Reconstruction for men: There should be no difference
Stu Wein, 71, lives in Florida with his wife Susan. Five and a half years ago, Stu was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes. He had a mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy.
After the surgery Stu experienced cramping, pain, and near-constant numbness along the scar line. He attended the Male Breast Cancer Coalition conference, a convention for men diagnosed with breast cancer, where he learned that reconstruction might help get rid of the pain and numbness. Stu spoke to Living Beyond Breast Cancer content coordinator Madison Hughes about his experience. He completed reconstruction just 4 weeks ago.
Why was getting reconstruction important to you?
Since my mastectomy, I have experienced numbness, terrible cramping, and pain at the surgical site, along the scar line. Very uncomfortable, probably numb 24/7, always numb.
I met with a surgeon from Texas at the convention. And he told me that if we go ahead and do one of two procedures that involved moving body fat to the scar site, that might relieve the symptoms that I was having.
I took it to heart. We returned home from the convention, and we thought that maybe we would make a trip to Texas to have it taken care of. But since I’m being treated by Cleveland Clinic Florida, I decided to meet with their plastic surgeon and my regular surgeon to see what my options were.
The surgeon told me what was discussed at the convention, the fat replacement, was one option. But he suggested going one step further and having a latissimus-muscle flap reconstruction, where they take a portion of the back muscle, the latissimus muscle, and they move it around to the front, up under the armpit after removing all the scar tissue. Basically, they do another mastectomy by cleaning out the area and replacing it with the muscle from my back. And he said the chances of my symptoms being relieved were probably 95 to 100 percent.
I had the surgery done about 4 weeks ago, and I can already tell that it’s a success. I mean, I have very little if any numbness — only because I still have some swelling and some fluid — but I can already tell it’s a success.
I also had the reconstruction part of it, where the indentation in my chest from the mastectomy was filled in with the muscle, and now my chest is even across left and right. It’s a fabulous procedure.
It wasn’t so much the reconstruction that was important, the reconstruction came along with the relief from the symptoms that I was having. I wasn’t concerned about the reconstruction, I was concerned about getting rid of the numbness, and the cramping, and the pain that I was experiencing all the time. And the reconstruction was just a benefit.
What reconstruction options did your doctor offer?
When I was diagnosed and had my mastectomy 5 years ago, the choice of reconstruction was never even discussed by my surgeon or my oncologist. I found out probably 4 months ago at the convention that reconstruction therapy was available.
Now I’m a member of an organization, The Male Breast Cancer Coalition, and you’d be surprised: I talk to other members in the group and reconstruction is never discussed with men. It’s a shame, because there should be no difference between my sisters who have breast cancer and my brothers. We should all be treated the same way.
And oddly enough, talking to my oncologist after the surgery, he says he never even knew it was available to men. It’s frustrating to say the least.
What was your experience like?
The experience was great. I mean, it was not done as outpatient, I spent two nights in the hospital at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida. And it was a success. There was a little discomfort after because there’s a large buildup of fluids. In fact, it’s been 4 weeks and I still have one drain in, which hopefully should be removed this week. But the experience itself was not bad. There was no pain whatsoever with the surgery.
And the surgeon was thrilled to do the surgery. He believes that many men need the surgery, but they’re not advised they can get it.
Do you have any lingering questions about reconstruction? What are they?
I don’t really have any questions, everything pretty much worked out as I expected, or the way that I hoped. The downtime was minimal. I’m back pretty much to a regular schedule. My strength is back about 95 percent after the surgery. I mean, I really couldn’t have asked for more.
Stu Wein, 71, lives in south Florida. He was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2014 and is a member of The Male Breast Cancer Coalition.
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