Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Susan's Story

Wirth Plastic Surgery

For five years I had been having pain in my left breast and I knew something wasn’t right. I had continually gone to see my regular gynecologist for mammograms and ultrasounds. They continued to tell me that I just had fibrocystic breasts but that the lumps were benign. When I complained of the pain they gave me pain pills but I never felt like they truly cared enough.

When I finally had enough, I went to my Insurance Company to request a second opinion; that alone was an undertaking. After two months of back and forth calls and paperwork, they finally approved the second opinion. This is when I went to work to find the best breast cancer specialists I could find. After much research, I chose UC Irvine’s Chao Cancer Center in Irvine, California. Let me tell you, this was the best decision of my life.

After Dr. Lane, oncologist, took the time to truly listen to me and believed what I was telling them, they went to work. They ordered an MRI right off the bat and when they found the lump I had been complaining about, they did a partial lumpectomy and tested the cells that they found inside. Of the 20 some odd slides they took, they found 17 with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Which, if you have to have breast cancer, is the best one to have. Now we had some decisions to make, like ow to treat it. So, UC Irvine being very thorough in their approach to my cancer, suggested we take a genetic test to see if I had the hereditary gene, BRACA1. I did.

Now the choice became even more important. The chances of it becoming full blown before my life was over were good. I was 53 at the time and wasn’t ready to give up on life. At that point, the doctors and myself decided on a double mastectomy in hopes that I wouldn’t have to have chemo or radiation. No breast tissue, no cancer. It sounded good to me.

The Doctors at UC Irvine got their teams together. Dr. Karen Lane and another member of her team removed the breasts, and Dr. Garrett Wirth with his associate Dr. Padar, reconstructed the new breasts.. It was quite an undertaking, let me tell you. There were 4 surgeons working on me for 14.5 hours. Two sets of two surgeons each. Oncologists were removing the breasts and the cancer, while the plastic surgeons were putting me back together. After much discussion and research, again this time with Dr. Wirth (best plastic surgeon ever!), we decided on a tram flap surgery; which took the excess belly fat and moved it up to my chest to make “pretend” breasts. Wow, what a concept. Who would have ever thought something like this could actually be done? But it was and it was wonderful!

Nobody ever wants to have breast cancer as they are part of your body and to have them removed entirely from your chest is not only physically trying, but it was also very emotional. There were days I just cried and felt like I was going to be less of a woman. I’m sure you can imagine the things that run through your mind, but let me tell you, when it was all done and over with and I looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Not gonna lie, it didn’t look bad. Not bad at all. With a blouse on, nobody could even tell I had had a double mastectomy. Dr. Wirth was a miracle worker and such a blessing. I have never felt so humble and thankful to another human being as I was to him. He made me whole again. He made me feel like new and that I had the rest of my life to live now without the worry of the breast cancer returning.

The journey is never something you would wish on anyone, but I need to say that without the wonderful doctors at UC Irvine, my life would have never been the same. To this day, I love those guys with all my heart and would do anything for them. They gave me back my life!

They were and are the best thing about UC Irvine, Chao Cancer Research Center.

Thank you for letting me share my story.

Susan Baldassari

Sr. Accountant

California

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