Taking the Lead: Microsurgical reconstruction after breast cancer

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Keeping up with Lulu de Panbehchi in the Virginia Commonwealth University language lab is no easy task.  The Spanish professor makes her rounds, connecting with students in each row of computers.

De Panbehchi was diagnosed with breast cancer in both 2011 and 2012, but her energy and spirit stand.

“I do not miss my old boobs,” she says with vigor.  “They were sick, so goodbye!”

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De Panbehchi had a double mastectomy and focused on getting well while she considered her options for three years.  In May 2015, the wife and mother opted for microsurgical reconstruction using her own fat and tissue.

“Probably this is the dream of every woman to take my belly and put it up here,” she gestures to her breasts.  “And I think that’s what Dr. Kale did.”

Dr. Santosh Kale at VCU Massey Cancer Center specializes in this type of surgery.  While it used to involve removing muscle, he says technology has now made it possible only to take tissue and fat from most women for a more natural result.

“What the patient’s breast looked like prior to the mastectomy,” Dr. Kale describes.

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Those natural results are why microsurgical breast reconstruction is appealing to many patients, and it does not have the ten-year shelf-life implants have.

“For the most part, once they are finished with the surgery, they’re finished,” says Dr. Kale.

Adds de Panbehchi, “When you have about eight surgeries, minor and major surgeries, you start thinking about how many more surgeries will I need?”

Now that the cancer is behind her, de Panbehchi can focus on teaching and photography, one of her biggest loves.  When she looks in the mirror, she also loves what she sees.

“I was happy to have options,” says de Panbehchi.  “Nothing that is not mine is on my body, and everything that was taken from myself, every single flesh I have is me.  So I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.”

Recovery from microsurgical reconstruction is longer.  Dr. Kale says a patient can expect to stay one or two extra days in the hospital.  Recovery at home takes about four to six weeks, compared to the three weeks for patients who choose implants.

Dr. Kale says microsurgical reconstruction is covered by insurance.

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