine did some research and discovered what is called post-surgery depression, which can be a reaction from anesthesia and also is common with plastic surgery patients. Once Janet knew what it was, she felt better. "I feel great, other than the pain and cumbersome feelings I have from the drainage tubes. My hair keeps growing and it's so sparkly! I am totally done with wigs, bandanas and caps!"
Janet wrote in her blog, "I have come to the realization that my body has gone through so much, not to mention surgeries and anesthesia which is so stressful to the body. I have also realized through sharing the good and bad experiences, it may help others going through those things. I know God needed another warrior. That's why he chose me and I don't want to let him down! I'm hoping to really make a difference!"