Center for Microsurgical Breast Reconstruction

Living fully after Breast Cancer

Survivor Deals With Chemotherapy, Reconstructive Breast Surgery

May 2014 | Libby Wiersema

As I gathered up the children and our things, I was determined not to feel this kind of humiliation again."

The idea of more surgery was still distasteful to Hobson, but she began to feel an undeniable yearning to "feel whole" once again. Then, a co-worker alerted her about an article she had read about a new procedure.

"The article was from the 'Morning News' and it told about a new breast reconstruction surgery that a former Florence doctor was performing," said Hobson. "This procedure, called a DIEP-flap, was supposed to be less painful and traumatic to the body because it preserves the muscles. This was exactly what I had been seeking, and I was so excited to read about it. Finally, I got up the nerve to call."

Within no time, Hobson was discussing the procedure with Dr. Robert Allen himself, the man who pioneered the innovative reconstruction process. A native of Florence who currently practices in New Orleans, Allen made international medical headlines recently when he performed the first-ever twin-to-twin breast reconstruction by taking tissue from the abdomen of one woman, and from it forming a new breast for her identical twin sister.

Normally, the DIEP-flap surgery involves creating a breast from the cancer patient's own tissue that is excised from the abdomen. It's a procedure that is gaining in popularity with women across the world who like the idea of getting a "tummy tuck" along with a new breast.

Though this certainly appealed to Hobson, the pain factor was still one of the most prominent issues.

"Dr. Allen explained that my abdominal wall muscles would not be as traumatized as they would be with the usual breast reconstruction procedure," she said. "He said I would have a quicker recovery, less pain, a shorter hospital stay, and a smaller chance of complications. So, I signed on, so to speak, and we arranged for him to come to South Carolina. I wanted that surgery!"

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, Hobson received a newly formed breast under the capable hands of Dr. Allen and his assistants at East Cooper Regional Medical Center near Charleston. Within five days, she was recuperating comfortably in her own bed in Florence.

"What a remarkable experience," she said from her home on Monday. "The first thing I thought after it was over was 'Where's my belly?' The pain is not at all bad. In fact, I feel pretty good. But, what I feel best about, aside from having a new breast, is that Dr. Allen, the man who knows this procedure so well, performed it on me. He is a very human doctor, with the kindest, youngest eyes I've ever seen. Never once did he make me feel like a number. I feel truly honored that he was my surgeon."

While Hobson heals, plans are being made to complete the natural look of her breast sometime in December. A nipple will be fashioned from a piece of rib cartilage, and an area plastic surgeon will actually tattoo an areola around it. Hobson is amazed by the technology that has made it possible for her to have the next best thing to her own breast.

"It's all my tissue, and I feel so good about that," she said.

With her ordeal about to be completely behind her, she finds that humor has also been a great healer.

"I've had to kid about it, or be totally depressed," she said. "In fact, my friends and I have been laughing about the fact that I have named my new breast. Since I was in the Charleston vicinity for my surgery during the raising of the Hunley, I've named it 'Miss Hunley.' They raised a sub, Dr. Allen helped me raise a breast."

I've had to kid about it, or be totally depressed. Susan Hobson