Completing the Look with Breast Reconstruction

Breast cancer patient Jane Ann Williams pleased with her results

Jane Ann WilliamsJane Ann Williams was 58 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, at 60, she has not only survived chemo, a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, she just returned from a family vacation in Destin, Florida.

During Hurricane Irma.

Waves of fear

In November 2015, Jane Ann’s busy life as a real estate agent, wife, mother and grandmother was interrupted. A suspicious spot showed up on her annual mammogram.

Jane Ann met with oncologist Manana Elia, MD, at The University of Kansas Cancer Center-Lee’s Summit. After completing a biopsy and genetic testing, Dr. Elia shared the results: triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma and the inherited BRCA2 gene mutation. “I got the double whammy,” said Jane Ann.

Suddenly all the cancer in her family made sense. Her mother died of ovarian cancer. Her grandmother died of breast cancer. An aunt died of pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Elia prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy. During the next four months, Jane Ann lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes; but she says it was all worthwhile. The chemo shrunk her tumor to the point that it was no longer detectable on a scan. Then, on Cinco de Mayo in 2016, breast surgeon Christa Balanoff, MD, performed Jane Ann’s double mastectomy.

Silver lining

Not long after her diagnosis, Jane Ann met with breast plastic surgeon, Michelle M. De Souza, MD. “My goal is to give breast cancer patients something to look forward to. I want them to know they can often regain their original shape or even improve on it,” said Dr. De Souza.

Mastectomy patients can choose larger or smaller breasts. They can opt for implant-based or tissue-based reconstruction. They can even lose some of the fat from their bellies or thighs to help shape the new breasts.

Not every woman chooses breast reconstruction. “I never push a patient to get reconstruction,” said Dr. De Souza. “There are women who prefer to use a prosthetic or a mastectomy bra with an insert. Also, there are women who choose to remain flat.”

Jane Ann Williams“I wanted to be the same size I was before cancer. The results are fabulous,” said Jane Ann. “And I no longer have to wear a bra!”

Building the best breast

Dr. De Souza starts by establishing space for the new breast using a temporary tissue expander. Over time, the expander is inflated with saline until it reaches the desired size. Next, she removes the expander and replaces it with a permanent implant or tissue. Additional surgeries may be necessary to perfect the breast shape or reconstruct the nipple.

Many women are not aware that breast reconstruction is covered by health insurance. Thanks to the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998, all group health plans that cover mastectomies must also provide coverage for symmetrical breasts and nipples.

After her breast reconstruction surgeries, Jane Ann opted for 3D nipple tattoos instead of having another surgery to create raised nipples. “It’s amazing how complete I look,” she said. “I don’t notice anything unusual when I look in the mirror. It looks like me.”

Happy ending

Dr. De Souza and her team of nurses find it rewarding to care for breast cancer patients. “We meet these women shortly after they’ve been diagnosed. But we also get to spend time with them at the other end of treatment – when they’re beginning to live their lives again.”

Jane Ann said she had a totally positive experience. “The doctors, nurses, surgeons — everyone at The University of Kansas Cancer Center was wonderful and kind. I have a good prognosis and couldn’t be happier with the results.”

There’s even more good news for Jane Ann. Her two daughters, sister and niece have all received genetic testing, and they are negative for the BRCA genetic mutation. “My family is done with this gene mutation,” said Jane Ann. “It stops with me.”