When Kathleen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she knew the recovery process would be difficult – but she didn’t anticipate her complications. She underwent a nipple-sparing bilateral mastectomy, which failed. Her nipples could not be preserved, and her areolas had become severely asymmetrical. The breast surgeon left Kathleen with a serious dilemma. Though her first plastic surgeon gave her breasts a wonderful shape, he did not administer fat injections to soften their appearance. Instead, he referred Kathleen to Dr. Mustoe because of his reputation among the region’s reconstructive plastic surgeons.
A nurse by trade, Kathleen says she tends to develop collaborative and close relationships with her physicians – so she was initially apprehensive about starting from scratch with a new plastic surgeon in Chicago. Still, she managed to maintain her optimism. “I trusted my plastic surgeon to send me to the best,” she says.
Though Kathleen did some research prior to meeting Dr. Mustoe, it was her initial consultation with him that sealed the deal. “I’m not afraid to be a strong advocate for myself and my health. Dr. Mustoe very quickly gained my confidence. He let me know that he was partnered with me.”
A Return to Normalcy
Like many breast cancer survivors, Kathleen had plenty of experience with doctors who didn’t understand that her breast reconstruction wasn’t just about looks. “Dr. Mustoe understood that, for me, breast reconstruction wasn’t about vanity – it was about normalcy. He never made me feel like my need to feel ‘normal’ was unreasonable. He provided me with a realistic picture about what he could accomplish, and he exceeded my expectations.”
Kathleen continued as a patient of Dr. Mustoe for more than a year, undergoing a total of 5 reconstructive procedures before achieving her ideal result. Dr. Mustoe adjusted the asymmetrical areolas and grafted new nipples and areolas using skin harvested from Kathleen’s hips. Dr. Mustoe and his staff, Kathleen says, were there every step of the way. “His nursing and office staff are phenomenal. When I called with questions, I was never made to feel like my questions were unimportant or that I was taking up their time. They were empathetic to my concerns, and they addressed my questions fully.”
After one of the procedures, Kathleen suffered a skin reaction to her dressings. “It was scary,” she says. “I have a history of infection after surgeries, so the large blisters that developed were very alarming.” She emailed Dr. Mustoe photos of the reaction, and received a prompt reply. “He quickly put me at ease,” she says. “He told me it wasn’t an infection, and he was right. We addressed it at my appointment the following Tuesday.”
Though her reaction wasn’t serious, Dr. Mustoe told Kathleen that she had done the right thing by contacting him. That kind of attention, she says, is just as rare as it is valuable. “I never felt like I was doing this alone.”
“The Best I’ve Ever Seen”
Today, 56 year-old Kathleen is thrilled with her results. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am,” says Kathleen. “Dr. Mustoe took a bad situation and made me look completely normal.” At a recent appointment with a nationally-recognized areola tattooist, the artist mentioned how impressed he was with her results. “He said my reconstructed areolas and nipples were the best he’d ever seen, and that the shape and cleavage were great.” Others have taken notice, too. “I just saw my oncologist, and she couldn’t get over how real my areolas and nipples looked. She just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe how great they look.'”
Dr. Mustoe encouraged Kathleen’s husband to be a part of the process, and welcomed his presence at her appointments and surgeries. “It’s so nice to have that kind of support before and after your procedure,” Kathleen says. “It does a lot to help the healing process. Anyone going to Dr. Mustoe for breast reconstruction in Chicago is going to be in the best of care. Between his clinical expertise and his personal warmth, he really lets you know that he takes a genuine interest in you as an individual.”
Not only did Dr. Mustoe keep Kathleen’s best interests at heart, he used humor to lift her spirits during a scary time. “We used to tell jokes and banter while I was under sedation,” Kathleen says. “The drugs turned me into a chatterbox, and he actually made it fun. You really have to find the laughter at times like that.”
Kathleen says, “The breast cancer journey is difficult, challenging, and very emotional for a woman. Her sense of femininity is compromised. Her health is at stake. It is imperative that the physician she works with understands the entire picture. Dr. Mustoe practices with a holistic approach through his highly skilled clinical work and his empathetic understanding of the need to regain a sense of normalcy and femininity.”