FOX 26 brought you the difficult news months ago that our friend and colleague, Andrea Watkins, was taking some time off to fight breast cancer. She finished her chemotherapy treatments and is now recovering from breast reconstruction. It's a difficult process that she wanted to share with you, to help others return to normalcy after cancer treatment.
We often follow cancer patients and their families through similar situations, and it's always difficult to witness what people go through. It was even more difficult to watch someone we've known for years suffer through difficult times. Andrea has done it with strength and style and is an incredible example for us all. She's handle it like a lady with a capital L!
One thing Andrea will tell you that has made a huge difference for her - is her support system. We've watched her husband, Severo, hold her hand or wrap his arms around her, during every appointment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and there are a lot of appointments that often last all day long! Andrea also relied on her two young sons to add some laughter in her life. From what we've witnessed, an inner strength also seems to help Andrea through the tough times.
We were intrigued to watch Andrea with her doctors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was able to play the role of a professional reporter, while we knew all too well that she was also a patient in pain. Conversations with her doctors seemed to be as much about helping others learn from her situation, than just information about her own cancer and recovery.
Here's an example of one of Andrea's conversations:
"I'm going to guess, Dr. Crosby, that when most patients find out they have cancer, they think about the mastectomy and think about whether or not they're going to need chemotherapy, but not how extensive the reconstruction is", asks Andrea. "You're right! A lot of patients don't really know their options for breast reconstruction," says Dr. Melissa Crosby.
Andrea says she feels relieved to have such a loving and caring doctor. At one point, Dr. Crosby's eyes filled with tears, as she told Andrea that she too gets emotional about what her patients are going through. Dr. Crosby is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and specializes in complex reconstructive surgery in cancer patients.
We quickly learned, there are a lot of options for reconstruction and that can catch many patients off-guard. "Obviously depending upon cancer treatment will depend upon how fast that process goes, there's really no typical cancer," explains Dr. Crosby. Some patients opt for no reconstruction, while others undergo reconstruction using their own tissue, and some like Andrea, opt for implants. M.D. Anderson's Center for Reconstructive Surgery can handle it all.
Even though Andrea's cancer was found in just one breast, she chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. " I just felt like I didn't want to deal with it if something happened on the other side and go through the whole thing all over again." Her doctors says that's a common decision these days. Andrea says suspicious cells in the other breast helped seal her decision to be free from it all, with a double mastectomy.
Andrea underwent months of tissue expansion to help stretch her skin for implants. There are many options, and she feels the safest for her is saline. If a treatment plan is in place "before" surgery, Dr. Crosby says they can place expanders at the time of mastectomy, but expanders cannot be placed until radiation treatments are completed. While Andrea's doctor wants to help bring a sense of normalcy back to her life, there's MORE to the mission. "Our goal here is to cure you of cancer! That's the ultimate goal with this. I'm very part of the positive end of survivorship, because I can recreate what cancer has taken away from you," says Dr. Crosby.
Dr. Crosby explained to Andrea that while she's able to recreate breasts, she cannot recreate everything. "The breasts that I make do not have sensation, and sensation is very important for many women for many reasons. There are also complications with any surgery that you have, and I would tell you the complications are the same in the breast that has cancer as the one that doesn't," explains Dr. Crosby.
Dr. Crosby encouraged Andrea, telling her she's going to be a survivor. "Other than getting cured from cancer, I think breast reconstruction is a positive end for patients and something to look forward to as well," says Dr. Crosby.
It helps patients feel whole again and Andrea says it's nice not to have to worry about this aspect of her appearance.
Andrea has final reconstructive surgery in May and she says she feels great and is thrilled to have the whole cancer ordeal in the past. The next big thing is debuting her real hair again, so stay tuned to FOX 26 News for that!