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Plastic Surgery and Breast Cancer

Sunday, October 10, 2010

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

I know a little something about plastic surgery and breast cancer. After 10 breast cancer surgeries, I’ve become well-versed in lumpectomies, mastectomies, DIEP Flap reconstruction, tissue expanders, silicone gel implants, nipple reconstruction, chemo ports, plus surgery to repair a wandering implant that dropped midway between where it should have been and my navel. I’ve also learned cosmetic surgery is not as important as treating your cancer. While looking good is part of the healing process, it’s more important to kill those cancer cells first than it is to have a great pair of tits. <PREVIEWEND>

While each surgical procedure is fraught with it’s own down sides and recovery time, each of those surgeries, plus anesthesia, takes a toll on your immune system. Some surgeries are more difficult than others, but even if you’re doing better than you thought you would, don’t push yourself. Be conservative and follow your surgeon’s instructions. Just because you’re sure you can lean down and pick up Fido… If it’s not on the surgeon’s list of things you can do…. Don’t do it!

Breast cancer surgery is not my first encounter with plastic surgery. Fifteen years ago I met a well-known soap opera star through a mutual friend. I knew she’d had a facelift, and the results were fabulous! I don’t mean it was one of those facelifts where you say, “She’s had work done, but ‘it’ looks really good.” This was in another category entirely. Other than looking like she’d been on a relaxing vacation, maybe to a spa, and come back ultra refreshed, you couldn’t tell she’d had anything done, except she looked better than ever. No tightness anywhere, plus it wasn’t one of those facelifts that tried to make her look like she did 10 years ago. I felt like the woman at the table next to Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally, who tells the waiter, “I’ll have some of what she’s having.” I promptly got the name of the soap star’s surgeon and beat a path to his la-de-da Beverly Hills door.

Just his outer office was worth the price of a consultation. It was lined with everything from young women with goldfish lips to old women in wheelchairs, wearing their granddaughter’s face and short shorts. Some were there hoping the super star surgeon could fix bad surgical procedures done by other plastic surgeons. There were women who’s eyelids didn’t close, or who now looked Chinese, and some looked like squirrels who’d stuffed one too many nuts into both sides of their cheeks.

As I look back on that day in the surgeon’s office in Beverly Hills, I realize I didn’t need anything done to my face—then. Even the surgeon discouraged me from having anything done, so I didn’t. Now, 15 years later, I have jowls that hang, a droopy forehead and creases around my lips, but I’ve had enough plastic surgery, on my breasts, to last a lifetime. My face will just have to stay the way it is.

The other day I saw an old friend who said, “It’s good to see you.” Without missing a beat, I replied, “It’s good to be seen.” I’m not sure she got my drift, but 10 breast cancer surgeries have rearranged my priorities. I realize perfect breasts, or the face I once had, are not as important as being healthy. Unfortunately, part of aging is looking in the mirror and realizing you’re not that foxy chick you once were and coming to terms with the woman staring back at you. Part of being a breast cancer survivor is realizing there are things more important, things like being alive and healthy and here to enjoy life. We need to see ourselves with different eyes and value the woman we've become. We can choose to judge ourselves and others by our physical attributes, or we can appreciate the depth, wisdom and character we've accumulated that we didn't have when we were younger.

If I’m to be honest, however, this doesn’t mean I don’t wish for my younger face. Maybe I’ll just become one of those women who draws their lip line well outside their aging, shrunken lips in an attempt to make them appear younger and fuller and more voluptuous again. What do you think? Am I ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille?

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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 11-Oct-2010 04:47 AM
Brenda, thanks for making me smile about what is a very serious issue. You have shown a way to bring things into perspective.
Anonymous commented on 11-Oct-2010 06:43 AM
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make yourself beautiful or wanting to feel better about yourself.Just make sure you are happy with who you are on the inside, because the outside can change at a moment's notice

Anonymous commented on 11-Oct-2010 09:43 AM
Reading this post certainly brought me a few chuckles. I, too, have had a few surgeries and still have a few more to go on the reconstruction road. Breast cancer can really cause body image issues and it does seem to age us (well, me at least) a bit. It can be frightening to look in the mirror. It also makes us appreciate all the things that really matter. Well, I'm off to see my plastic surgeon. (yes, really). Oh, nice lips!
Anonymous commented on 11-Oct-2010 09:35 PM
So insightful and true. I'm 36 and had a mastectomy last December. I consulted with a plastic surgeon back in May, and she said she could do a decent job by December of this year or a great job by June of 2011. Wow! What a long time to wait, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Not only to give my body time to heal from chemo and radiation, but to give my mind time to wrap around what I've been through. Looking good is not nearly as important as feeling good and being healthy. Thanks for a great post.
Anonymous commented on 12-Oct-2010 02:23 PM
Be an honored guest and join Dr. Patrick I. Borgen, Director of the Brooklyn Breast Cancer Program, for an evening to benefit the Brooklyn Breast Cancer Program at Maimonides Medical Center. Taking place, Thursday October 21, 2010, at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway), the event will begin at 6:00 PM with cocktails, light supper, and a gallery tour, followed by a delightful program at 7:30 PM. Special recognition will be paid to breast cancer activists, Stewart Krentzman and Sandra van den Broek. Put on your festive business attire and come be a part of a great evening and an important cause. Don’t forget to jazz up with some PINK! For information about sponsorship opportunities or ticket pricing please contact the Benefit Office at 212.675.9474 (ext 14), or:
Anonymous commented on 12-Oct-2010 07:08 PM
Hi Cheryl,
Thinking about you and wondering how your week's shaping up.

Anonymous commented on 15-Oct-2010 06:55 AM
Hello again Brenda
There appears to be something going on, increasing fatigue is becoming more of a problem. See my regular doctor Tuesday and feel I will ask for a couple of tests, including C Reactive Protein. Almost feels like there is something going on at a cellular level. Not sure what, but things don't feel right and I believe intuition works well for me.
Still hoping we may, one day, get something going with Skype. Like most things, I am continuing to work on new laptop with webcam etc for ease of communication.
Wishing you a basket full of wellness. Love Cheryl xoxo
Anonymous commented on 15-Oct-2010 01:46 PM
I'm glad you have a doctor's appointment. By "regular doctor" do you mean your oncologist? In reading your blog posts, I realize just how much grief you're still carrying with you over losing Ray, as well as the new life you find yourself in.

Have you been treated for depression? It's hard enough coping with any one of these things, but add breast cancer and the aftereffects of Jeremy's death as well.... You have a lot to deal with. Please make yourself front and center and find those who will help you do that.

Anonymous commented on 17-Oct-2010 02:45 PM
Thank you, Brenda. Your 10 breast surgeries make my 2 pale in comparison. For an upbeat, informative breast cancer blog, visit

Blessings to YOU!
Anonymous commented on 19-Oct-2010 01:27 PM
What you're enduring with your breast cancer battle is more important than the number of surgeries I've had. Mine are in the past, and yours sound like they're ongoing, for a while. Just the fact that you've heard those words, "You Have Cancer," makes your fight as important and relevant as every person who's heard those same words.

Keep fighting; keep smiling; keep trying to pick up those dimes.
Anonymous commented on 21-Oct-2010 05:00 AM
Just reading this post brought tears to my eyes. I don't know how to express my feelings about this post, because I so agree with it. I was a very vain person and I think I still am a bit. I wanted everything done. Thanks god that I hadn't had the money to do so back then. But now that I think I'm sick. I would want nothing more, Absolutely nothing more, just to have my old, healthy self back. Nothing in this whole universe can replace healthiness.
Anonymous commented on 21-Oct-2010 12:50 PM
Cosmetic Surgery,
There's nothing like a crisis, or a serious illness, to put things in perspective for us. I think that's one of the gifts we receive in exchange for the heartbreak. This new awareness can't bring back the loss of a child, a loved one, even the knowledge our own time here is limited. It can give us insights that create a ripple effect in the lives of those around us, helping them to realize what matters most as well.

Don't be hard on yourself because you wanted to look better or younger. We all want that. I sometimes think I would do it in a heartbeat if I could be guaranteed I wouldn't wind up looking like another species, then I watched the movie, "Letters to Juliet."

Completely without makeup or perfectly coiffed hair, Vanessa Redgrave is a stark and stunning reminder of authentic beauty. Somewhere in her 70s, Redgrave hasn't had plastic surgery or Botox. Put her in a room with the plastic surgery women, and there's no comparison. She is an elegant, timeless benchmark by which we should judge feminine beauty.
Anonymous commented on 26-Oct-2010 01:16 PM
I've never gone through a mastectomy (just the lumpectomies), but I can relate to this post. It's a good reminder when I distress about the bags under my eyes or someone asks me if I'm a grandma. Who cares? Being alive, present and geniuine is what's truly beautiful. Like you!
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 10:52 PM
Brenda, I met you on the Komen walk in HOuston and received one of your cards for your website. I mentioned that my sister has been battling breast cancer as well over the past year and that she has been developing a website for greeting cards for cancer patients and their loved ones to inspire and encourage and part of the proceeds are going to be going to help cancer patients with their bills as well as for continued research. If you get the chance please check out her website It was wonderful meeting you on the walk and think it is wonderful that you have this site!! Sincerely, Martha
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 10:54 PM
Hi Brenda, I met you during the Houston Susan G Komen Walk on Oct 2nd. It was very nice to meet you. I mentioned to you the Love/Avon Army of Women. It is a great organization. I am the organizer for Georgia. Please feel free to visit their website We are trying to sign up 1 million women so they are sent emails only about research studies where women are needed for studies about finding the cause of breast cancer. We certainly have made great strides in 25 years regarding a cure but isn't it about time we try to find the cause? I'd like to see my granddaughters and daughters grow up without this horrible disease. Let's go beyond the cure and find out the cause. Thanks for letting me share this wonderful organization with you. Linda Moutray
Anonymous commented on 06-Nov-2010 04:45 PM
you make me smile...
Anonymous commented on 06-Nov-2010 04:46 PM
You are beautiful just the way you are - I know James is proud of you as are the people who know what you've been through. You came out a winner - don"t try to improve that. Hugs
Anonymous commented on 06-Nov-2010 04:52 PM
Your passion and desire to help Breast cancer patients is amazing. Are you Bonnie Coffee's daughter? I am wondering how you got my email. I went to high school with Bonnie and I seem to remember that her daughter went through breast cancer. Thank you for your response. My wife teaches breast cancer seminars and I am intrigued by your web site.
Jim Casper
Anonymous commented on 06-Nov-2010 04:55 PM
You are so supportive. Thank you, sweet lady. You are a role model for all of us. I hope I'm half as beautiful, interesting and interested in the world as you are.

Anonymous commented on 09-Nov-2010 02:34 PM
Where does your wife teach breast cancer seminars & what topics does she cover?

I am friends w/a Bonnie Coffey from MacArthur HS. Actually, I'm seeing her this weekend. Wondering if it's the same Bonnie Coffee?

Thank you for checking out my website & blog. Do you or your wife have any suggestions as to how I can make it better & more comprehensive? Would appreciate your input.


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