At the age of 44, Michele Rakoff discovered she had breast cancer. She recalls being “not well-informed” by her surgeon about her options for breast reconstruction.
“I was rushed into making a quick decision and was not given the opportunity or the suggestion to have a second opinion,” Rakoff recalls. “Within four days of my diagnosis, I had a simple mastectomy with no reconstruction.”
After the surgery, Rakoff began investigating the possibility of having reconstruction, educating herself. She decided to have breast reconstruction six months later. That was in 1988. Today, Rakoff serves as executive director with the Breast Cancer Care and Research Fund in Los Angeles, developing a mentoring program for newly diagnosed patients so they can speak with trained, educated survivor mentors.
“It has been 24 years, and as the result of my experience, I always remind women that a diagnosis of breast cancer is not an emergency,” Rakoff says. “They have time to get a second opinion, do research and speak with well-educated advocates who can share their own experiences.”
Reconstruction is one of the toughest decisions a woman faces following a mastectomy. According to a Colombia University study, fewer than one in four women with invasive cancer opt for the immediate reconstruction of their breast. More than one in three with early stage cancer got the procedure. The biggest predictor of whether a woman got reconstruction was insurance coverage.
Ultimately, it’s a personal decision. But many fears can get in the way of making the best choice. We asked a few experts to weigh in on the validity of these fears.
Fear #1: I have to decide right away because reconstruction can only be done immediately following the mastectomy.
“Incorrect,” says Dr. Christy Russell, a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society and associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California. “They can always have a delayed reconstruction.”