Plastic Surgery Saved My Life

VVartanian on 30 Oct 2013 at 9:00am

pink ribbon awareness breast cancer woman covering breastsWhen teacher Mary Lou Depondicchello turned 40, she wanted to do something "nice for herself". She'd just moved to Hawaii to escape snowy Washington D.C. winters -- so she set her sights on breast implants.

Mary Lou sailed through surgery, but soon received a shocking call. Her plastic surgeon, Dr. Larry Schlesinger, had found breast cancer.

Read on for an exclusive interview with Mary Lou and the man who saved her life (pictured below).

RealSelf: At what point in the surgery did you find something suspicious?

Dr. Schlesinger: Something touched the back of my hand as I was closing the left side. I didn't know what the heck it was ... I looked up into the highest point of her armpit, and there was something hanging down. It was tan and a little bit bigger than a ping pong ball. l thought, "Oh, it's probably a benign fatty tumor," which is nothing [worrisome].  Never, ever, ever did I think it was cancer.

But, I had enough general surgery knowledge to know that it didn't belong there. I took it out and sent it to pathology.

RealSelf: What were you thinking when you were told it was breast cancer?

Dr. Schlesinger: Total disbelief. I don't deal with cancer. I don't even take skin cancers off anymore. I called Mary Lou and told her straight up where we were and that we would find the best people to take of her. I think up to this point, we have.

RealSelf: Did you ever feel a lump in your armpit?

Mary Lou: The stars must have been aligned for Dr. Schlesinger to find the cancer, because I didn't have any visible symptoms or feel a lump. In fact, I had a mammogram two years ago as a volunteer in a breast cancer study, and it was clear. I have no family history of breast cancer and I'm not BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive. The cancer was already in my lymph nodes -- it's by the grace of God that he found it before it spread anywhere else.

RealSelf: What is your prognosis? Were you able to keep your implants?

Mary Lou: I was able to keep my implants. I've had two lumpectomies and I'll have chemo, and then radiation. After that, depending on what the radiation does to the implant, I may have breast reconstruction. We'll see when that time comes.

It was caught early, and the prognosis is really good, 90 percent. I'm grateful. I keep saying that word over and over again. My family is eternally grateful to Dr. Schlesinger.

RealSelf: Why did you chose Dr. Schlesinger to be your surgeon?

Mary Lou: When I did my research on different types of breast augmentation, I knew I wanted to go through the armpit. I found Dr. Schlesinger on RealSelf and there was nothing but positive reviews -- there was no scarring with his surgeries. I don't think I saw one negative review.

Dr. Schlesinger:  And, if she hadn't chosen her armpit to insert the implants -- it wouldn't be long before she had very bad metastatic cancer. I think Mary Lou lives under a very, very lucky star.