Linda Phetphongsy is still trying to adjust to life with breast implants, though she welcomes the peace of mind they bring her.
“I feel great, and I don’t have to worry as much about getting breast cancer,” she says.
The 32-year-old mother of two underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction last year after learning that she has a BRCA1 gene mutation, which puts her at increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Linda inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation from her mother, who had cancer three times -- breast cancer in 2003, ovarian cancer in 2013, followed by an ovarian cancer recurrence in 2014. Her mom died of ovarian cancer in May 2016.
“We lost my mom to cancer when she was in her late 50s, and I don’t want that to happen to my kids,” she says.
Taking control of a BRCA1 mutation
When Linda’s mom died, she’d already begun talking with Nicole Fleming, M.D., her mother’s doctor at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, about what she could do to reduce her own chances of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Fleming recommended a double mastectomy and eventually a hysterectomy.
Linda quickly scheduled up an appointment with breast surgeon Makesha Miggins, M.D., to learn more about her options.
“I decided to go ahead and do a mastectomy first after speaking with Dr. Miggins,” she says. “My mother had just passed, so at the time, it felt right. I wanted to do everything I can do to avoid getting cancer.”
In August 2016, Linda underwent a double mastectomy. During the six-hour surgery, Miggins removed nearly all of Linda’s breast tissue while Victor Hassid, M.D., inserted a tissue expander to keep her skin stretched until breast reconstruction surgery.
“The pain didn’t last as long as I thought it would. I pretty much expected the worst because I watched so many YouTube videos, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be,” she says.
Four months later, Linda had her breast reconstruction surgery. Hassid replaced the tissue expander with breast implants then added a little bit of fat from Linda’s belly to fill out extra space in her left breast.
Life after a double mastectomy
Though she’s completely recovered from the three-hour surgery, Linda’s not yet fully used to her implants.
“I still don’t feel like they’re my breasts,” she says. “I have no feeling in the middle part of my breasts, and they definitely look different. My nipples get hard by themselves, and I won’t even be cold. I’m still getting used to wearing a bra.”
But she’s grateful for the support she received from her care team.
“Dr. Miggins and Dr. Hassid did an excellent job, and their team -- they’re awesome,” she says. “They were just so caring. They walked me through the entire process and they explained everything to me. They took all my concerns into consideration.”
Next up: a hysterectomy
Linda’s only halfway done with her cancer prevention journey. She plans to undergo a hysterectomy within the next two years. She says people often ask her why she’s decided to take such radical measures if she’s never been diagnosed with cancer.
Her response is simple: “It’s different when you have children. I want to be at their wedding, walk them down the aisle,” she says. “We kind of lost out on that with my mother. I don’t want my children to have to deal with that.”
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