Breast cancer survivor ‘feels like herself' after novel reconstruction

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Image: Cleveland Clinic News Service

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

Survival is a top priority when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, but once treatment is complete, women want to feel like themselves again.

Mariann Lotenero, 62, of North Ridgeville, Ohio, wasn't satisfied with her "new normal" after having a double mastectomy to treat triple-negative breast cancer in 2011.  

"I was having tightness and pulling," she said. "Sometimes it felt like an ace bandage around my chest, but, I didn't have cancer, so you just learn to live with things."

But six years after beating breast cancer, she'd had enough. She said her reconstructed breasts were numb, uncomfortable and contained implants that constantly felt cold. 

"The return to normalcy, as close as you can get it, is kind of important," Lotenero said.

Lotenero's doctor at Cleveland Clinic suggested a novel type of breast reconstruction to remove the implants and replace them with tissue and nerves from her abdomen -- a procedure designed to restore sensation to the breast.

"If they have sufficient tissue in the abdomen, we take that abundant tissue and relocate it into the breast," said Dr. Risal Djohan, vice chairman of plastic surgery at Cleveland Clinic. "We can also locate and preserve the nerve from the abdomen and then look for the nerve in the chest and reconnect them together."

Lotenero underwent an 11 ½-hour surgery, followed by six weeks of recovery. Feeling returned slowly and continues to improve two years later. 

Finally, Lotenero feels as though she's able to put cancer behind her.  

"I just don't even think about it and that is an enormous gift," she said. "I have no pulling -- none of it. I forget I had cancer."

Lotenero had her nerve-restoring reconstruction six years after her breast cancer diagnosis.
However, this type of surgery can also be done during a mastectomy, so newly diagnosed women who qualify can undergo one procedure, rather than two.

Djohan notes that the surgery is only available at a handful of centers around the world.