Getting My Groove Back
“I kept saying my body image didn't matter as long as I was alive,” Linnette Swann said. “I had a very supportive husband and a family. I had a great life, so that was what was important. But underlining all of that, it did matter. You want to be symmetrical in your clothes. You want to look like a young woman and feel comfortable with yourself. I said, you know what, I need to do something about this.”
In 2006, Linette was diagnosed with estrogen positive stage 3 breast cancer in her right breast at age 37. All she could think about then was how her diagnosis would affect her husband, her two children (then three and five years old), and the 16 weeks she had left before finishing nursing school. She wanted to get rid of her cancer as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. She wanted to see her kids grow up. She wanted to become a nurse. So she went with her doctor’s recommendation to have implants after her mastectomy. Ten years ago, natural breast tissue reconstruction wasn’t as common as it is today.
After Linnette’s mastectomy was completed and her implant was placed, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. When it was all over, Linnette felt relieved to be cancer free, but she found the implant painful. She also felt concerned because she knew it could rupture and that she’d have to eventually replace it.
Eight years later, in 2014, Linnette’s doctor noticed changes in her left breast. To prevent any chance of the cancer returning, Linnette had a left-side mastectomy and planned to have another implant placed. But she still wasn’t satisfied with her initial surgery and she discovered that the implant on her right side had, in fact, ruptured by then. So she started looking for a new plastic surgeon and a friend referred her to Dr. Constance Chen at the New York Center for the Advancement of Breast Reconstruction. As soon as they met, Linette knew she had found the right doctor and the right place for her care.
“Dr. Chen was just phenomenal,” she said.
Two years later, Linnette couldn’t be happier with her choice to have natural breast tissue reconstruction at the New York Center for the Advancement of Breast Reconstruction within the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York City. During a recent conversation, she explained her story and why she feels so grateful to have had the surgery.
“The new me is here,” Linnette said. “I've gotten my groove back.”
Why did you choose to have natural breast tissue reconstruction surgery?
Initially, in 2006, it wasn’t presented to me as an option. But when I found out about the natural breast tissue reconstruction surgery in 2014, I was so excited. I prayed I had enough tissue. When I met with Dr. Chen for my exams, she told me not to worry. She said I had more than enough to make two breasts. And then I was just so excited to know that my breasts would be more natural. Softer. Symmetrical. And the hospital was so helpful in working with me and my insurance company in advance of the surgery.
How was your experience with the surgery and your recovery?
It was phenomenal. The recovery process for me was very straightforward. Dr. Chen’s office had given me a lot of articles and information on what to expect, so I had a lot of pre-op teaching, which was fantastic. Even though I'm a nurse, and I know how to deal with drains and that type of stuff, it was great to know specifically for this type of surgery what I needed to do. They nurses took care of me and stayed on top of my pain management, which is very important. And they also made sure that I tried to meet my milestones, like making sure I was up and about out of the chair, out of the bed on the first day, walking.
How is your life different now, after the natural breast tissue reconstruction surgery?
I no longer have pain, like I did when I had my breast implants. My breasts look so much more natural. I love touching them. They’re so soft and they're part of me. They match my skin tone and it's just fantastic to be able to feel comfortable in a bathing suit and in addition to that I got a tummy tuck. I honestly think I look really good right now.
Did your insurance cover the surgery?
Yes, my insurance covered the majority and I paid a small part of it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
What advice can you offer to other woman who may be newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
If you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer and you're considering reconstructive surgery, consider natural tissue reconstruction. Natural breast tissue reconstruction is a great option for you, and you won't have to go back in 10 or 15 years to have additional surgeries like I did. You’re in charge. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to put you in contact with one of their patients that has experienced breast reconstruction.
I think it's important to do your research. Get out there and speak to other people. There are millions of other women who have had breast cancer, and we're still here. Investigate and advocate for yourself. This is your body and you have every right to decide what happens to it.