A Special Group of Patients

View from Irvine Plastic Surgery Center, January 30, 2012
Photo by Donald Altman M.D.

It occurred to me this evening, that amidst my multiple Facebook updates regarding happy patients who have undergone cosmetic procedures, there needs to be equal time and mention of the brave population of women in my practice who are facing the heroic challenges of living with the diagnoses of breast cancer. We can only begin to appreciate how difficult their situation must be.

In the last several days, our practice interfaced with 6 women undergoing restorative surgery after mastectomy. Each story is different, but the common link is that each person caught the disease early because she conducted self-exams, underwent mammography, and sought medical attention. One individual underwent breast augmentation many years earlier in my practice. She persisted and requested that I perform a biopsy despite a mammogram performed in San Diego, which suggested an irregular breast mass was normal tissue. Sometimes, the patient knows best. The value of trusting one’s instinct can never be under estimated.

I am not sure why I am seeing more breast cancer in my practice1, but I certainly feel privileged to be caring for this special group of individuals. I applaud the Susan Komen Foundation for reversing their decision to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood which were intended to support mammography and early breast cancer detection2 services.

Today, I spent time with a patient who underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction almost 12 years ago. I will never forget our initial visit, when I witnessed her devastation after she received the diagnosis.

Now, so many years later, she has begun to trust life again. Her general health is excellent and her fear of cancer seems to be well behind her. In fact, today, she had a little Botox placed between her eyebrows just to feel a little better.

It is an encouraging sign of healing when a patient who has been devastated by something truly as awful as cancer, feels well enough to enjoy the simple pleasure of reducing a few frowns and wrinkles.

Maybe the next time we are on an airplane or in a restaurant, there will be an opportunity to demonstrate more patience with the flight attendant or server who may have just returned to work from her cancer treatment. The challenge belongs to everyone who lives with, knows of, or cares for someone who has crossed paths with cancer.

I am inspired by the enduring strength, wisdom, and courage of the women in my practice who are forced to confront this difficult disease.

Donald Altman, M.D.

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