A Conversation with Dr. A
It is October and the color pink is everywhere, in honor of breast cancer awareness. For those fighting the fight, it is not easy, yet with several advances in technology, part of the healing process is becoming easier. I sat down with Dr. Ahmed Abdullah (Dr. A), our resident plastic surgeon, to discuss mastectomies and reconstruction surgery.
In the past, most women undergoing mastectomies would have to wait for six months for reconstruction with tissue expanders – using a balloon to slowly stretch out the skin to get it ready for the implant. Today, many women are able to go to sleep with breasts, and wake up with them. “With technology and treatment advancements, patients may have the ability to go into a surgery and wake up with a reconstruction already done, helping to avoid some of the mental stigma of body shaming many patients experience,” said Dr. A.
There are several factors when it comes to what will happen with surgery and reconstruction, including those that test positive with the BRCA Gene, which greatly increases risk of breast cancer, up to 87%. Angelina Jolie made preventative BRCA double mastectomy famous by opening about her positive test at the age of 38 in 2013. She chose to undergo surgery to protect her future, as many more women are doing. Aside from the gene factors, types of cancer, location, and treatment therapies will help dictate which path a doctor will choose for his/her patient.
Perhaps one that is often overlooked in the treatment process is the integrity of the skin. Skin treated with radiation therapy is damaged. Essentially radiated skin is a burn, which in turn causes inflammation, which is why Dr. A chooses to use pharmaceutical grade aloe on his patients, pre and post reconstruction surgery. This grade of aloe is an anti-inflammatory, and can provide some relief to damaged skin.
According to Dr. A, “The right products are important to care for the skin.” As a surgeon, he has always been intrigued by skin care, and why he started his own line of aloe skin care products. “I have always wanted to protect and assist in the healing process of my patient’s skin. To me, radiation therapy is a four letter word. Recovering the skin after surgery takes more than using petroleum jelly to heal the wound.”
What many patients do not understand early on, is reconstruction will most likely need some “fine-tuning” after approximately a year has gone by. Why? Dr. A stated, “It takes a year for everything to settle. Implants are round, and often the skin can become depressed in spots where there is not breast tissue. Fat injections are used to smooth out depressed skin.”
As a plastic surgeon doing reconstructive surgeries for women that have been through hell, “It is important to be empathetic and to go at the patient’s pace”, said Dr. A. “There is a lot of emotions happening all at once, I get to be a point of positive for them.” It is refreshing to speak with a doctor who has his patients best interest at heart, and wants to be there to help them look and feel good after such turmoil in life.
Cancer is a terrible word. One in eight women will have breast cancer. No matter how prepared you are, it is still hard to hear.
It’s a October, a good reminder to get your mammogram and to care for your skin.
Thank you Dr. A.