Breast cancer survivor offers advice
10/17/2013 - The Dominion Post. By Alex Lang.
MORGANTOWN - Morgantown resident Susan Gookin knew what course of action she wanted to take, should she hear the dreaded words, “it is cancer. ”
Gookin’s knowledge and her research helped her stay informed when she did discover a lump in her breast during a self-exam and when it tested positive for cancer, she knew she wanted to have a double mastectomy.
Her mother and her sister had cancer and they went through the process with a lumpectomy.
Gookin said she didn’t want to have the potential of a breast cancer relapse hanging over her shoulder, so she decided to remove both breasts.
A lumpectomy only removes part of the breast, whereas a mastectomy removes the entire breast.
When she learned she had cancer, Gookin said, she went into a bit of a fog, one that many people enter when they hear the diagnosis. But, she said, people need to have a third-party to help them through the process. It might not be a husband, but it could be a best friend.
“If you don’t process it, I don’t know how you can get through it,” she said.
Gookin said she wanted to have reconstructive surgery, which she received from doctors at WVU Healthcare. She said her reconstruction surgery wasn’t “too bad” as she was “so mentally prepared for it.”
Gookin said she had her last surgery in January. She said she is doing well and wearing special clothing so people can’t tell the difference between her old self and her post-surgery self.
Some patients don’t know they can have immediate reconstructive surgery, said Lisa Jacob, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at WVU Healthcare.
She said that sometimes they have to go over information a few times with patients, who are blind-sided by the news, to make sure they understand their options.
Many women have the reconstructive surgery because losing a breast, or both, is like losing part of who they are. Reconstruction provides the replacement of that part, Jacob said.
Unlike Gookin, Sandy Miller had no history of breast cancer in her family. When she found out she had breast cancer she had a mastectomy, but didn’t opt for immediate reconstruction.
For many women, when the look in the mirror following their mastectomy, it’s a constant reminder, she said.
“Every morning, she is reacquainted or reminded that she had cancer,” Miller said.
However, after trying a mastectomy bra, Miller said she decided to research plastic surgeons in Morgantown.
She found Dr. William Mc-Clellan, with Morgantown Plastic Surgery Associates, a Monongalia General Hospital affiliate.
After a consultation, and some concern because of Miller’s mid-60s age, the two decided to move ahead with the reconstruction process.
Miller said the results turned out wonderfully and that she was happy with McClellan’s work.
“He gave me back my happiness,” she said.
Miller said that cancer took away her happiness, and it came out of the blue, but the surgery returned her to being a whole person.
Wednesday marked the second Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day nationwide. Double-mastectomies were recently thrust into the national spotlight when actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had undergone the procedure as a preventive measure.
This year’s Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day theme is “Team Approach to Breast Cancer Care.”
Only about 30 percent of women receive reconstruction surgery, McClellan said.
But, the number is increasing as information is disseminated and techniques improve. The key is to have a good general surgeon as well as a plastic surgeon to provide all the surgery options, he said.
The cosmetic appeal of reconstruction is a byproduct of the physical one, McClellan said.
He added that a positive mental outlook is important to patient recovery, which can happen with immediate reconstruction.
“When they look down they’ve already started to heal,” he said.