Art of Aging: Breast reconstruction after cancer surgery

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Art of Aging: Breast reconstruction after cancer surgery. Tamala Edwards reports during Action News at 12 p.m. on October 25, 2018.

Fighting breast cancer isn't just about killing malignant cells. It's about restoring a patient's quality of life and that often includes breast reconstruction.

Nancy Healey of Bryn Mawr was in the midst of a shore weekend with her daughter when she discovered her cancer.

"I found this tiny little lump," she said.

Despite the tumor's size, Nancy opted for a bilateral mastectomy, because of a family history of breast cancer.

At first, she wasn't interested in reconstruction.

"The last thing on my mind was looking good in clothes," said Nancy.

But her surgeon urged her to just talk to plastic surgeon C. Brannon Claytor of Main Line Health.

He explained reconstruction is more than cosmetic - it's for self-confidence, too.

And Nancy could decide what she felt comfortable with.

"It's really a la carte," said Dr. Claytor.

The options depend on the type of cancer, a woman's age, her body type, and previous surgeries.

Surgeons can often work just with a woman's own tissue, without using implants.

And some doctors now put implants in front, rather than behind the chest wall - to avoid discomfort.

"The observation in some patients that they have restricted arm motions, restricted arm motion, or even pain," adds Dr. Claytor.

Dr. Claytor says women should learn about reconstruction when they're diagnosed,

"There are certain options that are diminished or less than optimal if they're not employed right at the time of the mastectomy," he said.

Nancy says her reconstruction was completed about 6 weeks after she finished chemotherapy.

She's glad she kept her mind open about it, and hopes other women do, too.

"You have to feel good about yourself, and confident and be happy with yourself," said Nancy.

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