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Fayetteville mom of 4 describes breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstruction

Posted October 28, 2019 6:30 a.m. EDT
Updated October 28, 2019 8:07 a.m. EDT

— Women diagnosed with breast cancer often choose mastectomies to lessen the risk of recurrence, but many of them face difficult decisions about plastic surgery for breast reconstruction. New advances in breast reconstruction are offering women more options and more satisfactory outcomes.

Samantha Blayde, 36, of Fayetteville, traveled that road from diagnosis to treatment and recovery beginning in December of 2018.

At the time, the busy mother of four children, including two-year-old twins, worked as a military support contractor in Kuwait.

New improvements in breast reconstruction surgery offer better outcomes for cancer patients

Blayde felt pain in her left breast and went to a Kuwaiti hospital to have it checked out. "It was very stressful” Blayde said. “I was out there by myself. My husband was in Afghanistan.”

Fortunately, Blayde's cancer was discovered early.

It led to her returning home to Fayetteville, scheduling cancer treatments and, later, a double mastectomy at Duke.

Blayde said it was her twin daughters, Jewell and Journey, who inspired her to fight.

Two year old twins Jewell and Journey inspired their mother during breast cancer fight

“I call my twins butterflies," she said. “I'm pretty much fighting for them because I'm still raising them. They are still babies. They still need their mom."

The experience inspired Blayde her to have a special pin designed and mass produced. The pin combines the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon with two butterflies representing her daughters.

Blayde had this pin designed and created to inspire other women in their breast cancer fight

Blayde said considering breast reconstruction options seemed a bit intimidating at first. It involved a discussion with Duke plastic surgeon Dr. Sharon Clancy, who wants to make sure every patients knows their options.

According to Clancy, many of the traditional options, like transplanting skin from the abdomen or buttocks to form a new breast, now come with improved outcomes. “There are some newer techniques in terms of reconnecting nerves so that tissue remains or preserves sensation to it," Clancy said.

Many women undergo surgery that uses spared breast skin in which temporary expanders can be placed. It creates a pocket for a permanent implant, involving another surgery weeks later.

Some women are good candidates for a new option that has become known as “a breast in a day."

According to Clancy, that process avoids the tissue expander and goes straight to putting in the permanent implant at the time of the mastectomy.

"With that technique, it potentially avoids additional surgery," Clancy said. "It potentially avoids additional recovery.”

Duke plastic surgeon Dr. Sharon Clancy

When Blayde went in for her double mastectomy, she only expected to have breast expanders. However, her breast cancer surgeon and Clancy decided she would be a good candidate for getting the final implants.

“So when I woke up, they said, 'You've got your implants,'" said Blayde. " I was just like, 'Oh my gosh.'"

Today, Blayde cherishes every moment with her children.

“I was lucky enough," she said. "Mine was caught early. So early detection really does save lives."

According to Clancy, there are also new microsurgery techniques that can help many women avoid some swelling with lymphedema after breast cancer surgery.

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