Tami’s story: Breast reconstruction ‘gave me back the biggest part cancer took away from me’
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Every year, thousands of women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer. Tami Adams never thought she would be one of them.
At 48-years-old, her world was upended by a breast cancer diagnosis. It came after an office visit with her gynecologist.
“That’s where it all started,” she says. “I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.”
The diagnosis was a shock for Tami. She had no family history of the disease and genetic testing revealed no mutations that would increase her risk for breast cancer.
Tami and her doctors acted swiftly. She opted for a bilateral mastectomy – the removal of both breasts. The procedure largely eliminates the opportunity for new breast tumors to develop. It is the most common treatment for patients with advanced breast cancer.
The decision to undergo bilateral mastectomy would be more important than Tami would realize. That’s because her breast surgeon discovered that her cancer cells had grown, advancing her cancer to stage 3. That meant the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes but hadn’t affected distant organs.
The survival rate for women with stage 3 breast cancer over a 5-year period is about 72 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Following successful breast cancer surgery, Tami underwent breast reconstruction. Fortunately, the decision for reconstructive surgery was made easier by law.
The Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act, passed in 1998, is a federal law that provides protection to patients who choose to have breast reconstruction in connection with a mastectomy or cancer diagnosis. The law requires most group insurance plans that cover mastectomies to also cover breast reconstruction even if reconstructive surgery is performed months or years after breast removal.
Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor, a plastic surgeon with Plastic Surgery & Skin Specialists by BayCare Clinic, specializes in breast reconstruction. She created new breasts for Tami.
“For women who have undergone a mastectomy, breast reconstruction can be a physically and emotionally rewarding procedure,” O’Connor says. “For many patients, this can lessen the emotional shock that comes with breast removal.”
Tami echoed those thoughts.
“It was a personal decision everyone has to make for themselves,” she said. “I felt like it would make me feel more like myself, more like a woman. I just didn’t want that to be taken away and Dr. O’Connor was able to give that back to me.”
Knowing that her breast reconstruction surgery would be covered under the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act made the decision to have breast reconstruction surgery “that much easier,” Tami says.
It’s a sentiment expressed by many breast reconstruction patients, O’Connor says.
“This coverage is so important for women with breast cancer,” she says. “It’s important that they know how and when they can have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy.”
It’s also important to partner with a reconstructive surgeon you trust, Tami says, adding that O’Connor fit the bill.
“She’s amazing, she really is. She is a wonderful surgeon. She does a beautiful job. She is very friendly. She answered all my questions.
“Even when I was at my lowest point, losing my hair and going bald, which is a very, very, very hard thing to do, she made me feel beautiful. She made me feel wonderful. She really helped me throughout my entire journey.”
Tami wasn’t the only one who was impressed with O’Connor.
“When you’re hit with this you genuinely don’t know what to expect and genuinely fear the worst,” said Tami’s husband Jon. “So, when you have a pro who’s willing to sit down and talk you through this … it puts you at ease. It makes you feel like, okay, we have a good doctor, we can beat this, we can get through it.”
Tami beat breast cancer. She was aided by her breast surgeon and her husband and made whole again by O’Connor.
“I feel like she gave me back the biggest part cancer took away from me.”
Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor sees patients in Green Bay and Oshkosh. To request an appointment, call 920-288-8240 or 866-726-8200 in Green Bay or 920-569-1506 in Oshkosh, or do so online.