Lynette Angers was just 25
when breast cancer struck. But after she made the choices she had to in order to save her life, she couldn't make peace with her body... until, that is, a groundbreaking new procedure helped her look-and feel-like the woman she'd always been.
As Lynette Angers drew back the shower curtain, the steam clouding the mirror melted into pearls of water like tears.
And with a gasp, she turned away from her reflection. She couldn't bear to look at herself now that her body had changed-now that everything had changed. Will I ever feel like a woman again? the young mom thought sadly.
Just a few months before, Lynette and her husband, Stuart, had watched Fourth of July fireworks exploding in the New Iberia, Louisiana, sky. They'd had a perfect day-six-year-old Amanda chased butterflies and six-month-old Justin splashed in the kiddie pool. Now the children were fast asleep, and a tired Lynette yawned, "I'm off to bed, too."
"No good-night kiss?" Stuart teased, pulling her close. But as he did, his hand grazed something hard.
"Lynette," he frowned. "You have a lump."
A bolt of fear struck Lynette. But it can't be cancer, she told herself. I'm only 25. And there's no family history "Maybe it's a clogged milk duct." Still, Lynette made an appointment with her doctor immediately.
"Your mammogram looks suspicious," he said, running through her options if it was cancer: mastectomy... radiation... chemotherapy.
Suddenly all the colors in Lynette's world faded to gray. I can't leave my children without a mother, she thought. And I promised Stuart we'd grow old together! "I want the most aggressive treatment possible," she blurted.
And after tests confirmed it was cancer, that meant a mastectomy to remove the 1.4 centimeter tumor, then chemotherapy. But the doctor assured her immediate reconstruction was possible. And what choice do I have? she thought.
That evening, Lynette cuddled Amanda. "Mommy has to have surgery but she's going to be okay."
But after surgery the news wasn't good: because three lymph nodes tested positive, they had to leave open the option of radiation- and that meant no reconstruction yet.
Tears spilled down Lynette's cheeks. It's worse than they'd suspected, she realized. What if I die? Would little Justin even remember me?
And though she knew she was fighting for her life, Lynette couldn't help but stare in horror at the flatness where her breast used to be. "You're still beautiful," Stuart whispered tenderly.
But Lynette didn't feel beautiful-being shapely had always been part of who she was. And she liked that Stuart admired her cleavage. What kind of woman am I now? She cried.
When chemotherapy made Lynette's hair fall out, the family had a hat party parading around in turbans and berets. But try as she might, Lynette could not make peace with her body.
She tried wearing a prosthesis, but it was uncomfortable. And one day at aerobics, it slipped out, landing with a squishy thud. Giggling nervously, Lynette snatched it up and closed her eyes, wishing she could go back in time, back to when she felt whole.
Finally, after six rounds of chemotherapy, the doctor announced, "There's no evidence of cancer left!"
Thank You, God! Lynette rejoiced. And in that moment, she knew it was time to put her life-and her body-back together.
But there wasn't a definite answer. There were implants, and a procedure called a TRAM flap, where fat and muscle from the abdomen are used to create a new breast. Implants could rupture, but the surgery used in the TRAM flap might lead to hernias and lifelong muscle weakness and pain.
To Lynette, it seemed simpler-and safer-to opt for implants. But it took two surgeries: one to put in a tissue expander, and a second to insert the implant as well as lift and reduce her other breast to match-and yet, it still didn't feel... normal.
"This isn't a breast," Lynette sobbed to Stuart. "It's just a ball on my chest!"
And just a few months later, Lynette felt an achiness in her reconstructed breast and looked down to see red dots: a sign of infection.
My body's rejecting the implant! Lynette realized. with a gasp. Her doctors tried to fix it with antibiotics. and two more surgeries, but they finally had to remove it.
Lynette knew how lucky -she was to be given a second chance at life. But is it asking too much to feel feminine again? she implored.
Then one day her surgeon told her about the latest breakthrough in reconstruction- the DIEP flap: "Though it uses a woman's own skin and fat like the TRAM flap, it doesn't require cutting the muscle-meaning less pain and fewer abdominal problems," he said, scribbling a website address on a slip of paper.
So the second she walked through the door, Lynette logged on to www.diepflap.com. The more she read, the more excited she got. Soon she and Stuart were in the office of Louisiana State University Chief of Plastic Surgery Robert Allen, M.D.
"The DIEP flap is ground-breaking because we dissect just one artery and vein from the abdominal muscle-not the muscle itself-to nourish the new breast until its own blood vessels grow," Dr. Allen explained. "It's kind of like a bonus tummy tuck, and the results are so natural that if you gain or lose weight, the breast changes with you. And best of all, since it's belly fat, the cancer isn't likely to return."
And when Lynette heard that there was a 99% success rate, she blurted, "I'll do it!"
This time after surgery she lifted one trembling hand-and felt a second breast as soft and warm as her first! "Look," she smiled at Stuart. "I have cleavage again!" And within a week, she was back to grocery shopping and playing with the kids. As she moved, her breast moved with her. And to her amazement, sensation returned. It's as if it's been a part of me forever! Lynette rejoiced.
Eight months later, she underwent two minor procedures to reconstruct her nipple and tattoo the tip. It looks so real, she marveled. This is nothing short of a miracle!
Today, it's been three years since Lynette's diagnosis, and she remains cancer-free. Every day feels like a gift waiting to be unwrapped. And now, as the whole family builds sandcastles on the beach, Lynette can't help but feel happy about one more thing: the way she looks in her swimsuit!
"God gave me the strength to handle everything!" Lynette beams. "Thanks to Dr. Allen, I have my body back. And I feel beautiful inside and out again."
Woman's World Volume 21, Number 32, August 8, 2000