Debbie Melton and her mother Anna Young have both had mastectomies, and they have both faced the reconstruction decision.
Anna Young, 78, lives in Plant City. She was diagnosed with cancer in her right breast three years ago. The tumor was small, but too deeply located for a lumpectomy.
As for reconstruction, her doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa told her it was an option, and her daughter urged her to have it.
Young thought about it, and declined.
"I just didn't want to go through all that," she says of the series of reconstruction procedures. And unless she had her cancer-free breast surgically altered to match her reconstructed breast, her figure would still be unbalanced.
"I would have needed surgery on both breasts even though only one had cancer. And I didn't want that either," says Young.
Two years later, Young's daughter faced her own decision.
Several factors, including family history, put her at high risk for the disease. Then a routine mammogram in 2009 showed a lump in one of her breasts. A biopsy determined it was precancerous.
Melton, 57, could have had the lump removed and then kept careful tabs to see if another lump developed.
Instead, she decided to have both breasts removed, a prophylactic mastectomy.
"It seemed inevitable," says Melton. "I had the sense that I would just be waiting for them to tell me I had cancer."
Like her mother, Melton went to Moffitt Cancer Center for the surgery. She would go through the same appointments, procedures and tests; she even saw many of the same doctors. But unlike her mother, Melton decided to have breast reconstruction immediately after the mastectomy.
"I thought it would make me feel more complete in clothing and to look at yourself in the mirror. It's psychological. You just feel more whole," she said.
Melton had surgery in June 2009. Tissue expanders were placed under the muscle in her chest immediately following the mastectomy and filled with a small amount of fluid, in preparation for later reconstruction.
"That helped when I woke up from the mastectomy because there was already a little something there," she recalled.
A few weeks later Melton began a series of outpatient procedures, usually done every two weeks for several months, to inject saline into the expanders to stretch the chest muscle. Once it is stretched larger than the permanent implant, the patient goes in for what is called a "swap out" procedure to replace the expander with a permanent implant. Melton chose silicone. She had nipple reconstruction a few months after that, also an outpatient procedure.
Melton says it took six or seven months to complete all the steps in the reconstruction process and nine months to feel completely recovered and like she could put the experience behind her.
"I have no regrets," says Melton. "There is a scar from under my arm to the center of my breast, but, it's been a year and four months and it's amazing how much the scar has faded."
A reconstructed breast will never feel "normal,'' but she's learned to live with that.
"There's no sensation, but I feel like I look normal. It doesn't startle or discourage me when I get out of the shower and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror,'' Melton said. "I'm very much in favor of reconstruction."