When Benilda Ariz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, her focus at the time was on surviving. But two years later, her focus switched to returning to her ‘old self’ again.
That meant undergoing breast reconstruction surgery. As a Registered Nurse at The Scarborough Hospital (TSH), Benilda knew her options. But for many women, simply surviving is the end of their breast cancer treatment.
“Less than 20 per cent of women who have undergone mastectomies as part of their breast cancer treatment elect to have breast reconstruction surgery,” says Dr. Sarah Wong, a Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeon at TSH.
Most women are unaware of their options or they don’t know reconstruction surgery can be part of their treatment. TSH’s Plastic Surgeons Breast Reconstruction Group aims to increase awareness by participating in events such as Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, as well the group plans to hold regular information sessions.
Benilda has met with several of Dr. Wong’s patients to share her experience and answer their questions. Her journey began in April 2009 with her diagnosis and moved quickly to surgery and chemotherapy. She always knew reconstruction would be part of her treatment, but her primary focus at that stage was healing.
“At first, I wore a prosthetic, but I wasn’t happy about it,” she says. “I didn’t like my body.”
In February 2011, Dr. Wong and TSH’s team of breast reconstruction surgeons performed a specialized microsurgery on Benilda called a DIEP free flap. This type of reconstruction uses a portion of the abdomen to reconstruct the breast while preserving muscle function.
“We are the only community hospital in Ontario to offer this type of reconstruction to women,” says Dr. Wong. “We’re proud to be able to offer this gold standard of care to our patients right here in their own community.”
Dr. Wong, along with Drs. Timothy Sproule, Sandra Voice, and Narayanan Nandagopal, work as a team to perform the micro reconstruction surgery in just four hours compared with six to seven hours at other sites. They are also able to offer care to Scarborough’s diverse population in English, Cantonese and Tamil.
Today, Benilda is doing well and she feels great. She believes it’s important to share her experience to raise awareness so women know they have options when it comes to reconstruction. Benilda said many women are hesitant to undergo another surgery after surviving cancer, but the care she received from Dr. Wong and the team put her at ease. She is glad to feel like herself again.
“It was a very positive experience for me,” Benilda says. “It changed my life and I was able to get my ‘old self’ back.”