The idea for Pat Anstett’s newly published book with breast reconstruction stories, Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You, came after road tripping with her friend to Baltimore for the nipple tattoos on her reconstructed breasts.
Anstett retired three years ago. Soon after that, her “very dear friend” was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and then breast reconstruction. Her friend had some issues with her reconstruction. In fact, she continued to have problems some years after.
Anstett could be called a breast reporter. For the last 20 years of her 40-year career as an award-winning newspaper reporter, she was the medical writer for the Detroit Free Press,and mainly covered the cancers that affect women, often breast cancer.
The cancer stories she wrote made a huge difference in Detroit. The vast improvements in compliance with mammography inspection standards are attributed to her front page story in the early 1990’s. About two-thirds of Detroit-area mammography facilities had flunked a state inspection, and for more than 10 years, Anstett kept public attention on centers that failed the inspections or were charging high rates. All this was done with an annual mammography guide she produced with the American Cancer Society.
Anstett covered some of the most important health stories in the Detroit area including the silicone breast implants saga during the 1990’s, lumpectomy and radiation advances, and breast reconstruction. She reported consistently on the advances in cancer services that affected women in Detroit, including genetic counseling and preventive surgeries for women with a high risk of inherited breast and ovarian cancer.
Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, which raised $21,000 and allowed Anstett to hire a professional photographer. It also paid for her to travel around the country to interview women. The photographer she hired, a friend from the Detroit Free Press, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That added an even more personal level to the purpose of the book.
Although her credentials make her immensely qualified to tackle a book on reconstruction, what Anstett learned by talking to women around the country surprised even the veteran writer. Women battling cancer know very little about reconstruction, the process and the choices.
Interview with Pat Anstett
I’m Taking Charge: What is the number one thing a woman beginning this process of reconstruction would benefit from knowing upfront?
Pat Anstett: I want to tell them that there are a lot of resources starting to be made available to them to make their decision: That often, it is not something they need to rush through, particularly the reconstruction portion of surgery. I want them to know it is not something they go in and take care of and you’re like new tomorrow. There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about what surgery entails, and it starts with the fact that cancer is a scary diagnosis. Women all say they just want to get through it and get beyond it. Accepting one’s cancer diagnosis is one thing, making good decisions that you are comfortable with for years about your surgery is the part of the process that needs to be improved.
I’m Taking Charge: How should they approach that first meeting?
Pat Anstett: I’d suggest to a woman that they go to the first meeting with the doctor that they bring a good person who can listen. There are often things that are said that get beyond you when you hear the word cancer. It’s good to have someone with you that can offer assistance, help you ask the right questions and make the right decisions.
I’m Taking Charge: What story that was shared with you was the most startling?
Pat Anstett:One of them is the woman I went to Baltimore with to get her breast tattooed. She incurred five years to get the reconstruction results she wanted. There are a lot of women who go back and back, because it’s very important to them, but I don’t think any of them would have ever dreamed it would take multiple procedures over five years. That’s not a botched story. What it is, is a very long journey. It was important to my friend, and it is to other women.
I’m Taking Charge: Do women feel pressure about breast reconstruction?
Pat Anstett: There are women who feel pressured to have reconstruction, and they say everyone pressures them. We live in such a breast-conscious society that if you choose not to have reconstruction you get pressured as well. So, the whole discussion need to be changed.
I’m Taking Charge: What did you find about women who chose to be flat?
Pat Ansett:I was shocked they get pressured to have reconstruction. A woman I talked to in Alabama said it best… “the choice [that] has to be on the menu [is] not having reconstruction.” Women who have chosen to not have reconstruction are banding together for support because they feel like a minority. They aren’t. Those are the oldest stories of all. These women have created groups on Facebook, like Flat and Fabulous. They talk and share about their choice. People need to understand this is a choice too.
I’m Taking Charge: Is it important to make the decision about your reconstruction right away?
Pat Anstett: The biggest push is getting past the cancer. So many women all say the same thing: “I just want to get past the cancer.” Yes, you move on, but when you want reconstruction you are moving on to another stage or procedure. Very few women have it all done in just one procedure. If you have recovery issues that can be a lengthy process. Women often minimize the recovery time, and they cheat themselves out of the time they need. They may have to get back to work or have family responsibilities, but they rush themselves along for a lot of reasons, one being they don’t want cancer in their life.
I’m Taking Charge: Do you think women expect too much from their breast reconstruction?
Pat Anstett: No I would never say that; I feel just the opposite. Women should expect what they want, and people should be honest with them about the reality. There are many different ways different reconstruction breasts are different from your own breasts. By and large these are issues women should know more about and don’t.
I’m Taking Charge: The book is done, and will be published this month. What do you hope people will get out of the book?
Pat Anstett: For three years I have covered breast issues like an investigative reporter. I want to tell all kinds of stories. I want to help people understand some of the new developments and I want to point them to resources. I want to give them and their doctors a tool to help them better discuss the issues they need to talk about.
Pat Anstett launched her book last week at a community event with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
For more information about Pat and the book, go to bcsurgerystories.com.
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