Hope... Reconstruction after Breast Cancer Mutation BRCA
Article by Chad K. Wheeler, MD
Spokane Plastic Surgeon
At 24 years old, my life is all but ordinary…
My name is Dowry Michelle Thomas. I am a mother, sister, daughter, wife and friend. I am BRCA-1 positive and I am the cure.
No one can ever tell you how you, personally, are going to react to any sort of news. A year into my mother’s battle with stage-2 breast cancer, my sister and I received the news that we were BRCA-1 positive. We chose this genetic testing based on our own mother’s positive results. The genetic mutations BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 greatly increase a person’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. I remember sitting in the genetic counselor’s office being read the results, carefully tucking them in my back pocket and moving on with my life. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I became concerned for my future. I now had this fear of the possibility that my children would have to go through what our family had with my own mother or worse, they wouldn’t have me at all. No matter which road I was to choose, my first decision was to become proactive about my health. I began researching my options late at night, nervous to share the news that I was heading to a breast specialist to further explore these options.
Dr. Carol Guthrie, of Spokane Breast Center, was so calming and reassured me in a decision that I had all but said out loud. She said the words, “You are the cure.” Those words have stuck with me, and are one of the reasons I felt compelled to share my story. She and I discussed all of my options: early detection through mammograms, self-examination and annual MRIs, or a double prophylactic mastectomy. I think I already had my heart set on a double prophylactic mastectomy. I could not rest easily knowing that I might miss something in self-examination or that technology might fail me.
We discussed everything that was involved in a mastectomy: my breasts would be removed in a 6-hour surgery; there would be stitches, drains, a slow recovery and scars. The scars would forever remind me that I chose life, to be a role model for prevention, and that this decision decreased my chances of getting breast cancer in the future.
It was time to find a plastic surgeon. Dr. Guthrie referred me to Dr. Chad Wheeler of Plastic Surgery Northwest. He was to be the man that would change my life. Where others ‘wear their heart on their sleeves,’ I ‘wore my nerves on my sleeves.’ Dr. Wheeler saw this and connected me to the most kind, amazing, brave woman I had ever met, Katie. She was just 31 years old fighting for her life in a battle of aggressive breast cancer, something I was trying to prevent. Katie became my mentor and my friend. Through her, I saw the importance of having this procedure. I will forever value our friendship.
My double mastectomy was scheduled for September 27th, 2011, just two weeks after my 24th birthday. With the support of my family and the most amazing man, my husband, I was going to do this. I made it through the surgery, opened my eyes and knew this was my greatest achievement. I had never been more proud of myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am that mom that brags about her kids being all she ever dreamed of, but I know this surgery will give them me, for a long time.
My journey is not over. I chose to go through reconstruction and now that my skin is stretched, Dr. Wheeler will replace my expanders with implants. I’m one step closer.
Although women often fear the psychological repercussions of removing parts of their ‘womanhood,’ I have experienced the opposite. I have a new sense of confidence that surrounds me now, more so than I did before my surgery. I had a vision of what my breasts could look like after the mastectomy. Dr. Wheeler has exceeded my expectations on every level. My scars do not define me; they help to pave my journey. They are but a tiny sentence in the story of my life. My mission from here is to get the message out to woman all over the world to be proactive about their health. If one woman reads my story and schedules herself an examination, I will feel successful. Wouldn’t it be great if that number were more? Join me in celebrating breast cancer awareness every month. Celebrate your body and remember… We are the cure.