RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif – One in every 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, according to The American Cancer Society. The disease often follows with the difficult decision of having to remove one or both breasts, a procedure also known as a mastectomy.
Both Jennifer Elliott and Alma Partida are breast cancer survivors.
“I was diagnosed almost 4 years ago,” said Elliott.
“I was diagnosed April 18th of 2016,” Partida said.
Alma Partida learned the news that she had breast cancer after getting her annual mammogram. It was difficult once the doctor shared her diagnosis.
“After that, he just talked and talked, and I don’t know what he said. I was just numb,” Partida said.
Both women soon found themselves on the fast-track to brave the fight.
“I think at that moment you’re just thinking get it out. Just take whatever it is and get rid of it,” said Partida.
The two women chose to remove both breasts. It’s a difficult decision many women are faced with even if cancer is detected only on one side.
Dr. Natalie Driessen is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon who also specializes in reconstruction.
“When you’ve had breast cancer on one side, you are put in the subset that you do have a slightly higher chance of getting breast cancer on the opposite side,” Driessen said.
A fairly new federal law called The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act passed in 1998. Under it most insurance companies are required to cover reconstruction after a woman has undergone a mastectomy.
“I have so many women that come up to me and say, ‘Well what if I don’t do it in two months? I had breast cancer 10 years ago. It doesn’t apply to me anymore.’ That is not the case. That law is to protect you so that you can have reconstruction at any time if you desire to have reconstruction.”
That same law can mean allowing a woman to lift even the natural breast if she opts solely for the removal of one. The surgery allows her to have symmetrical breasts.
“Af first it was a little scary. I didn’t look at myself for 3 days,” Elliott said.
Jennifer had her surgery in tandem with her mastectomy.
“You don’t go into surgery and wake up with a new set of breasts. You just don’t. You go through tissue expanders. Those are filled with saline on a regular basis until you’re basically where you should be or where you want to be.” Elliott said.
The use of tissue expanders depends on a woman’s individual situation.They are inserted between the skin and chest muscle, and are commonly used to help make room for the final implant.
“At the end of the 3 days I think I just came to terms with everything was going to be okay, and I had to really trust the process,” Elliott said.
Elliott is now a volunteer with The American Cancer Society. She has counseled dozens of women going through what she did.
Alma Partida continues her road to reconstruction.
“Even though I’ve had the expanders for so long, and they’re very uncomfortable at times, I know they’re not their forever. I know they’re eventually going to come out and feel better,” Partida said.
Tomorrow between 3p and 5p a team of doctors will be holding a seminar at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage. To register ahead, you can call (760) 249-2222.