Debbie Robinson - Dr. Marga's March 2009 Mermaid of the Month

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Debbie Robinson

In 1985, at the age of 30, I was treated very aggressively for stage 3 breast cancer. I had chemo, a mastectomy in which 10 lymph nodes were removed, more chemo, and then radiation therapy. I have remained cancer free for 23 years. My doctors saved my life and for that I am very grateful. They recommended that I delay reconstruction for a year or two. My first experience with reconstruction was not successful due to the severe damage caused by the radiation therapy. I was resigned to the fact that I would wear a prosthesis for the rest of my life. About twelve years after my initial diagnosis and treatment I developed lymphedema in my arm. I spent the next ten years with multiple doctors and physical therapists trying to manage the issues with my arm. I tried every kind of therapy, ointment, and compression garment that was available. I wrapped my arm every night with compression bandages. Every year the infections in my arm increased in number and severity. My local doctors repeatedly said there was there was nothing more that could be done to control my lymphedema. I carried antibiotics in my purse 24/7 because I never knew when or why an infection would start. With each infection my arm seemed to get larger. My clothing options became very limited. I could not find a blouse or jacket that would fit. When shopping for clothes, I would just stand at the clothing rack and try to stick my arm down the sleeve. If my arm wouldn't fit, why bother heading to the dressing room.

A lot of internet searching led me to Dr. Massey. I read about the DIEP Flap reconstruction and the Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer VLNTx℠s that she was doing. In November of 2008 I traveled from Naples, FL to Charleston to have the surgery. The results have been truly amazing. I look in the mirror and just shake my head. I cannot believe what Dr. Massey was able to do. I didn't realize the impact that the reconstructive surgery would have on my general sense of well being. I can now buy a regular bra. I can wear a bathing suit or a v-neck tee shirt without being self-conscious. As wonderful as these things are, they pale in comparison to the impact the VLNT has had on my life. I have not had a single infection since the surgery. ALL of the chronic pain is gone. My arm continues to get smaller and softer. I actually have loose skin under my upper arm that jiggles. I can now find blouses and jackets that fit properly. Yes, I still go to physical therapy weekly, wear a compression garment, and wrap my arm nightly with compression bandages, but words cannot convey how much my quality of life has improved. I feel the VLNT was very successful and as the lymphatic system in my arm continues to reconnect and repair itself, I'm confident that my arm will continue to improve.

After 23 years with a flat chest and 10 years of dealing with lymphedema, I feel I have my life back. Dr. Massey gave me hope and a new attitude. She has truly changed my life and I will be eternally grateful. Not only is she a caring and gifted surgeon, she has also become a wonderful friend.

Debbie Robinson
Naples, Florida

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