Posted in: NYPS Group News, Patient Stories , Monday September 19, 2016

“I never thought it would happen. Not in a million years.” –Lori, Breast Cancer Survivor

Lori knew the damage that breast cancer could do. She had seen friends struggle and, as the founder of the celebrity news website, she had covered stories of survivors like Giuliana Rancic and Angelina Jolie. But with no family history and an incredibly healthy lifestyle that includes no smoking, clean eating, and regular exercise, Lori never expected that she was at risk.

Then, there was the other thing. “I have no breasts!” laughs the mom of two. An A-cup after breastfeeding both children, the gene that endowed most of the women in her family with a buxom bosom had, she said, skipped her.

“I had nothing!” she exclaims.

It was at the urging of a friend that Lori scheduled a mammogram to check in on a lump she had discovered. Doctors recommended more testing, and Lori’s disbelief translated to optimism. “Look,” she told them frankly as they stared at the ultrasound screen with concern. “I don’t have cancer. And even if I do—we will deal with it.”

Her response wasn’t meant to sound trite. Lori was well aware of how serious things could get. But, she knew that she was healthier than she had ever been. She had a strong support system, including a husband in the medical field. And so, she approached her situation pragmatically: whatever happened, she would face it.

Even still, she was surprised when the news came in confirming Stage 1 breast cancer. “I was leaving for a ski vacation with my family. After the doctor told me, I couldn’t hear a thing. I had to give the phone to my husband.”

It wasn’t long before her spirit came back. “I didn’t tell anyone about it at first. Not even my mom. And then I just thought—okay, we are going fight this.”

Lori was immediately scheduled for a lumpectomy to be followed by a course of radiation, but in the week between booking the appointment and the surgery she started to reconsider.

A healthy 46-year-old woman, Lori felt the odds were stacked in her favor. But she also recognized that recurrence was a possibility.

“What if it did come back when I am not as healthy and strong as I am right now? I have two little girls to think about. I wanted the lowest possible percentage for potential recurrence.”

In addition, Lori recognized that with smaller breasts, a lumpectomy would leave a significant indentation scar and radiation could potentially further shrink her bust. “I felt like there was a better way for me.”

Working with New York-based breast surgeon Dr. Beth Seigel, Lori opted undergo bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomies* and have both breasts removed.

Lori and family at the Mets playoff game last year.
Lori and family at the Mets playoff game last year.

For the reconstruction surgery, Dr. Seigel suggested Long Island Plastic Surgical Group partner Dr. Jerry W. Chang. “His credentials, his calm demeanor—there was no comparison. He dealt with my tears, he helped me see the solution.”

Lori underwent an extensive eight-hour procedure wherein Dr. Seigel performed the mastectomy and Dr. Chang started the reconstruction. Lori was fitted with saline expanders to stretch her skin. Then, once the expansion process was complete, Dr. Chang performed the reconstruction surgery and fitted her with silicone breast implants.

The results? Better than she ever hoped for. “He made me look so, so good.”

Lori doesn’t discount the importance of breasts, and how women equate them with their femininity. “I know most women are so emotionally connected to their breasts. Psychologically, it’s hard to think about losing them,” she says. Nor does she downplay the rigor of recovery. “It was incredibly painful,” she says of the mastectomy and subsequent stretching. “I had to know my limits, which was new for me.”

For her, though, the decision was a straightforward one, and one she is so glad she made. A larger size than before and totally healthy, Lori is truly happy with her new, cancer-free body. “I was able to take a really horrible situation and make it totally positive,” she says.

Major media outlets like Marie Claire, where Lori hopes to tell her story in the coming months, are picking up her story. She hopes it will inspire others to face the unexpected with grace.

“You have to find the good in your story,” says Lori. “No matter what, look for the positive.”

* Nipple sparing is a technique to preserve the nipple during the breast reconstruction process. With the nipple sparing procedure, the incision to remove the breast tissue is made around the nipple and areola, allowing the surgeons to preserve a more natural appearance while avoiding the need for nipple tattooing or reconstruction. However, patients must realize that while reduced, the risk for breast cancer still exists as the nipple contains breast tissue, therefore must be screened annually.