Reconstructive surgery helps breast cancer survivors feel whole again

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Reconstructive surgery helps breast cancer
survivors feel whole again

Mandy Major
Los Gatos Weekly Times, March 26, 2003

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Kirk Churukian specializes in reconstructive surgery for patients
undergoing mastectomies due to breast cancer. Here, he works on
implanting a silicone prosthesis to bring the breast back to its
original size.

In 2002, an estimated 255,000 women and 1,500 men were diagnosed
with breast cancer. Nearly 40,000 of those women and 400 men died
from the disease.

What is more cause for alarm, however, is that the risk of
breast cancer is up to three times higher in the Bay Area than
the rest of California, which already has the highest rate of
breast cancer diagnoses in the country.

Dr. Kirk Churukian, a Los Gatos-based plastic surgeon and reconstruction
specialist, agrees that the disease has hit Los Gatos, as all
other Bay Area towns and cities, relatively hard. And not only
are more women being diagnosed but those diagnosed are younger
and younger. Although no one has a definitive answer as to why
the rate of cancer is so high in the Bay Area, it is clear that
breast cancer is a threat to women and even men.

Seven years ago, Patricia Golmon Ball discovered cancer had
taken over one of her breasts, with a high probability of the
cancer spreading to the other side. Instead of waiting for that
to happen, Ball decided to have both breasts removed at once—the
operation is known as a double mastectomy.

“Once you get the diagnosis, you feel like you’re entering
the twilight zone,” she says. “But finding that you can get
out of it and be even better is amazing. It’s about conquering
that fear factor.”

She believes it is important for recently diagnosed women to
become part of a cancer network, as the level of support from
survivors is different from that of family members, who either
may not know how to react or be overly emotional or stoic. “Some
people deal by not dealing,” Ball says. “But that doesn’t help
you at all.”

One of the women Ball worked with through the network was San
Jose Unified School District kindergarten teacher Celestina

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