Nelladet Stettler - Dr. Marga's June 2010 Mermaid of the Month

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Nelladet Stettler with daughter and husband

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with a traumatic event such as war, death, abuse, an accident, or a natural disaster. However, facing one's mortality through the diagnosis of a life threatening disease such as cancer can also trigger PTSD. In fact, one third of cancer patients experience PTSD four-six months after being diagnosed – I was one of them, although at the time, I didn't know it...

Just as I was finishing chemotherapy, my mother passed away. I was the oldest of seven and her caretaker for many years. Now, not only did I face my own mortality, but again was reminded of it with the death of my mother. During this time, several children of friends also passed away under tragic circumstances. These events set in motion a downward spiral both emotionally and physically. Having been a very social person, I began avoiding contact with people as much as possible AND anything that reminded me of "cancer" or "death." I felt jumpy, focusing on a task was almost impossible and more terrible – I couldn't sleep. Anxiety abounded with a pounding heart, nausea, muscle tension, and sweating. Moreover, at each step of my breast cancer treatment, the diagnosis became more serious, until it was necessary for a mastectomy; all adding to my grief. The worst—I felt my "future" was limited. Would I ever lead a "normal" life again?

With this question in mind, I was determined to overcome my situation. Being open to options, I sought both medical and psychological help. Through counseling I learned I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD. It was during this time I was referred to Dr. Marga Massey. In reading about Microsurgical Breast Reconstruction, I found I could have the mastectomy and begin reconstruction simultaneously. Compared to traditional reconstruction, the DIEP Flap procedure involved fewer surgeries, less pain, faster recovery time, with an excellent cosmetic outcome. This also meant waking up from surgery with new breasts. I would NOT have to grieve their loss too. Another side benefit from the surgery—a tummy tuck! Sounded great! Nevertheless, facing a ten hour surgery made me extremely nervous. I soon realized my fears were unfounded; I was in the hands of the best.

Dr. Massey and her team made the surgery and stay at Roper Hospital wonderful. I have never had such care and concern. All expectations were exceeded. During the surgery, Dr. Massey sent my husband to downtown Charleston to see the sites. In her charming southern accent, "It is torture for a loved one to be in a hospital waiting room for 10 hours!" Yet, every hour she had an O.R. nurse contact my husband to keep him updated on their progress and my condition. She had him waiting for me in the recovery room before I woke up from anesthesia. What doctor spends as much time with you as needed? Takes meticulous care? What doctor gives you their email and cell phone number? Follows through with calls week after week? It's Dr. Massey. Five days after surgery I was up and shopping in Charleston. Ten days later I flew home on my 50th birthday with new breasts, a tummy tuck, and hope for the future!

Did having PTSD make me less of a person? NO! I share this experience to let others know PTSD is real and you are NOT crazy! As I look upon this last year, I see God's hand helping and guiding me. The way everything unfolded led me to the extremely skilled Dr. Massey. I thank God everyday for my miracle and the gift given to her. I have learned there is opposition in our lives for purpose--sorrow so we can experience joy; pain to be grateful for pleasure; and fear so we can learn to have great faith. I have found my "new normal" and know my life has been greatly enriched because of this journey.

If anyone is pondering this type of surgery, please feel free to contact me at nelladet[at]

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