Michelle - Dr. Marga's March 2014 Mermaid of the Month

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Michelle

My name is Michelle Mead and 2 ½ years ago, November 3rd of 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am married and am the mother of twin boys (age 7 at the time of diagnosis) and work as a Meteorologist for the National Weather Service. I had a routine mammogram in September of that year and the results were clear. So, when I went for my annual exam with my OBGYN in October and he found a lump, we were both very surprised. Since I had just had clean mammogram, he said it may just be a cyst, but he sent me for a follow up mammogram and ultra sound just to be certain. I went in for the follow up ultra sound about a week later and the tech and I were just chatting about what our kids were going to be for Halloween. I told her that my doctor thought it might be a cyst and she said she wasn’t sure. A few minutes later she went to get the radiologist and he came in to take a look. They sent me for another mammogram then I waited in the waiting room. The radiologist came out and said he didn’t know what it was but wanted to schedule me for a needle biopsy as soon as possible. I remember asking him if we could just do a lumpectomy and remove it as I just wanted it out. He said they wanted to rule everything out before I had any surgery. The following Wednesday I went in for the needle biopsy. I met with the nurse before the procedure and she gave me a bunch of information about breast cancer and the contact information for the breast health navigator. I was very shocked by this as I was convinced it was only a cyst. The nurse told me they give this information out to everyone and that getting this information did not mean I have cancer. She then told me it takes several days to get the results and it would likely be early the next week before the results would be in. The biopsy was not terrible but wasn’t fun either. I remember hearing the clicking as he was taking tissue samples from the mass in my right breast and still feeling very secure that nothing was wrong. So, when Friday came around and I got a call from my doctor’s office, I was a little taken back. First of all, my doctor didn’t work Friday’s, so I thought it was his nurse calling me with the results. When I heard my doctor’s voice on the other end of the line, my heart just sank. He asked if my husband was with me, and if we could come into his office. I was terrified and asked him if he could tell me over the phone. He replied, I’d really like you and Matt to come into the office. I knew right then and there the news wasn’t good. We got to his office and he let me know the results were in and it was cancer. He said the biopsy results indicated we had caught it early and it was likely stage 1. However, a chest MRI and full body PET scan over the next week revealed it was much worse. It was a stage 3c Carcinoma (tumor 5.3 cm and lymph node involvement). I remember thinking; there is no way this was happening. I am a young, healthy woman with 2 small children. Although I have a history of cancer in my family, my mom had nonHodgkin’s carcinoma and my dad had colon cancer; there was no history of breast cancer. I was also the youngest person in my family diagnosed with cancer. How could this happen to me? However, no matter what it entailed, I was going to do whatever it took to beat this disease. The biopsy revealed I was ER/PR negative HER2 positive. They sent my biopsy off for genetic testing for the BRCA1 gene as my type of cancer indicated I could be BRCA positive. Thank goodness, I was BRCA negative which was one load off my plate.

Over the next month, I met with my oncologist, radiation oncologist, general surgeon and plastic surgeon. Given my age and relatively healthy status we went for an aggressive treatment plan. After much debate about doing a double or unilateral mastectomy, we ultimately decided to go with a unilateral modified radical mastectomy on my right breast with a port placement in my left. After 6 weeks of recovery, I started my 20 weeks of chemotherapy followed by 33 radiation treatments and Herceptin for a full year. Given the amount of radiation and a much higher failure rate of implants, we decided to hold off on any reconstructive surgery until all my chemo and radiation was complete. I remember telling my husband that I didn’t want him to see me naked after my mastectomy as I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. Although, the doctor had a different plan as I was going to have a couple of drains and dressings that needed to be attended to daily. My husband was amazing, he didn’t blink an eye when he saw my body post surgery and did everything for me from dressing changes to sponge baths during my recovery process. It took me quite a bit longer to get comfortable looking at myself naked. I thought I was prepared for it, but it took me almost 2 ½ months before I could look in the mirror. Despite my husband telling me I was beautiful, and the use of a prosthetic under my clothing, I didn’t feel complete. I had a lot of people question my decision to have reconstructive surgery after all my treatments. Some well intentioned friends commented to me how freeing it must be to not have to worry about bras anymore. I know they were trying to make me feel better, but I wasn’t ready to stop worrying about bras. When I completed all my treatments, and after some radiation complications, my husband and I met once again with my plastic surgeon. I had some rather deep burns on my mastectomy scar from the radiation, so I indicated to my plastic surgeon I would prefer not to go with implants and wanted information on the DIEP procedure. He indicated that he had only done one of those in his career and that it was microsurgery. He referred me to a surgeon in Seattle to have the DIEP procedure. This was a very frustrating process. I kept getting the run around from his patient coordinator who kept losing my medical records and asked me more than once if I was seeking the procedure for purely cosmetic reasons vs post cancer treatment. After several months of getting things squared away, the final straw for me was when we were trying to schedule the actual procedure. She called me with several dates and I was feeling rushed. I told her I’d like to speak to the surgeon before I finalized any dates. She went round and round with me with how busy he was and how it’s a teaching hospital, also that he I needed to schedule sooner than later as he only does 2 of these procedures a month so the slots fill up quickly. When I inquired again about speaking to him prior to setting a date, she said that he’d talk to me the night before the procedure. I told her I needed to think things over and would call her the next day with my decision. That night I was feeling really uncomfortable with my plastic surgeons referral and tried calling him for another recommendation. He was out of town so I went to the internet. I Googled top rated DIEP surgeons in the West and that’s when my life would change for the better. Dr. Marga Massey’s practice showed up on top of the list! I clicked on her website and starting reading her background and the descriptions of the different procedures she performed. I entered some personal information into the portal and figured I would keep looking. To my pleasant surprise, I was contacted the next day by one of Dr. Massey’s patient coordinators. She explained to me that she needed a bit more information about insurance etc to see if Dr. Massey was part of my coverage. Over the next week, my patient coordinator and I spoke a few more times and she explained Dr. Massey’s philosophy about meeting with all potential patients via phone consultations and to answer any questions. It was about a week later that I learned from Becky that my insurance informed them that Dr. Massey was not in my network. I was disappointed and thanked Becky for her time as I didn’t believe I would be able to afford the procedure without full insurance. Becky was great and told me even if I didn’t go with Dr. Massey, that I should at least take her up on the phone consultation. The phone consultation did not bind me to any contract, nor would I be charge for it and I could get some questions answered. I agreed and Becky let me know of some potential dates for the phone consultation.

It was a snowy December day when my husband and I spoke to Dr. Massey. She was AMAZING! She spent 2 ½ hours talking to my husband and I, answering all of my questions and relieving all my fears. She was so personable and caring, and she made me feel like I was a friend she had for years as opposed to a potential patient she just met. We hung up the phone and my husband and I agreed that we would find a way to get our finances figured out so that I could go to NOLA and have Dr. Massey as my surgeon. Over the next several months, Dr. Massey’s support staff and the Saint Charles Surgical Hospital worked with me to find financial options and help with a long term stay at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge during my stage 1 procedure. Since stage 1 is a 14-18 day process, my mom accompanied me and my husband stayed at home with our boys. My mom and I arrived in NOLA in early March 2013 and I finally got to meet Dr. Massey in person. She came in and hugged me as if I were a long lost friend. I instantly fell in love with her and felt immediately that someone was looking out for me, as I was right where I was supposed to be. My mom commented that I picked a good one! After discussions of nipple sparing or full mastectomy, I opted for the full mastectomy. I got to talk to Dr. Stollier who would be performing the mastectomy and given the very aggressive nature of my cancer I didn’t want to take any chances. After 13 hours of surgery, I once again had 2 new boobs and a flat stomach (for the first time in my life)! I was now in the very compassionate and capable hands of the St. Charles Surgical Hospital staff. That place is amazing! I felt like I was at an all inclusive spa/resort. I slept for the first day of recovery, but by the third day I was up and walking the halls. I have been back to NOLA 2 more times to even them out and to have nipples constructed. Every time I go back, I fall in love with Dr. Massey and the St. Charles staff all over again! Now I feel complete again and the cancer can be a distant memory as I walk tall and proud with my new girls! Thank you Dr. Massey for doing what you do and giving women like me the option to have natural beautiful breasts after cancer. You will now and always be an angel and true friend to me.

All my love!

Michelle

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