Four years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had my typical mammogram late November 2008, and the radiologist said I needed a sonogram. I thought it was routine, since I’ve had it done in the past. My gynecologist called me and said the radiologist recommended a biopsy, which I had done.
Early December, my doctor called again and asked me to visit him, which I did, and this is when he said I had breast cancer. I immediately asked him “what are the next steps?” feeling very strong and wanting to do whatever was necessary, fast. Without thinking of anything else, like a machine, I called a very good friend who’s a surgeon specializing in cancer and scheduled an appointment. After talking to him, many thoughts ran through my head. I have two grown-up kids and my son has three beautiful kids, who are my joy. I was thinking “How would my life be now with this diagnosis?” With the prospect of going through cancer, the uncertainty gets you to review your life and how can you make it better. During the appointment with the surgeon, he said I needed surgery and we decided a mastectomy was the best solution. Another concern was, “How do I tell this to my mother and family, especially during Christmas time?” When I did announce it, I had all of my family and friends support.
I had the surgery, and then started treatment with my oncologist, and I asked him who had performed the best reconstructions he had seen – this is when he recommended Dr. Aldona Spiegel. Since my first appointment with her, I felt she and her staff were there to support me throughout this unknown process, ensuring I elected the best option based on my needs. I chose the DIEP flap, since I didn’t want any strange object inside my body and wanted to use my own tissue. Dr. Spiegel’s staff prepared me with all of the information I required to have a successful surgery and post-op care.
I’m not going to lie to you – for me it wasn’t painful at all, but it was very uncomfortable, especially with the drainage and walking and sleeping posture, but it was all worthwhile. I’m very happy with the results, not only from a physical perspective, but also an emotional one. I always had this group of excellent, sensible and caring people with me all the way. Thank you, Dr. Spiegel.
The summer of 2007 changed my life. As I type this today, five and a half years later, I can finally say that the change was for the better. Sometimes I cannot believe that I utter those words, since that was when I was told – no sugar coating whatsoever – that I had breast cancer…
Looking back now, I can vividly recall the fog as I walked the halls of Smith Tower – on my way to talk to my ob/gyn. I knew that he could help me plan my course of action, now that I had to deal with this “bump in the road”.
He gave me the names of breast surgeons that he suggested that I speak to on my journey. I knew that I would have biopsies and further imaging in the coming days/weeks; but I was thinking further down the road. I needed to investigate all options for every procedure. That’s my nature.
Breast surgeon. Check. Once I had my breast surgeon on board (I needed a mastectomy), I turned my attention to finding an oncologist. Check. Over the next 6 or 7 months, I attacked my cancer with surgery, chemo and radiation. And, throughout this entire process, I focused on the light at the end of the tunnel… a prophylactic mastectomy on my “healthy” breast and double reconstruction. Big question out there: “Who do I trust to perform this surgery?”
I began searching online for reconstruction options. I also spoke to other survivors and learned about their procedures and surgeons. I scheduled three appointments/consults with three very different surgeons while still in the midst of my chemo/radiation treatments. I knew that I was getting ahead of myself; but I just felt that I needed to be sure that I chose the best surgeon and best reconstructive procedure for my lifestyle. I was a 46 year old mother of two girls – one about to start high school, the other about to apply to colleges. The one thing in my life that helped maintain my sanity? A daily trip to the gym. Don’t get the idea that I am some kind of gym rat with a body to match! Heck no! I just need the gym to maintain my sanity!!
I interviewed some of the most highly regarded and frequently referred plastic surgeons in Houston. Two of them offered the TRAM procedure to me. One even wondered whether I would need implants to achieve an aesthetically pleasing result! I was floored! I knew without any doubt that my generous abdomen was the perfect donor for at least two newly constructed breasts!
I wasn’t getting the answers that I wanted, so my search continued. My brother had been in a deposition and had been impressed with a doctor’s resume/qualifications. That rock star physician was Dr. Aldona Spiegel. Because I value my brother’s opinion, I knew then that I would have to take a serious look at her.
During my initial consult with Dr. Spiegel, I expressed concern about being able to keep up my gym “therapy”, since I already knew that my friends had tremendous difficulty with simple exercises – particularly “crunches”. Needless to say, all of my concerns were put to rest when I met with Dr. Spiegel and her office staff. There would be no compromising of my abdominal muscles during my DIEP reconstruction procedure. Another bonus of this procedure? A “tummy tuck” as a result of the harvesting of my own fat and skin tissue to re-create my breasts! What woman wouldn’t want that???
I thank my lucky stars that Dr. Aldona Spiegel became an integral part of my journey to reclaim my life after hearing what every woman fears. I hope and pray that you never need her expertise; but, if you do, please schedule a consult. You will never look back; and only then will you understand why she’s a rock star!
When I was 7 years old, I lost my maternal grandmother to ovarian cancer. I later learned she was a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed at the age of 36. A couple years later, my mother was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. She was 42 years old. Watching her go through chemotherapy and two surgeries, a mastectomy and tram-flap reconstruction, was extremely hard. I was so fearful of losing her too, but luckily she survived and has been cancer free for twenty years!
My mother tested positive for BRCA 2+ when I was in high school. I was so scared of the potential results that I waited until I was 28 years old to have the test. I always thought, I’m so young, I have time. After I graduated from optometry school and got married, I decided I needed to finally take the test in which I tested positive for BRCA 2+.
After talking with my oncologist, I decided to start my screening knowing there was the possibility of a prophylactic mastectomy as a form of treatment. I had many reasons I wanted to wait on surgery: children, breastfeeding, image, and just the general idea of wanting to wait until I was at least in my thirties. I also just started practicing optometry full time at my mother’s private practice and knew surgery would keep me from my new career.
Upon following the screening approach, my first mammogram showed calcifications in my left breast. I was out to lunch on my 29th birthday when my oncologist called with results of the biopsy: ductal carcinoma in situ, also referred to as stage 0 breast cancer. She said treatment was a double mastectomy and it needed to be soon.
The next couple of weeks were extremely tough emotionally. I was about to lose my breasts, which I loved. I knew I would never be able to breastfeed but would I look “normal” again? Would I feel less of a woman? What are expanders? I had so many questions. I felt alone and scared because I did not know anyone else my age at that time that had gone through a mastectomy.
After several physician referrals to see Dr. Spiegel, I decided to make an appointment. At my first consultation I felt so comfortable with her and her staff. She was very thorough and explained in detail the surgeries. She also showed me a before and after picture of a woman who looked similar to myself. Her results were amazing. I knew that day I had found a plastic surgeon I could trust.
Dr. Spiegel and the general surgeon performed a skin and nipple-sparing double mastectomy with the placement of tissue expanders. Naturally I was nervous to look in the mirror after the surgery, but when I did, I was in shock at how good I looked with just expanders. I was also extremely relieved that the hard part was over and I was cancer free. The next six months, I went to Dr.Spiegel’s office every three weeks to get the expanders filled. At each expansion, I felt more and more normal and could see how my future breasts were going to look. During the second surgery the expanders were removed and replaced with silicone implants.
I feel so confident with my implants. Honestly, I forget they are implants because they look and feel like my original breasts. I can wear a bikini with self-assurance that no one knows what I went through. Dr. Spiegel helped me to look “normal” if not better! Any fear I had of feeling less like a woman, she completely erased. I feel beautiful.
I am now the proud mother to a seven month old and could not have imagined my journey any other way.
My 1st breast cancer in 2001 I had to focus on the cancer. Just hearing the word ‘cancer’ scares you. My oncologist stressed the importance of seeing a plastic surgeon, so I saw two and had very unsuccessful visits.
Well, four and a half years later I had a recurrence and at that point I knew I would have to do something, so I told my general surgeon I will now need reconstructive surgery. His reply was “I wish more people were as confident as you in knowing what they want.” My next visit was to Dr. Aldona Spiegel. The moment they entered the room I knew I was in good hands; her nurse was so warm. When Dr. Spiegel came in I felt so calm because she was so pleasant as she explained my options to my niece, friend and me. From that point I met her physician assistant and several others who all were so very pleasant. One visit I asked Dr. Spiegel about the length of my surgery since I was quite concerned about the 10-hour surgery. Her reply was “You will be sleeping and I will be doing what I love!” I thought to myself “Thank you, Jesus.” After surgery I had healing complications, so I had many visits to Dr. Spiegel’s office and every time everyone there was so compassionate and patient with me. My sister and great nephew, Nicholas, accompanied me to the visits. Everyone in the office fell in love with little Nicholas. I thank God for Dr. Spiegel and her staff for making me feel beautiful and that I deserved to feel whole again. I now live each and every day to the fullest. I want other women now facing what I went through to know you’ll be just fine with Dr. Spiegel and her staff taking great care of you. There is a wonderful life waiting to be lived after this breast cancer/reconstruction journey.
My name is Debbie and I am a nurse in the Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Department at Methodist. My own breast reconstruction journey began in January 1998. Just a few short months after my 41st birthday, I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma on a routine mammogram – a mammogram that was a bonus Methodist was providing at the time. Yes, I owe my life to that extra screening. My first mammogram was at age 35 for a baseline and the second was at age 40, which showed no cancer. I was not a risk candidate and had no family history, but at the time TMH was allowing us to do yearly mammograms, so I took the opportunity. It was on this extra screening that my cancer was detected. I was devastated for I realized that my prognosis could have been fatal if not for that extra mammogram. I underwent a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. Plastic Surgeons and General Surgeons at that time did not work together like they do now. Of course, I am grateful for that now since I found Dr. Spiegel and could have my reconstruction performed by the best. My journey took approximately 10 years, but when I had my reconstructive surgery in 2009 it changed my life.
Family and friends were extremely supportive and always there for me, however, I still felt alone. After all, I was the “strong one” in the family that everyone turned to. For 10 years I wore a removable prosthesis in my bra. It was a constant reminder that I was not complete. This was like torture. They were hot, heavy and I needed one for all my sizes! My clothes did not feel right and I was self-conscious that everyone could just look at me and tell. A feeling of guilt was ever present as well. How could I feel this way when I had so much to be thankful for? After all, I was alive. I was able to watch my daughters turn into beautiful women. Standing by my daughter’s side at her beautiful wedding was one of the highlights of my life. But, most of all, witnessing the birth of my grandson has been the best part of this journey. The reconstruction gave me back my life, making me confident in every way possible.
Professionally, I am very privileged to work at Methodist and have the advantage to work closely with Dr. Spiegel and her associates and to be a part of making women whole again. Selecting my surgeon was the easiest decision I have ever made, after all, I knew Dr. Spiegel even as a resident. Her compassion for her patients attracted me as much as her surgical skills. I was, however, extremely nervous about the surgery itself and going to ICU afterwards but the care I received from Dr. Spiegel, her staff, and Methodist’s staff was excellent.
As part of my evaluation at TMH I was asked to write a narrative about how my practice impacts patients. I would like to share a portion of that narrative: Ms. C a 47 year old diagnosed with breast cancer – On the day of her surgery I went to interview her and as I began she started crying. I tried to comfort her, but she said, “You just don’t understand what I’m going through!” I took her hand and said, “Yes I do. Two years ago I was in your place and I have a rule. My patients do not cry alone…” So, for 12 plus years I have been that person who can relate to what my patients are going through. Each patient deals with this process differently and may need different kinds of support. Dr. Spiegel’s Dreamers support group and my profession allow me to be a part of helping women through all phases of dealing with their diagnosis, treatments, surgeries, and most important getting their lives back.
At first the diagnosis is overwhelming and a feeling of desperation takes over. For 10 years I said to myself “will I ever get my life back?” But now, after my reconstruction, I actually have trouble remembering the sequence of events and things which consumed my every thought. I enjoy life to the fullest and am so thankful for the things that make me happy: my family, my friends, and the opportunity to help others. I love my grandson, Graham, so much and just hearing him call me Nana is all I need and I have so much more.
Life was good as the New Year 2007 started. I had just opened my business (Hollyworks) and it was doing well. I had a good marriage of 20 years and then in February I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I heard the news I felt like I had been hit in the stomach by a prize fighter. I shared it with my Mom and my husband but didn’t tell anyone else. I just didn’t know what to say to people without crying or without feeling like a loser. I had never been sick before. Never even broken a bone before. I never liked people to worry about me or fuss over me because I was always in control. And now I had to tell them I wasn’t.
My gynecologist outlined several ways to proceed for treatment: find a doctor in my neighborhood close to home or go to MD Anderson in the Houston Medical Center. She said after treatment she had heard wonderful things about what doctors can do with reconstructive surgery. But at this point my head was spinning – how could I possibly think about reconstructive surgery when I needed to cut off one of my breasts first. I’d had it 50 years and the thought of removing it made me stick my head in the ground.
I visited a few doctors in my part of town for both oncology and reconstruction and was horrified by both. I didn’t get a positive message from any of them. One reconstruction doctor told me that there was no way my breasts would ever match again. When I asked him why he couldn’t work on both breasts to make them match he said – we’ll only work on the breast with cancer but it will never look like the real breast. This didn’t seem right and was very discouraging.
About 3 months into the adventure I finally confided in a friend whose daughter is a Surgical Anesthesiologist and she came back with a recommendation that changed my life!
She told me about Dr. Aldona Spiegel, a surgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction. It sounded too good to be true! I called Dr. Spiegel and spoke to a nurse in her office who explained that most people come to her after their cancer surgery and treatment was complete. They agreed to see me although I was just beginning my process.
I felt like I was in the hands of angels when I met with Dr. Spiegel and her team. They explained my options and processes and assured me that I would come out of this looking better than ever. After the initial meeting with Dr. Spiegel, she met with a group of us (4 other new patients) to further explain the process. Most were further along in the process than I was but the person that stood out was a woman who was having her reconstruction re-done because it was done by a hand surgeon. She had gotten a bad surgery and said that when she ran to the phone it felt like a rock was hitting her heart. A hand surgeon!!! She didn’t know there was a better alternative. She didn’t know there was a surgeon who had dedicated herself to reconstructing women’s breasts after cancer.
I planned my entire cancer surgery, treatment and reconstruction with Dr. Spiegel and team from the removal of breasts, chemotherapy, radiology and finally reconstruction. The process took 4 years but now it seems so worth it. I have been cancer free for 5 years! And I’ve been so thrilled with my new body – a flat stomach I never had before and breasts that are exactly the right size for my frame – AND they match!!!
The physical work that Dr. Spiegel and her team do is phenomenal but the love and support is way above and beyond what I would have received anywhere else. It’s hard going through the cancer process but during these 4 years I also lost my house to hurricane Ike (as I was finishing chemo) and the following year went through a painful divorce. Through all of the trauma (and drama!) I looked forward to my visits to Dr. Spiegel and her team who asked all the right questions, lifted me up, and made me feel like a million bucks every time I walked in the door.
This is why I like to say I got a Makeover from God. My 4 year cancer adventure started and ended at Dr. Spiegel’s office and she and the rest of the team lifted me, cheered me, and helped create a new me. I’m so proud to say that I love the new me (my fiancé does, too!). I look better than ever and have never been happier.
THANK YOU Dr. Spiegel and TEAM.
When I was in fifth grade, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it and won for a little while, but by the time I was a senior in high school, it finally killed her. My aunt (her sister) had died from breast cancer a few years prior. To my knowledge, all the women in my family had died from cancer. Growing up and into adulthood, I was pretty sure that breast cancer was going to get me, too. It just seemed like the inevitable based on my family history. When I was in my twenties, I did the genetic testing and it confirmed my suspicions that I was BRCA2 positive. I did surveillance and gave myself until I was 35 to decide what to do.
At first I was reluctant to have a mastectomy. The whole thought of it was unnerving and some said it was “drastic.” But then I went to a conference for high risk women and learned that a mastectomy would reduce my chances to less than 1%. Then I felt really dumb for having waited so long, because the choice was clear. Ultimately, it came down to handling the cancer issue on my own terms, or waiting to deal with it if/when I was diagnosed. I decided that it was far easier to schedule a mastectomy and reconstruction on my own terms than to have to deal with chemo, radiation, and related adventures later when it may be far less convenient. Some people say that my mastectomy and reconstruction was “elective,” but for me there was really no choice.
I decided to have a mastectomy with delayed reconstruction (expanders) early in the year and within about 6 months, I had the procedure. Although I was concerned, I went in very healthy so mostly I worried about how quickly I would recover and what I could expect afterward in terms of getting back to real life. I like to be active, with work, family, and trying to stay healthy (I’m an avid Cross Fitter and enjoy running), so I was worried that I would not be able to do the things I love and I would be bedridden for weeks. I had no idea how long I would be down and it concerned me. But the day after I got home from the hospital I went to the grocery with my husband and within ten days of the surgery I was back at work! The surgery and the recovery were so much easier than I had expected. Not long after, I was pretty much back to the normal. I had expanders for about five months and they were a pain (not literally), but I reminded myself all of it was easy compared to having cancer. The expanders did not slow me down and I was able to do everything I needed to do for work and for my family (although I used it all as an excuse to teach the kids about cooking and other various responsibilities.)
Dr. Spiegel and her staff were absolutely amazing throughout the experience. During my first visit, we discussed my options and it was very clear from the beginning where we were going and how we would get there. She was very honest about what she could do and what I could expect, and her honesty and clarity made things much better. I asked her a ton of questions, some relevant and some not, but she took the time to answer all of them. Her staff was equally helpful, which made me feel comfortable about the process. They were very responsive to my phone calls and emails and were just super nice the entire way through. Dr. Spiegel also clearly cares about her patients and her work product. I got the feeling that she cares more about how my breasts look at the end then I do, which is something.
Right now, I am four weeks post-operative after having the expanders replaced with my implants. I feel bionic and it is as if the reconstruction gave me a new perspective. This new normal means I don’t have to worry about the possibility of cancer and I have fantastic new breast instead. Even now, telling people that I had a mastectomy feels weird, but I could not be happier with my prognosis and my body. I have just started running again and have had no problem getting back to real life. My job is demanding with long hours and lots of hustling in the office, but the surgeries haven’t slowed me down at all.
Even on days when I took it easy to recover, I just reminded myself that any sort of discomfort or tiredness I was feeling was far better than actually having cancer. I am glad I made the choice to have a prophylactic mastectomy and I am glad I chose Dr. Spiegel to do the reconstruction. I feel blessed to have found such a professional, competent, and caring doctor to help me through such a profound life decision. I cannot imagine having to deal with this with any other doctor.
If I have any wisdom to share from this process, it’s that the journey is individual. Every diagnosis is different, and every treatment is different. But regardless of your diagnosis or treatment options and preferences, the fact remains that knowledge is power. Knowing as much as you can as early as possible about your treatment and recovery will help you feel empowered to make the best choices for you. Find the physicians who take the full you into account and listen to you. You are not the cause of this disease, and you have the right to not only treat the disease, but also to find the treatment options that will get you as close to feeling normal as possible. Be an advocate for yourself, or find someone who will do this with you. My advice is to consult with a plastic surgeon as early as possible, because they can be part of your treatment plan. Undoubtedly I would say call Dr. Spiegel. The more you know your options, the better you will feel about your outcome – my theory is that it is best to have no regrets about “what could have been”.
Now for my story –
I was diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 47 with invasive ductal tubular carcinoma in my right breast, typically a slow growing cancer. I was lucky to have been diagnosed early – which the surgeon attributed to the 3-D imaging that I was lucky enough to have received. I remain very thankful for having that technology available to me, many women do not.
I felt scared and shocked – and stupid. I knew so little. I was referred to two surgeons. The first surgeon explained that my best option was a lumpectomy with radiation. Not knowing much about this, it sounded like the right path to take, assuming the test didn’t show anything new. However, when I went home and started researching this treatment option on the internet, I began to doubt that decision. I assessed that a lumpectomy with radiation had some serious disadvantages that I needed to further consider, including the potential for having to be redone within days if the margins didn’t come back clean. Even more concerning to me was this nagging feeling I had that this was just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. I would still have to have mammograms – now likely more often than annually because I would be even higher risk. Based on my past experience with dense breasts, I suspected I was heading down a path of repeat mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies and the endless waiting game to see if the cancer had reemerged. In addition, I knew I would have a lump out of one breast and that the radiation used to treat the affected breast could complicate any reconstruction option that I might want to do in that area. Or, even more concerning, if the cancer came back and I needed a mastectomy; my reconstruction options could be less optimal. Armed with this new information, I went to see the second surgeon. He understood that I might want to do a double mastectomy even though he also initially recommended a lumpectomy with radiation. However, after listening to me, he supported the double mastectomy as a means to lower my overall risk and to avoid future biopsies and the stress it induced.
Having found the surgeon that offered me another option; I was sent to undergo a series of tests and was referred to a couple of plastic surgeons. The test confirmed that I did not have any signs of cancer anywhere else, and that the type of cancer I had would likely not need chemotherapy. All great news! Then I moved on to the plastic surgeons. One surgeon couldn’t see me for months and the other gave me no confidence that the outcome of the mastectomies would be great. In fact, the quote I remember is he said “you will look perfectly normal with your clothes on”. I was so frustrated and upset… I didn’t want to look good with my clothes on – I wanted to look good with my clothes off!!! I just wanted to find a team of physicians that worked together that I trusted to treat me.
Before this experience, I didn’t realize how many people are involved in treatment. Radiologists, general surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist, and who knows who else! But in my case I had to find a general surgeon and a plastic surgeon that would work together to give me the result I wanted – double mastectomy with the goal of normal-looking breasts. I knew this was an option for me based on what the surgeon had said, but I couldn’t find that team. I felt completely lost in the system. I went to another healthcare system and found the same reluctance to perform a mastectomy.
It was now four months since diagnosis and I was getting panicked to get this thing out. (Some would say that was a crazy amount of time to wait, but I was told that I had time – so I took it). After what seemed to be endless tests, biopsies, doctor visits with surgeons, plastic surgeons, oncologists… I just felt overwhelmed, lost and hopeless. I wasn’t sad about my diagnosis anymore; I was just completely baffled by the system. I knew I never wanted to have another breast biopsy. I never wanted to wait endless days for the biopsy results. I never wanted to waste my life like that again. But I could not find a surgeon and plastic surgeon team that gave me hope of a great outcome. By great result, I meant that my cancer would be gone and I would have decent looking breasts again. I was a 32 DDD, and these girls had played a big part in my self-image my whole life. This is not wrong – it’s ok to love your breasts and to want to keep them. Some doctors made me feel guilty about caring about what they would look like after treatment, and I look back now and think shame on them. We have the right to want to feel beautiful, and having cancer should not wipe this away. Physicians should respect this. I could and would live without them if I had to, but I didn’t have to – I just needed the right surgeons.
I spent my life on the internet, googling everything I could. It was through a random search on a cancer survivor blog that saw the name of Dr. Aldona Spiegel mentioned and that she had performed a beautiful skin-sparing, nipple-sparing reconstruction. While this is not an option for everyone – I knew that it might be for me. I immediately researched her, and loved the testimonials I saw on her website. Her patients seemed to love her! I longed to find any physician I could say that about! I sent them an email from their website, and within a couple days I was contacted and immediately brought in. I already felt like someone cared.
The appointment was the answer to my prayers. I remember after she examined me, I asked if I could just have both of them removed and built back somehow to look normal. She said absolutely – and I was not crazy for wanting this!!! And – she had two great surgeons that she knew could work with her to keep my skin and nipples! I went to the car to call my husband and I cried. He said he was sorry it didn’t go well – and I laughed and said I was crying tears of joy because I had finally found my path – I had a sense of peace.
Truthfully, the rest of the story where I get the double mastectomy and reconstruction is the easy part – silly as that sounds. Once I found Dr. Spiegel, it all just fell in place. I had surgery where they removed the tissue and inserted expanders. Because I am thin, she chose to reconstruct with implants instead of alternative procedures. I was a little nervous that this option would not be as good, but it has been wonderful for me. Dr. Spiegel and Dr. Baker kept my skin and nipples, and they thrived! The first two weeks of recovery were challenging – but manageable with support of family and friends. The worst part was the drains – because they tugged a bit and they were annoying – but really I was not in much pain, and what I did have was well managed by Dr. Spiegel. I also had huge anxiety about removing the drains, but that was silly because I didn’t even feel it! After a few weeks, we started the expansion process, which was also painless. I did this every couple of weeks until we both liked the size. This was actually a fun process – because for once I had a say on how large my chest should be! Once we had the right size, we let them rest for a bit. After four months I had outpatient surgery to trade in the expanders for beautiful, perky pair of implants!
I am now three weeks out from that surgery and I can say they are beautiful. They feel real and look real, and let me just say that they look good with my clothes on – and even more importantly – without! I plan to be wearing a bikini soon! Although the down side of this surgery is that I don’t have sensation in my breasts, I don’t seem to miss it all that much. I feel completely normal. Amazing! I was told I no longer need to get mammograms. I know I’ll never undergo another painful breast biopsy or wait for the dreaded results. I am so completely happy with my decision and overwhelmed by the results. I owe this to the support of family and friends, to endless people who write about their experiences on the internet and share successes and failures, and for Dr. Spiegel and Dr. Baker, who offered me the option I knew in my heart must exist. Lastly, I thank God for watching over me and giving me the strength to stay true to my instincts.
God bless you as you start this journey. May you have strength and courage to fight this fight and to seek and demand the path that is right for you. Please know that despite the rough days ahead, there are many people fighting for you to have a happy ending to this journey. Stay strong.
Diagnosed with breast cancer August 3, 2005, was devastating for me. A lumpectomy was performed within days, then chemo followed and then I was scheduled for radiation. Worried with the concern the cancer would return, I decided the best decision for me was actually a double mastectomy. This is where my journey began.
April 3, 2006, I met the most amazing and caring woman – Dr. Aldona Spiegel. My options were explained entirely, my first decision was made and the mastectomy was done in July with expanders placed in to keep the breast skin stretched. I was now facing whether I wanted implants or the DIEP flap surgery. Dr. Spiegel and I talked several times about all the differences between the two procedures. In June of 2008, I finally decided implants were the route I was going to pursue, however remaining open to the possibility of the DIEP flap eventually.
I was happy with the implants, but my breast just didn’t really look or feel natural enough to me. In September of 2011, I went back to see Dr. Spiegel to discuss the DIEP flap surgery in excessive detail. She left me with no unanswered questions or concerns about the procedure – during the surgery, recovery, or my well-being afterwards. I left her office knowing exactly what to expect with the surgery. On March 27, 2012 I took my leap of faith with the DIEP flap and my life has now been forever changed. It changed the way I look at myself as a woman. I stand taller, smile bigger, and feel beautiful on the inside as well as outside. I never dreamed I would or could look whole again. DIEP flap surgery is an option every woman should have, to make her whole again.
Thank You, Dr. Spiegel. Because of you, I feel like a total woman again. I am a SURVIVOR enjoying my life with my husband and family.
I was 47 years old and single. Then I met the man of my dreams and after dating for 6 weeks, we got engaged. I had felt a lump in my breast so I decided I should get it checked before I got married. Two weeks after my engagement, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a mastectomy on May 25, 2004 and walked down the aisle to marry the man of my dreams on June 13, 2004. After all the treatment—chemo and radiation—I had my breast reconstruction done in 2005. The reconstruction was not what I hoped for. In fact it was so bad that I never bothered to have the nipple and tattoo done. Over the next 6 years, I would ask my breast surgeon (not the surgeon who did the reconstruction) if there was anything that could be done to fix the reconstruction. With a heavy heart, every year he told me no. In 2011, I asked, AGAIN, if there was anything that could be done. This time I heard some good news—he informed me that he was working with a reconstructive surgeon and he thought I should talk with her because she may be able to help me. That was when I was referred to Dr. Spiegel and my whole world changed. She was so warm and caring and informed me that she felt she could redo my reconstruction. In January 2012, Dr. Spiegel took me into surgery and I came out of the surgery a new woman. After the reconstructive surgeries were complete, not only did I have a breast that felt real, it looked real. I was so excited that I actually could not wait to have the nipple made. I have found that since the surgery, I stand up straighter and my clothes fit better. I tell everyone I know that I have the most incredible doctor that made me feel like a woman again. I am proud to share my story with anyone who asks. Dr. Spiegel is a true angel and I am so glad that I met her.
My journey began long before my procedure. I was at a conference listening to Drs. Baker and Spiegel talk about surgical options for women with breast cancer and those at high risk for breast cancer.
I am a Radiologist with interest in Women’s Imaging. My job includes interpreting mammograms and breast ultrasounds and performing diagnostic procedures in women with suspicious breast findings. My mother had radical mastectomy at age 37; my husband’s mother died of breast cancer at age 59 and has other family members with breast cancer. Like many women, I have dense breasts and having my yearly screening mammograms have been not only anxiety provoking, but often leading to additional tests and even once, a stereotactic biopsy. At the Breast Cancer Prevention Clinic, my calculated risk for developing cancer at age 50 was 1 in 4 and was advised to get yearly MRI’s alternating with mammograms every 6 months. Needless to say, despite my passion for helping women diagnose breast cancer early and helping them navigate through treatment once the diagnosis has been made, I myself was a nervous wreck, convinced it was a matter of time before I myself develop breast cancer. What will the implications be for me and for my 2 young daughters if that happens?
As I sat listening to Drs. Baker and Spiegel talk and looking at the pictures of women who had breast reconstruction procedures, I thought to myself – “Why not consider bilateral prophylactic mastectomy?” I pondered on that idea for 2 years, doing my research and eventually, visiting with each surgeon and presenting my story and asking for their advice. I discussed my thoughts with my family, and worried if I was overreacting and putting myself at risk for unnecessary surgical complications.
2 years ago, at age 50, I finally decided it was time. I had lengthy preoperative counseling and workups but finally I was cleared for surgery Easter weekend. Even though I had made up my mind, I worried about the lengthy nine-hour procedure, the postoperative recovery, and the mental anguish I was putting my family through. As surgery day got closer, I became more doubtful of my decision. But thanks to Drs. Baker and Spiegel and their staff and the staff at Methodist, everything went well. It helped that I had talked to other women who went through it as well and I have zero regrets.
Since my DIEP flap surgery, I have had a second procedure to have implants put in. The results have been incredible. My breast pain is gone. I no longer live in fear of getting breast cancer and am very pleased with the implants – though I was dead set against them in the beginning. My husband, who would love me no matter what, is also quite pleased with the results!
Even though the pathology did not show breast cancer, I consider myself a breast cancer survivor. I am fortunate to have learned about my options and chose one that has been a positive life change. I hope that by sharing my story with others, someone else can learn about their options and have their own life changing experience.
I was probably Dr. Spiegel’s most reluctant, prospective patient. My husband and daughter were conspiring behind my back for me to have reconstructive surgery. After much research on their part, they felt Dr. Spiegel was THE one I should see. My daughter made the appointment and they literally dragged me to Dr. Spiegel’s office. My mindset was “been there, done that.”
You see, being 66 years old, I had resigned myself to my situation. My mastectomy and reconstructive surgery were 27 years ago. I also had extensive radiation and chemo prior to my reconstructive surgery and in the last several years my reconstructed implant had become severely encapsulated. I had seen at least two male plastic surgeons about reconstructive surgery in the past, but I came away from these appointments with the feeling that they just didn’t understand and they did not really want to deal with cleaning up an encapsulation. They seemed to be more interested in the cosmetic part instead of the correction of my encapsulation. That was fine, but I needed more. With Dr. Spiegel being a woman, I hoped this appointment would be different. I was not disappointed.
Upon meeting Dr. Spiegel and listening to her explain the procedure, I was very impressed. She told me, “Phyllis, I can fix this. I can remove the encapsulation and reconstruct your breast with, hopefully, some feeling”. “I can do this”. Wow! For the first time, I felt both relieved and excited that someone finally understood and could do this for me! She was very compassionate and reassured me that “it’s a journey, “ there is light at the end of the tunnel” and that “we are going to get there.”
My journey is complete now. Dr. Spiegel and her medical staff have been wonderful throughout every step and have become almost like family to me Thanks to Dr. Spiegel’s excellent surgical skills, I have feeling in my reconstructed breast (after 27 years) and it looks and feels beautiful!!! I no longer have to worry about being lopsided or dealing with a prosthesis or how my clothes fit. The results are amazing and I feel so much better about myself. My husband, kids, and grandkids are all excited because “Mimi” is going to float the river this summer at our annual family vacation and get in the hot springs when we all go skiing next year! These are just some of the things I haven’t been able to do in recent years. In fact that was one of the main topics of discussion when all four of our kids and their spouses plus ten grandchildren were staying with us for four days during Christmas!
I feel more confident and beautiful now. I am truly blessed to be cancer free for 27 years and for meeting Dr. Spiegel. My only regret is I didn’t meet her sooner. As the song says, ‘I feel like a woman”….again.
Thank you, Dr. Spiegel! And thank you to my husband and daughter!
January 3, 2013
Learning that I had breast cancer was not something that I had anticipated in my life, but was something that I had greatly feared. So, when I received the cancer diagnosis, it was a great comfort to me to immediately have the benefit of an incredible team of physicians at Methodist Hospital. I was able to see Dr. Spiegel the day of my diagnosis, and she was quite a reassuring presence. Her office atmosphere is one of calm and feminine emphasis, and, subconsciously, that was important to me. Throughout my relationship with Dr. Spiegel, I have felt her concern for my sense of well-being. As she is a woman, I am confident that she understands the strong desire of her patients to not only be restored to health, but also to be restored to feminine wholeness.
The interval between my diagnosis and the final plan of treatment and the uncertainty that I dealt with during that time was the most difficult period of my journey. Dr. Spiegel was quite supportive during this time as were the other people in her office. This was meaningful to me because my struggle during this time was an emotionally charged one, and it was quite important for me to know that Dr. Spiegel and her office staff knew that and cared.
There were two decisions I made regarding my treatment plan, and Dr. Spiegel carefully explained the details of each. First, I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy. That would remove the concern of having cancer in the other breast, and it seemed to me that it might make the reconstruction easier. Secondly, I opted for implants in order to shorten the recovery time for that surgery. Dr. Spiegel supported me in these decisions and helped me understand what would be occurring each step of the way.
Today, after almost two years, I can happily say that I am better than new. Dr. Spiegel is an artist, and I am thankful that she has chosen to express her art by restoring women’s sense of femininity and beauty.
Written with joy,
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010 when I was 43 years old. Nobody in my family has had breast cancer, and I never thought I would get breast cancer. I was really shocked and scared when I got the diagnosis. The surgeon that I talked to said that because I had small breasts, he recommended that I have a mastectomy. At that time I didn’t know whether I was going to have radiation and/or chemotherapy. I just couldn’t think of anything beyond the mastectomy. Because I didn’t want to go through the same experience again, I decided to have bilateral mastectomy even though I only had cancer in my right breast.
I had my mastectomy in March 2010 (not at the Methodist Hospital). I was so traumatized with my surgery experience that I decided not to have any more surgeries. Soon after my mastectomy, I was feeling really depressed. I felt that something was taken away from me. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror before or after a shower. I was feeling unhappy, and I lost interest in doing the things I enjoyed, like gardening and going to the gym.
In May 2010, I made my first appointment with Dr. Spiegel to find out what my options were if I decided to have reconstructive surgery. Dr. Spiegel and her staff were so caring that I felt comfortable talking with them. Dr. Spiegel listened to my concerns and took them seriously.
When I met Dr. Spiegel for the first time, I only weighed 105 lb. I was really thin, and I didn’t have any “spare parts” to use for reconstructive surgery. Tissue expanders were not an option because the skin on the mastectomy site was so thin and tight. To be able to have the DIEP surgery I would have to ‘grow fat’ and have some flexibility in my tummy. My only option at that time was latissimus flap. But I was not keen on having the latissimus flap surgery because I didn’t want to lose any muscle strength on my back.
In August 2012 I met Dr. Spiegel for the second time. At that time I had gained 7 lbs. and had “grown” some fat on my tummy. She told me to gain some more weight and come back in October. By October I had gained 15 lbs. in total and that was when Dr. Spiegel said with confidence that the DIEP surgery could be done.
I had my DIEP surgery in February 2011 and the nipples/symmetry surgery in November 2011. I was so pleased with the results that I don’t mind showing them to breast cancer patients who are considering reconstructive surgery. Not only do I feel good and confident again, but I also have my feeling back in my reconstructed breasts. I feel happy and enjoy life again for the first time since my breast cancer diagnosis. Dr. Spiegel truly is an excellent and caring plastic surgeon and she has really changed my life.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2008. Of course it was the most frightening thing I could have ever imagined having to face. I am known for being a very strong woman, but once I was given the diagnosis, it immediately and unexpectedly knocked me off of my feet. However, the first thing that I knew to do, as I had been taught by my precious mother was to pray, and ask God to touch me with his healing powers, and to send me the right physician, who could take care of me, and make me whole again.
After additional testing, I was scheduled for surgery by April of that year. No chemo was required, and I only had to go through eight weeks of radiation. This time I dodged a serious bullet, and I felt very fortunate to know that my situation could be handled fairly simply, with no major discomforts. I was scheduled off of work for about four weeks after my surgery. The next step was radiation treatment. I was fortunate to be able to schedule my treatments early in the morning, before arriving on the job. Only a handful of people ever knew I was going through the process. I went through it like a champ!
Fast forward, to November, 2010, I had just completed another routine, follow-up checkup, and was notified by my doctor that there was a recurrence of the cancer in my right breast. Thankfully, it had not spread from the right breast area, but this time it was recommended that I have a double mastectomy, even though the left breast had no evidence of the disease. I was frightened to think that now I would be completely disfigured due to the pending mastectomy; however, I was blessed to be referred to the most talented reconstructive surgeon in the field, Dr. Aldona Spiegel. Dr. Spiegel and her entire staff were the true blessings that guided me through this process. They were my earthly angels assigned to guide, direct and assure me that I would be just fine.
My first meeting with Dr. Spiegel and her staff created within me a total sense of peace, and confidence that I was in good hands. They explained the entire process to me, providing visuals, and a complete and comprehensive website of the entire reconstructive process. It made me confident that other women, who had gone through this process, survived and were able to move forward, and heal, and experience complete restoration.
As they visually prepared me, they also verbally walked me through the reconstructive surgery, and told me how to prepare myself and what to expect as I walked through this tedious journey. I felt very comfortable with her nurse who answered my questions with a special kindness and warmth that also made me feel comfortable about asking any questions necessary to gain clarity and insight into the surgery that I would soon be facing.
I have to say, without a doubt that somehow I knew that this too shall pass, once I walked into her office, and was taken care of by her caring, and professional staff. I was certain, and assured that I would be victorious once again. I never experienced any depression concerning my journey or feelings of “woe is me”. I just felt truly blessed to know that I had been blessed with a special earthly angel named Dr. Aldona Spiegel, the reconstructive surgeon with the gifted, anointed hands.
With my journey behind me I have been able to return to my complete exercise regimen, work as a community college adjunct professor, and enjoy life with my family and friends. I truly feel blessed to have Dr. Spiegel and her wonderful staff as the earthly angels who brought me through my journey.
From Breast Cancer and back…my personal journey
As I sit here thinking back on the last 18 months of my life a wide array of emotions flood over me; fear, anger, depression to relief, happiness and gratitude. It all seems surreal to me now.
I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in November, 2011. Fear immediately set in. As this was the 2nd time I heard the words “you have breast cancer”. 15 years ago, at age 35, I was first told I had breast cancer. Now at age 50, hearing these words again I was overcome with anger. How could this be happening to me again? I was devastated. I could not believe this was happening. As upset and angry as I was, I was equally worried about my family. My husband and two daughters had been by my side during my first ordeal and now I was going to put them through it all again. Depression soon set in and I just did not want to deal with it. I wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head. But my family pulled me out and made me deal with the cancer.
I have been married to my wonderful husband, Ron, for 25 years and we have 2 beautiful daughters; Natalia 24 and Modie 19. I am so blessed to have a wonderful family and their support has proven invaluable to my recoveries. They were by my side every step of the way.
Now with my family by my side, I began an 8 month journey of survival. It started with a lumpectomy. My oncologist, Dr. Frankie Holmes, insisted I have a lumpectomy immediately because of the aggressive type of my cancer (triple negative). She felt my tumor had to be removed before I began my chemotherapy treatment.
Three weeks after my lumpectomy, I began 4 months of chemotherapy. The first treatment was not too bad. I remember thinking “what is all the fuss about chemo”. Then within the first couple of weeks, my hair began falling out. I did not realize how vain I would be watching my hair fall out. I decided I could not watch it fall out slowly so I asked my daughter to shave it all off. This was very traumatic and I was depressed for days. Before I began Chemo treatments my daughters took me to a wig shop and we spent the afternoon trying on wigs. We had so much fun and I purchased a couple of wigs. I really did not think I would wear a wig but when my hair was gone, I was so thankful I had them. I wore one almost every day for the next 6 months. I highly suggest everyone get a wig. It does wonders for your self-esteem.
Now with the chemo treatments finished, I had to prepare for my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. I met with Dr. Spiegel when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt immediately comfortable with her and her ability; I knew I was in the right place for my surgery. She and her staff explained all my options and together we decide the DIEP flap surgery would be best for me. I was nervous, scared and excited all at the same time.
My surgery lasted over 13 hours. I was in ICU the first night and stayed in the hospital for another 3 days. I was in a great deal of pain the first few days. Getting out of bed the first time was very difficult. I could not use my stomach muscles. Until you do not have use of your stomach muscles, you really do not realize how much you use them. I felt helpless for several days. Just doing simple things; like going to the bathroom or getting out of a chair, were difficult. My husband was my hero, he rented a “lift chair” for me to use for a couple of weeks. Having this chair really helped with my recovery. My oldest daughter, Natalia, was invaluable to my recovery. She took a “leave of absence” from her job and stayed with me for several weeks. She was by my side every day. I know having her with me helping me aided in my recovery.
I have never regretted having the double mastectomy with reconstruction. In fact, I am so relieved I had it done. I do not ever have to worry about getting breast cancer again! In addition, I am so happy I now have a brand new set of breasts that I absolutely love. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Spiegel and her staff.
We understand that sometimes it may be helpful to hear other patients’ stories of their experiences with Dr. Spiegel and the Center for Breast Restoration. To help you in your decision-making process, we have provided some patient testimonial submissions below. Also, to see videos of more patient testimonials, please visit the Patient Journeys Video page on our website or visit our YouTube Page. Or check out one of our patients’ blog posts about her experience at the Center for Breast Restoration.
If you are a former patient, we would love for you to share your experiences with new patients through Patient/Doctor Reviews. It’s easy and free and we really appreciate your time!
Just click on the “Rate Your Experience” button above to see instructions on how to fill out your review.
PROCEDURE FOUND THROUGH PRESS RELEASE
Having lost my mother and her sister to cancer in the seventies, it was still a shock to me to learn in the mid nineties that I was at high risk for breast cancer. As a fairly young woman, it was important to me to take every precautionary step to live a long life.
Years of multiple biopsies and renewed anxiety over my deteriorating condition led to my decision to have a bi-lateral mastectomy in June of 2002. A press release alerted me to Dr. Spiegel as an emerging talent with a unique approach to breast reconstruction surgery. When I met with her, she put me totally at ease when she used a magic marker to spontaneously draw a picture of the surgery and technique she would use. I was delighted to find that she was able to explain it in a way I could clearly understand it.
Since having the DIEP procedure last summer, I am in better shape now than I was before my surgery and enjoy the same active lifestyle that I always have. It seems to me that every woman considering breast reconstruction would choose this method if she had the choice to. Diagnosis of a serious disease is devastating enough, without having to suffer through a diminishing experience of make-do reconstruction surgery. Dr. Spiegel has given me back my femininity and my quality of life! – S.H.
TOO MANY SCARY BIOPSIES
My mother, her sister, and three of my first cousins have battled breast cancer; sadly we lost my cousin at the age of 27 to breast cancer, so knowing my family history, my primary Doctor wanted to watch me closely so they scheduled my first mammogram at the age of 35.
I had my mammogram, and had a weird feeling something was not right, because they had to do several areas over 3 times, but not knowing what to expect I tried to forget about it. Two weeks later I was contacted by the clinic that I needed to contact them to come in for additional testing. I was notified by letter; I received it the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, so I was unable to speak to anyone over the long holiday weekend. On Monday, I was told there were some abnormalities in my mammogram called micro calcifications, and I needed 8 needle core biopsies performed. I was scheduled a week later; the biopsies were all performed the same day it took about 4 hours to complete all of them, and it took quite a bit out of me, emotionally and physically. I left the clinic in tears and holding an ice pack to my breasts to relieve the pain. I received the results about 2 weeks later, and the results were good. No cancer, I was thrilled. I was told I would need to go back in 6 months for a follow up mammogram. Six months later, I went for my follow up, and they found a mass in one of my breasts. The radiologists were very concerned with the mass, as it was highly characteristic of cancer, as were the past calcifications. So they had me in for a biopsy in 2 days. Again I waited 2 weeks for the results and results were good again, no malignancy. I had to go again for another follow up six months later, and they found another area that was suspicious of cancer. Again I had to have another biopsy, and I again got good news, no cancer. So in less than 2 years, I had 10 false alarms, so I met with my doctor and asked him what he thought I should do about my ongoing issues. My breast doctor sat down with me and told me with that the characteristics of all of my masses were highly likely to evolve to cancer, and with my family history, the now scarred tissue (due to each biopsy), and my fibrocystic breast tissue, he was concerned when and if it turned to cancer he would miss it in the early stages. We discussed genetic testing, and though that was an option, as he explained that would not change all of the mammograms and biopsies that would surely be needed until I hit menopause. I asked him if I were his wife what he would recommend. He told me to meet with Dr. Aldona Spiegel, breast reconstruction specialist at Methodist to discuss a prophylactic mastectomy. I don’t know how I felt when I left his office, but it was the lowest I had ever felt in my life. I wasn’t expecting his recommendation, but I had asked him for his honest professional opinion, and I got it. I cried the whole way home. I am normally a pretty optimistic person, but I was feeling so helpless, overwhelmed and anxious. I made the appointment with you, Dr. Spiegel and was not looking forward to the appointment. From the moment you entered the exam room I relaxed. You were so kind and warm towards me and my husband, that I immediately felt better. You spent about 1 hour with us on the first visit and never rushed, or made me feel as if you needed to go. You showed me on my body where I could expect an incision and what I would feel like. You gave me all of my options and I will never forget how you asked me to move off the exam table, and sit in your stool, and you raised the top of the exam chair and used the white paper as a easel and proceeded to draw a woman’s body and show me how the DIEP flap procedure was performed. You were compassionate and caring. I left knowing that I was going to be proactive with my healthcare and make decisions which would maximize my life and increase my quality of life. I know that some people feel that a prophylactic mastectomy is drastic, why have a surgery for what might happen. But only women who understand the anxiety of waiting and the devastation of breast cancer can understand my choice. In less than 2 years, when you add the time waiting to be scheduled for a mammogram, waiting for those test results, waiting to be scheduled for biopsies, waiting for those results – I had spent over 24 weeks(6 months) just waiting for tests results. Anything I could do to take more control of my life, I was going to do.
I had the surgery in October of 2005, and you and the staff at Methodist hospital were amazing. I won’t say it was an easy journey, but I would do it over again in a second. I have just completed my implant surgery and am now completely done with my reconstruction. I am so happy with my new physical appearance, and can’t tell you enough how my family appreciates the compassion you showed them at appointments and the day of the surgery. Your enthusiasm in restoring my physical appearance as well as my health is contagious. My friends and family are constantly telling me that when you did the surgery, you didn’t take anything away, but they felt you added something which shines in me now. You are very special to my family and me, and will stay in our prayers. Your staff members have been amazing, never tiring of my calls, questions and show great knowledge in this specialty.
I thank you for choosing the walk in life which you have chosen, and trust that you will continue to lead in the battle against breast cancer. – C.M.
I was 40 years old when I learned that I had breast cancer. My mother and several of my cousins had breast cancer, but it had happened to them later in life. I was stunned to say the least, and I didn’t know what lay ahead. Fortunately, I was able to have a surgeon who put me in contact with Dr. Aldona Spiegel.
I was feeling overwhelmed with sadness and anxiety the day before my mastectomy. I couldn’t imagine what my body was going to look like. After my family and I met with Dr. Spiegel and her staff that day for the first time, everyone’s feelings began to change. We suddenly felt hope because of her confident attitude that everything was going to be okay. I was amazed at her level of expertise and the description of the procedure she would do to restore my body as close to its original state as possible.
I had never heard of this type of reconstructive procedure, but I felt like it was something I should try. My doctors and others had shared stories with me about the difficulties associated with standard reconstructive procedures. This one seemed to be the one that would give me the quickest recovery time as well as the best results. It would also allow me to maintain my active lifestyle with less concern about developing a hernia or other complications. That night my husband and I read the pamphlet she gave us and concluded that this was the right decision. Although the procedure would not occur for several months, I knew I had something to look forward to after my surgery and chemotherapy was complete.
As I healed from the mastectomy and learned that my lymph nodes were negative for cancer, my confidence continued to increase. Although I dreaded the four chemotherapy treatments, I knew that they would be the extra credit that could make the difference between passing and failing. My first treatment was the worst because of the nausea and overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I also dreaded the thought of losing my hair. It was scheduled to fall out about Christmas Eve, which would also be my daughter’s 11th birthday. It fell out on schedule, and that night at church I hoped that I would not leave too much hair on all of the people giving me hugs!
The difficulty of this moment was made easier though because of a beautiful snowstorm that occurred later that evening. It was such an unusual sight for south Texas that I know God was sending me a sign that everything was going to be okay. With this kind of exuberance, my doubt and anxiety soon faded away as I approached my next treatments. Before I knew it, it was time for the last one. I had made it through without any setbacks, and I was ready for the next phase of the journey.
Preparing for my reconstructive surgery was actually kind of fun. Dr. Spiegel and her staff kept my spirits up with laughter and humor and monitored my progress for the next several weeks to make sure that my body was ready for the surgery. They encouraged me to eat heartily so that I could gain a sufficient amount of weight. I could feel their care and concern for my well-being every time we communicated with each other.
When the day finally arrived, I did not feel nervous or anxious. I was at ease with Dr. Spiegel and Dr. Khan, and I know that I could trust them during the extensive, detailed procedures that would take place in the operating room. My husband and daughter felt the same about their abilities and degree of professionalism. They even felt secure enough to go back to the hotel room where they could wait comfortably for Dr. Spiegel to call and update them on my progress. It was this same feeling of confidence in Dr. Spiegel that allowed them to go back to school and work until I was ready to come home five days later.
Within four weeks, I was back at work. My friends and coworkers were amazed at my speedy recovery. This reassured me even more that I had made the right decision many months earlier to have this type of breast restoration done.
The minor in-office procedures that followed made me feel that Dr. Spiegel was still concerned about my progress. She carefully explained and planned each step thoroughly. Her staff was there to answer any questions that I had during the journey. When it was time for my last visit, I felt a sense of jubilation at having come full circle. I know that Dr. Spiegel and her staff had used their talents as a team of scientists and artists to restore my body as close as they could to its original state. I felt blessed by having her as my surgeon through this difficult time. Without her uplifting spirit and attitude and sense of perfection, overcoming breast cancer would have been much more difficult.
Although I still have some moments of anxiety and depression as a result of breast cancer, I try to remember the progress that scientists and physicians are making every month, every year. I know that through research and improved techniques, such as chemotherapy, breast restoration, and new medicines, women in the future will have less to fear when they learn that they have breast cancer.
As I lay in bed one recent night, I thought about what my family and I had been through in the last two years, and I realized that life goes on despite physical ailments and disabilities. I began to think differently about the dreaded word “cancer”, and decided to call it “can-cer-vive” instead. With a vision of life, a person can overcome the odds against them.
It is my hope that you will face your journey with a “can-cer-vive” attitude and belief that you are where you need to be to receive the best in health care and medicine. May you arrive full circle safely and quickly and in the care of the world’s finest doctors. – G.P.
GARDENER WON’T GIVE UP LIFESTYLE
Since puberty I had been troubled with fibrous cysts in my breasts, but various tests and biopsies showed nothing to worry about. Then in May 2002 a routine mammogram showed a small suspicious looking growth in my right breast. A core needle biopsy confirmed that I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma. I immediately searched out all the various treatments and surgical procedures available. Being extremely active, I did not want any procedure that would hinder me physically.
Then I talked with Dr. Spiegel and realized that the DIEP procedure was perfect for me. On May 30, 2002 I had a bilateral mastectomy and the DIEP reconstruction. I am so happy that I chose the DIEP over everything else I could have had. I was back at work in 3 weeks after hospital release and felt wonderful. I walk 2 miles per day on a treadmill, spend many hours gardening and find that many women half my age can’t keep up with me.
Many people cannot believe I’ve had the surgery just from looking at me, and many envy the flat tummy and shapely bosom that I have. Dr. Spiegel is such a gifted and caring woman. She truly and deeply cares about helping women through the horror of breast cancer by offering them the chance to keep their positive outlook, enhance their figures, and support them through the reconstructive process in ways only a mother, sister, or very best friend would do. Oh, by the way, I am 61 years old, so the DIEP procedure is not just for young women! It is for every woman who wants to maintain her active lifestyle and wants to look normal. – L.G.
AUTHOR OF WOMEN’S HEALTH NEWSLETTER
A woman who has stood before a mirror and seen a four inch scar where her breast used to be can truly understand and appreciate the gift Dr. Spiegel gives patients who have been touched by cancer. I should know; that woman was me, and I am one who has been blessed by her extraordinary skill, compassion and level of care.
As a writer of a women’s health newsletter, I learned about Dr. Spiegel’s ability to use stomach fat (while sparing the muscle) to rebuild breasts and restore sensation when I interviewed one of her patients for an article on breast reduction surgery. I had no idea that less than two months later I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. In my view, the conversation was Divine intervention.
In whatever way you have come to learn about Dr. Spiegel, consider yourself blessed. Cancer is certainly a dark cloud, but Dr. Spiegel and her staff offer the silver lining of physical restoration to any women whose goal is to feel whole again. – S.M.
CAN’T QUIT SMILING
I first heard of DIEP flap breast restoration for mastectomy patients in 2000 and daydreamed that some day the surgery would be available for those of us who lived with poor cosmetic results after lumpectomies. The daydream became a reality on March 29, 2004 when Dr. Spiegel and her associates restored my breast using the even less invasive SIEA flap technique.
“Thrilled” is the word that goes through my mind so many times a day. I am thrilled with the results of the surgery: I have cleavage again, am more balanced and the new tissue is soft and flexible. I can’t quit smiling. Just today the receptionist at my dentist’s office commented on how happy I was. I feel as if Humpty Dumpty has been put back together again. Thank you, Dr. Spiegel! – M.D.
RETURN OF SENSATION
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I want to personally thank you and everyone on your staff for your encouragement, your moral support, your guidance, caring and understanding for the past 8 months. A diagnosis of breast cancer can turn your entire world upside down. I cannot even try to describe the emotional roller coaster that I found myself riding on. Finding you on the internet was the best thing that could have happened to me. You turned a frightening experience into a manageable one.
I am so happy with my reconstruction that I don’t mind showing it to everyone who asks to see it. I really hope this does not land me a night in jail for indecent exposure, but technically I can claim that I was just showing off my stomach fat; right?
Yesterday, I showed my reconstruction to my family doctor and his Nurse Practitioner. They were both amazed and told me it was the best reconstruction that they had ever seen. They have asked for a handful of your business cards so that they can start referring their patients to you. Today I showed my oncologist, she was also amazed and claimed that she had never seen anything like it; she also asked for a handful of your cards so that she can refer her patients to you. What really shocked them is the fact that I have most of my feeling back already. Regaining my feeling was very important to me. Thank you so much for reconnecting my nerves and for making me look and feel normal again. You are the best; I appreciate and thank you and your staff for your commitment to women needing breast reconstruction. – D.M.
REMEMBERS HER GRANDMOTHER’S SCARS
After being diagnosed with breast cancer I desired a natural wholeness. My grandmother had breast cancer and her treatment entailed the chemical removal of her breast. When I was a little girl I remember my grandmother’s scarred chest and it left a deep impression on me. I was thrilled to have my surgeon recommended Dr. Spiegel who performed breast reconstruction without an invasive muscle procedure or implants.
During my consultation and treatment time I was consistently treated with kindness and respect. I greatly admire and appreciate the competency of Dr. Spiegel and her staff. After a double mastectomy and reconstruction I am pleased that my results have left me with wholeness reminiscent of how I was before breast cancer. – D.O.
DON’T WAIT 6 YEARS
I waited 6 years after my mastectomy to follow through with my plans for reconstruction. I was not interested in the type flap offered by the surgeon that did the markings prior to my mastectomy.
After research I decided I would like to have the DIEP flap. With a little more research on the internet, I found Dr. Spiegel and her staff. They were wonderful. I am 2 years post reconstruction and very pleased with the results. My advice – do not wait 6 years! – T.W.
THE DEFINITION OF PERFECT
If I were to re-define the word PERFECT in a dictionary, it would have Dr. Spiegel’s name next to it. Just prior to going to Dr. Spiegel, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer resulting in total mastectomy surgery removing both of my breasts. Having heard that Dr. Spiegel was an outstanding breast reconstruction specialist, I made an appointment to see her.
She gave a clear and thorough understanding of the breast restoration options, she showed real concern for my questions and insecurities, and provided me with all of the information to make the right choice for me which was the DIEP FLAP technique. Dr. Spiegel and her top-notch staff – the degree and the extent to which they make you feel safe, secure, and confident are truly remarkable. I felt so comfortable that when my friends and family asked me how my appointment with Dr. Spiegel was, I simply replied, “I found my new home.”
Having just undergone the DIEP FLAP surgery days ago, I can say without a shadow of even one doubt, that Dr. Spiegel is the most understanding and patient physician I have ever encountered – the professionalism, precision, and skill in her work are exquisite; the quality and her special attention to detail are “unmatched.”
The surgery itself was better than I ever anticipated. After seeing my new breasts for the very first time, I started crying. My daughter asked me “what’s wrong?” I told her that these are tears of joy – that I have never seen such “beautiful breasts in my life.” I truly cannot believe the results – and I could not be happier and more appreciative – beyond my wildest expectations could I have imagined anything as terrific and superb as this! Thank you, Dr. Spiegel for making my journey through this entire restoration process a most positive one – words or rhetoric cannot say enough just how fortunate and grateful I am for everything you have done for me. – E.G.
DIEP/SIEA FLAP AND LYMPHEDEMA
As co-founder and facilitator of The Lymph Connection Support Group, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Edgewood, KY I am constantly “surfing the net” to find current information on lymphedema. An October 2003 article on the Internet entitled Reconstructive surgery benefits small breasted women piqued my interest immediately.
The article highlighted Dr. Aldona Spiegel, plastic surgeon at the Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX. She is the first plastic surgeon in the United States to perform DIEP/SIEA flap microsurgery on women who have had lumpectomies. This surgery transplants abdominal tissue to the breast without cutting muscles. To my delight, I found that this surgery is minimally invasive; my dream of a breast restoration was revived! I contacted Dr. Spiegel’s gracious nurse Sonja, who answered all of my questions via several telephone conversations and many emails. Because I live 1,200 miles from Houston, I sent digital photos for Dr. Spiegel’s review, which confirmed that I was a good candidate for the DIEP/SIEA flap surgery. Effect of DIEP/SIEA microsurgery on lymphedema When my husband and I flew to Houston for the pre-op consult and blood work, I questioned Dr. Spiegel about the possible worsening of my lymphedema as a result of the surgery. She calmed my fears saying that in over 200 DIEP/SIEA flap surgeries for both lumpectomy and mastectomy patients, she has never had a patient whose lymphedema worsened; in some patients it actually improved when the transplanted tissue was placed on the outer edge of the breast where the introduction of new lymphatic tissue often began contributing to the lymphatic transport capacity in the axilla. Two weeks later Dr. Spiegel and her associate performed a seven-hour microsurgery, which surprisingly, left me in little pain. My recuperation was speedy; my husband, daughter and I walked a mile on Galveston Beach just four days after surgery and I could have returned to my administrative assistant position in less than three weeks. Three months have passed since the surgery. My lymphedema has not worsened; in fact the full, achy feeling in my shoulder blade toward the back of my arm–probably lymphedema–is no longer noticeable! Only a relatively simple symmetry outpatient procedure to equalize the size and shape of the breasts remains to complete my restoration. I look and feel great, as if Humpty Dumpty has been put back together again. This was the correct decision for me and I could not be happier!
About the Author: Mary Defoe is a seven-year breast cancer survivor with lymphedema. She is editor of eLymphNotes; co-founder of The Lymph Connection Support Group, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Edgewood, KY; volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program where she visits newly diagnosed breast cancer survivors, especially those with lymphedema; and a certified instructor for The Lebed Method™© Focus on Healing through Movement and Dance for the Breast Cancer Survivor. You may contact Mary with any questions.
EVEN IN A BATHING SUIT!
I was 30 years old and was just told my breast cancer (DCIS) had returned after my lumpectomy and radiation treatment.
I decided right then that I wanted to have a mastectomy (bi-lateral) to avoid having it return. My general surgeon agreed and said he knew where I should go for my reconstruction. He handed me a card for Dr. Spiegel.
I went to my first visit and they were so wonderful. They were very helpful in showing me what to expect and the gravity of the procedure I was going to have. I was well prepared for my surgery and knew that recovery was a long road. I am truly grateful to Dr. Spiegel and the beautiful work she did to restore my breasts. Her work was so well done no one realizes that I have had a bilateral mastectomy (even in a bathing suit)!
It’s been five years ago and now it seems like a distant memory, which is the most wonderful thing to a breast cancer survivor. – V.L.
SKIN & NIPPLE SPARING DOUBLE MASTECTOMY WITH DIEP
My Story…This past December, 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My greatest fear had come upon me as my mother passed away with the same disease 30 years earlier and my best friend just went through the diagnosis only a year before.
I came to know of Dr. Spiegel through my best friend. In December 2014, she was given the horrific news that she had breast cancer. She opted for skin and nipple sparing double mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction surgery. I said to myself then, “if that ever happened to me, I would do the same”. Well, when my diagnosis came a year later, I was ready without hesitation. I felt like I already knew the process having gone through the procedure with my best friend and will forever be grateful for her input and support of me. After finding out that I needed a mastectomy, I opted for the same skin and nipple sparing double mastectomy surgery and then the DIEP flap reconstruction and had it done in the same surgery. The team of surgeons and nurses were phenomenal. My recovery time was 6 weeks. I had no complications due to the diligent staff and constant follow ups.
I believe that my speedy recovery was due to Dr. Spiegel and her team along with family and friends. From the first moment I entered Dr. Spiegel’s office, I felt very welcomed and cared for by her staff. She makes you feel so confident because she is so confident in herself and her skills. Something that should have devastated me, didn’t, because I knew that Dr. Spiegel demanded perfection from her staff and from Methodist Hospital as a whole. I felt like I was treated with “kid gloves” all throughout my visit to Methodist and I know it was due to the fact that I was a patient of Dr. Aldona Spiegel. She demanded the best of everyone that touched her patients, from getting my blood taken to the x-ray technicians to the nursing staff.
I want anyone going through this diagnosis to know that you CAN get through this! You have to be steadfast with your faith and know that with Dr. Aldona Spiegel’s team, you are in the best hands. – B.K.
I have lived with Dr. Spiegel’s artistry since 2004 and am still amazed at the result of her SIEA flap repair of my lumpectomy.
When someone mentions going to her gynecologist, I say, “Every time I go to mine he admires my breast.” Of course, there follows a shocked or blank look and I continue, “He says mine is the best breast restoration he has ever seen.
Eventually I told him this story and he replied, “Well, you can tell them he said it again. – M.D.
My story started back in November 2012 when I first met Dr. Spiegel to discuss my double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Dr. Spiegel is a wonderful doctor and her ability to give you back the chest you once had is exceptional, but that is just part of why I sing her praises.
I was diagnosed in April 2013 with lymphedema and like most of you I had no clue as to what this was, why I got it and how do I get rid of it. Well, my world came crashing down around me when I found out I would never be able to get rid of it and I would always have a fat hand and have to wear compression garments. Here I just beat breast cancer and now I have this, it was just one more thing I had to deal with and endure at this point.
I happened to have an appointment with Dr. Spiegel after one of my therapy sessions and let me tell you, I looked like a mummy with my arm all wrapped up. First thing she said to me was, oh you have lymphedema and I instantly started to cry and I don’t mean a little crying, I mean bawling my eyes out. Dr. Spiegel just hugged me and told me I was going to be okay and she would fix my arm.
In May of 2014, she was true to her word, she fixed my arm. She took a lymph node from my groin area and put it in my arm. It was the first time in a year that I could put my fingers around my wrist. It was one of the happiest days of my life and it didn’t hurt that I was finally able to have my reconstruction done. Before my surgery I had to use my lymphedema pump twice a day for an hour each time, so I would wake up an hour before I had to for work and then an hour before bed. I would then have to put on my compression glove and sleeve to go to bed. After my surgery I went to using my lymphedema pump once a day and still using my compression glove and sleeve at bed time. But now a year later, I don’t have to use my pump and the only time I wear my compression glove and sleeve is when I fly. I can see it’s still a little puffier than my other hand and I will always have lymphedema but at least now I can manage it, but to everyone else it looks like I have two normal looking hands.
Dr. Spiegel and her staff (specifically Jackie) have gone through a lot with me and I have thanked God more times than I can count for bringing them into my life. You can’t ask for a better doctor who truly cares about her patients and goes above and beyond to help them in any way she can. – J.V.
BRCA 1 GENE MUTATION
My journey began in December 2010 when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and also tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child.
Throughout my pregnancy, I watched my sister bravely fight the cancer as I also learned about BRCA 1 and its risks. After the birth of my son, I found out that I too carry the gene mutation. At twenty-eight years old, I had just begun my journey into motherhood. Breastfeeding was an important part of that for me, so I made the decision to wait until I was through having children to have the recommended prophylactic mastectomies. I received preventative care through my oncologist over the next four years. I was blessed to make it through another pregnancy and to be able to nurse my second precious boy without any cancer.
Sadly, my sister lost her battle with breast cancer at age thirty-six. A wife and mother of three young children, her death was absolutely devastating. However, I resolved that it would not be in vain. Because of her, I had knowledge of my gene mutation and could do something about it. I owed it to her to survive so that her memory could live on through stories only I could share with her children.
I began researching surgeons and looked into Dr. Spiegel at the recommendation of my oncologist. When I met her, I immediately trusted her. She was warm, kind, gentle, and respectful. I didn’t feel like one of a dozen patients she’d see that day; she made me feel valuable. So, despite the four hour drive from our hometown to Houston, I knew it was the right fit.
As my surgery approached, I had many fears and reservations- How would I take care of a three year old and a one year old during my recovery? How long would it be before I could hold them again? Would I be happy with my results? Despite seeing some impressive before and after pictures, I went into surgery accepting that my breasts would never look like normal, natural breasts again. I was so wrong. I can honestly say that my breasts look better now than ever before. Dr. Spiegel took such wonderful care of me throughout the process, and she delivered unbelievable results.
All in all, that is the silver lining. Do I want to have the BRCA 1 gene mutation? No. Would I have elected to have breast augmentation? Probably not. But “thanks to Dr. Spiegel’s amazing work, I can live the rest of my life not only feeling good about the decision I made, but also feeling great about the way that I look. – R.H.