Lauren Cahn, a yoga instructor from Westchester, N.Y., was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. Little did she know, it was just the beginning of a nightmare that would last almost eight years.
Lauren opted for implants immediately after her mastectomy but a botched implant job left her breasts looking “hard as rocks” and “square.” To add insult to injury, one ruptured just a year later.
Take two: Lauren got new and improved implants but soon after, suffered a fourth-degree burn to one from a heating pad. Disgusted, disheartened and traumatized by the whole experience, Lauren was ready to call it quits and accept spending the rest of her life completely flat chested.
A doctor recommended she meet with one more surgeon, Dr. Maria LoTempio, one of the only doctors in the world performing breast reconstruction using autologous (the patient’s own) tissue. Hesitant, Lauren sent off a few pictures to Dr. LoTempio and when she was deemed an ideal candidate, she underwent her third breast reconstruction surgery.
Lauren, who now has two of the “most beautiful, perky” breasts and a “bonus” butt lift says it was one the best decisions of her life.
When you were first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, what were your options?
There were no options besides implants. The only kind of body tissue breast reconstruction they were doing at that time was through the stomach and I really didn’t have enough fat there to create one, let alone, two breasts.
Did you get implants at the time of your mastectomy?
Yes, the cancer doctor finished her surgery and the plastic surgeon went right in. They used implants that were also the expanders. It was a terrible disaster.
Before the surgery, I had been a 32C, sometimes a 32D. I thought after surgery, I was going to look exactly the way I did before. My breasts ended up being as hard as rocks and square because there was a lot of scar tissue around them. Less than a year later, one of them ruptured and had to be replaced. I was very unhappy.
At what point did you get them redone?
I kept them for three years, until I heard about another doctor who was doing silicone implants with aloederm over them for softness. I had the old implants removed and replaced with new ones by this doctor. The implants were much smaller. At first, it looked really good, but then, within a year I started sprouting more scar tissue. Everything started hardening up and looking square again. I didn’t fit into any bras.
At that point you had two breast reconstruction surgeries that you were unhappy with. Were you considering a third?
For the next four years, little by little I began looking into any other options. I read about a procedure where they take flesh from the buttocks but my understanding was I wouldn’t be able to sit or exercise for months. As a yoga instructor, this was disheartening. I don’t want to be told I can’t do something.
What happened next?
In the fall of 2009 I suffered a burn to my right breast from a heating pad. It never fully healed and by January of the next year, I was developing a Staph infection. Doctors in the hospital told me it was a fourth degree burn and that they could see my implant through my skin. I had the implant removed which was very sad to me because the whole point of having the double mastectomy was to look symmetrical. Now, I wasn’t. After a week in the hospital, 60 days of hyperbaric treatment that didn’t work, two surgeries and wearing a wound vac for two months, I had given up. I went to my plastic surgeon to tell them that I wanted to have the other implant removed and would spend the rest of my life completely flat chested. I was 43 at the time.
What did the doctor tell you when you told him you decided to be flat chested?
He said ‘You must not make that decision. You can’t give up.’ and referred me to Dr. Maria LoTempio, who he said does a surgery where they make a breast of flesh from your buttocks. I said ‘Oh no, I heard about that and it sounds really debilitating.’ He said what I heard wasn’t true.
How soon after that did you meet with Dr. LoTempio?
I spoke to her that day. I sent pictures to her because she was in South Carolina at the time. Through the photos she was able to tell me that I was a candidate for this and she could definitely make two small breasts. She sent me for an MRI to have my arteries looked at to make sure there was a good harvestable blood supply. I went to South Carolina for the surgery. I had to have it the week my youngest son was graduating from elementary school which was challenging. He was angry.
Why did you have the surgery in South Carolina?
At the time they didn’t offer it in New York. The care involved is so intense. It felt like I was the only patient in the whole hospital. This type of surgery requires a lot of watching and waiting. I was on a lot of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills to relax me. Basically, for five days I was sedated.
How long were you in the hospital?
Seven days because they were extra careful. I was in South Carolina for another three days after that, because Dr. LoTempio didn’t want me to leave until ten days had passed. She has it down to a science. She knows exactly how many days it takes for your cells to regenerate and your blood supply to be made permanent. After that, I flew home and recovered there. I was able to sit, walk, and eventually, run and drive. I was able to do yoga within three months of the surgery.
Left: After breast reconstruction #2. Right: 2 months post-surgery with Dr. Lotempio.
And we hear you also got an extra “bonus”?
I had a butt lift! The tissue for my breast was grafted from there. I had a little more junk in the trunk before. Now, its a little flatter on the top but I still have a nice round bottom. There’s no cellulite. It’s very tight. I wear True Religion jeans which is a brand I wouldn’t be able to wear otherwise!
And since two or three years passed, everything is still okay?
Everything is great!