Sharon Ludwig cried the entire way on a trip to Las Vegas following a conversation with Kelsey-Seybold Breast Center Women’s Health physician Dr. Judith Munoz. She had been told by Dr. Munoz that she had breast cancer.
“I think my biggest fear was thinking I was going to die,” she recalled, her voice breaking with emotion.
But thanks to the care by a team of board-certified Kelsey-Seybold specialists and dedicated nurses, Sharon survived and wants other women now facing what she went through to know “you’ll be okay, too.
”Sharon, 65, is a longtime Kelsey-Seybold patient. Her primary care physician is Dr. Donnie Aga. Over the course of 20 years, she has also relied on the care of other specialists such as orthopedist Dr. Glenn Landon, who did her hip replacement surgery. Consequently, “I have a lot of confidence in Kelsey-Seybold,” she said.
When she returned from her Las Vegas trip, she met with Kelsey-Seybold breast oncology surgeon Dr. Jonathan Nelson to talk about cancer treatment options for the three cancerous masses in her right breast and the one benign mass in her left breast. Because her cancer had been caught early, it had not spread. After discussing the pros and cons of the options presented by Dr. Nelson, Sharon opted for a double mastectomy.
Restoration after mastectomy
Before scheduling surgery, Dr. Nelson referred Sharon to Kelsey-Seybold plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Jamal Bullocks, who explained a range of breast reconstruction options and what each would entail.
“People don’t usually talk about having a mastectomy. You feel like you’re alone,” Sharon recalled, which is why she especially appreciates the compassionate care and attention she received.
“Dr. Bullocks is just amazing. Both Dr. Nelson and Dr. Bullocks, I just love them to death. They’re wonderful, warm, caring people who don’t just rush you in and out. They listen to you, whether it’s just your feelings or symptoms of something. They’re very precise and skillful with everything they do,” said Sharon.
“Dr. Bullocks explained things to me so well, it almost scared me,” she said with a chuckle. “He went into incredible detail and gave me a lot of information, but I thought that was good because I knew what to expect. I knew what I wanted to do.
”Sharon decided on the DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap procedure, an advanced microsurgical technique for breast reconstruction. The patient’s own abdominal skin and fat are used to help restore a natural, warm, soft breast after mastectomy. This technique spares the abdominal musculature, which means that recovery is faster and complications are fewer than with other surgical options.
Breast reconstruction that uses the patient’s own tissue is popular because the consistency of the abdominal tissue is very similar to natural breast tissue. Women who undergo the DIEP flap reconstruction also benefit from improved abdominal contouring, much like a “tummy tuck.”
“Dr. Bullocks started reconstruction the day of my mastectomy. Dr. Nelson performed the surgery and then Dr. Bullocks came in right after him and did a DIEP flap, taking fat from my abdomen and putting it in my chest area,” Sharon said.
Improving body image and self-esteem
Sharon’s breasts were a double D before mastectomy. Dr. Bullocks was able to move enough tissue from her abdomen to reconstruct her breasts into a natural looking size C.
Pleased with the results, and feeling more at peace with having survived breast cancer, Sharon said reconstruction isn’t a one-procedure process. Following her initial surgery, Dr. Bullocks performed follow-up liposuction to move additional fat from her hips and thighs to fill in some areas of indentation on her chest.
“Now it’s smooth and it looks like I’ve never had anything done,” Sharon enthused.
In other follow-up procedures, Dr. Bullocks formed nipples by taking skin he had placed when he was reconstructing each breast, stitching it to make a nipple and then subsequently tattooing the area to form the areola.
“It’s so emotional. Just hearing the word ‘cancer’ scares you to death. Getting through that was huge. Luckily, I had my husband and the support of my five children and my friends. They were just incredible. Some people don’t have that kind of support,” Sharon said.
She’s grateful to Dr. Nelson for getting rid of the cancer. And she credits Dr. Bullocks with improving her quality of life and self esteem.