“Now that everything is done, it’s like a miracle.”
Like many women with breast cancer, Susan Killen underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Then came the decision of what to do next. For a short time after surgery, she wore prosthetics, but she wanted a long-term solution. “I was considering my options for breast reconstruction. Several friends recommended Dr. Kevin Beshlian as an all-around excellent plastic surgeon. About the same time, I’d attended a presentation at Gilda’s Club by Dr. Frank Isik, another plastic surgeon from The Polyclinic. He talked about all of the different kinds of reconstruction, including microsurgery, which I’d never heard of.”
Microsurgical breast reconstruction is a technique that allows surgeons to move tissue from one part of the body to another, using a woman’s own body to reconstruct her breast, as well as restoring the possibility for sensation. Dr. Kevin Beshlian and Dr. Keith Paige, Polyclinic plastic surgeons, are two of the few surgeons in the Northwest who routinely perform this procedure.
“I met with Dr. Beshlian and he provided a lot of information so I could go home and think about it and make my own decision. I also attended a support group at his office. Most of the women there had microsurgical reconstruction, though some had implants. All were really encouraging,” Susan shares.
Susan was hesitant about breast reconstruction using implants, even though most people she talked with seemed generally happy with their experience. “In the back of my mind, I kept thinking ‘I’m going to have something foreign in my body that’s not me.’”
Susan admits the microsurgery first sounded a bit daunting because it’s a longer procedure with a longer recovery, though the patients she talked with seemed extremely pleased with their experience and outcome.
The more she learned and thought about it, the more Susan felt that microsurgical reconstruction was the best solution for her. Her first step was to have a CT scan to determine if she was a candidate for microsurgery, as not everyone is. Her CT revealed something else; she had a suspicious growth on her kidney. Dr. Beshlian immediately called her oncologist at Swedish who had treated her breast cancer. Once they confirmed it was kidney cancer, the two worked quickly with a urologist at the University of Washington to schedule surgery to remove the tumor from her kidney. Dr. Beshlian worked closely with her surgeon and oncologist to save her abdominal tissue and blood vessels so that she could still have the microsurgical breast reconstruction once she recovered from kidney surgery.
“It was such a fantastic team effort between my doctors at The Polyclinic, the University of Washington, and Swedish. Even though they’re at different organizations, there were no boundaries. They all worked together and did everything they could for me.”
“Now that everything is done, it’s like a miracle,” Susan said. “For the most part, I feel like they’re my own breasts. No one can tell I’ve had reconstructive surgery. I can wear a low-cut dress and feel completely comfortable. Of course I worry about the possibility of the cancer coming back some day, but I don’t worry about something not working, or having to have another surgery because the implants failed. The surgeons at The Polyclinic really focused on me as an individual. I feel very lucky. For me, microsurgery was a great choice and I had a great team.”