Health Team

Woman documents breast reconstruction after cancer diagnosis

Posted August 12, 2009 11:15 a.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2009 6:48 p.m. EDT

— When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, the focus is on beating the cancer. However, they're also faced with other big decisions, like getting a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

Debbie Horwitz was one of those women and decided to share the details of her experience in a book.

Horwitz’s journey began five years ago with a breast cancer diagnosis. Cancer was nothing new to the 37-year-old. It has been in her family for generations. Her grandmother survived it, only to die of uterine cancer later. Breast cancer claimed her mother's life when Horwitz was 9.

Genetic testing revealed Horwitz had the genetic mutation for breast cancer. So when she found a lump in a self breast exam, it wasn't a complete surprise.

“I knew I needed to be aggressive with my treatment,” Horwitz said.

She decided on a double mastectomy, but breast reconstruction pamphlets only offered before and after pictures.

“I wanted to know every step of the way what I was going to look like,” she said.

During her treatments and reconstructive surgeries, Horwitz began creating her own booklet: “Myself Together Again.” It's in cancer centers around the country.

“It's a huge help. It's a groundbreaking effort, nothing like it before or since. Patients crave this,” said Rex Hospital Oncologist Dr. Kenneth Zeitler. “It's graphic, but it needs to be.”

After surgery, Horwitz dealt with drainage tubes, tissue expansion, a compression vest and more expansion to prepare for permanent implants later. Now, five years out and cancer free, Horwitz said she's comfortable in a bathing suit.

“It's not natural, and it's not the old me, but it's the new me and I'm OK with it,” she said.

Since Horwitz tested positive for the breast cancer gene mutation, she was also at high risk of ovarian cancer. To prevent that possibility, she had surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She delayed the surgery until after she had two children.