Deborah Gleason - Patient Story

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"Fox Chase is a real treasure in the Philadelphia area. I know it was the best place for me."

— Deborah Gleason, Breast Patient

I have a family history of breast cancer on my mother’s side so I took very seriously my own risk for developing breast cancer. I performed monthly self-exams and got annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

When I discovered a lump in my left breast at age 49 in 2000, I immediately went to a community hospital for a diagnosis. A breast surgeon performed a lumpectomy and a quadrantectomy to remove about one-quarter of my breast around the site of the tumor, and I was fine until 2010 when I once again felt a lump, this time in my right breast.

I decided at that point to undergo genetic testing, which showed I do not have the genetic markers for breast cancer. That was great news. On further reflection, however, I knew I didn’t want to wake up worrying about breast cancer every day of my life. My husband, Ellis, and I discussed my options, and we agreed that my best choice would be a double mastectomy. My oncologist referred me to a surgeon in Lehigh Valley, PA.

During the lymph node dissection procedure, the plastic surgeon inserted two expanders to assist with creating implants that would be filled with saline. Unfortunately, I later developed staph infections from the expanders, which led to pain and several rounds of antibiotics. I decided to have the expanders removed so that I could heal both physically and emotionally; I wanted to be done with the infections and running from doctor to doctor. The scars healed and I felt better, but the pain of losing my breasts was in the mirror each day.

I decided to undergo breast reconstruction surgery about 10 months later. I did my own research and made an appointment with a plastic surgeon in Montgomery County, PA. I had by then developed lymphedema in my right arm due to the previous lymph node dissection, and therapy was not helping. The plastic surgeon didn’t feel qualified to perform the procedure given that history and referred me to Fox Chase Cancer Center.

At Fox Chase I met with Dr. Sameer A. Patel, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. From the initial meeting with Dr. Patel, I realized what a caring and wonderful doctor he is. I told him that I had learned about lymph node transfer, which transfers healthy lymph nodes from one part of the body to replace damaged or missing ones, and that I hoped I was a candidate for the procedure.  He explained more about the surgery and assured me that I would be OK.

In December 2013, he performed breast reconstruction, by a TRAM flap, using tissue from my abdomen. At the same time, he also did a lymph node transfer. After the nine-hour surgery, I went home with six drains and started feeling better as the weeks went by. I also started to realize that I had made the right choice. I felt like a woman again when I looked in the mirror, and I had my confidence back. A big bonus was that the lymphedema in my right arm started decreasing. My husband and I were thrilled with the results.

I am a registered nurse, and I have been around doctors and surgeons for years. I am grateful to Dr. Patel and Matt, his physician assistant. Fox Chase is blessed to have them both. I tend to get emotional when I talk about Dr. Patel and Matt, simply because, in our eyes, they have worked miracles.

In 2015, at age 65, I returned to my full-time position as a manager for a third-party worker’s compensation firm. Our family is everything to us. Our blended family now includes five children, 11 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

I urge women who need breast reconstruction and who may have developed lymphedema to inform themselves about their options. A place like Fox Chase has all the state-of-the-art treatments and the surgeons who can offer them. It is a real treasure in the Philadelphia area, and I know it was the best place for me.

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