Moving Past Breast Cancer

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In December 2012, Debra Cannon received a breast cancer diagnosis that she had always known was a possibility. “I told my fiancé he didn’t have to marry me,” Cannon says. “He lost his first wife to pancreatic cancer and we were planning to get married in April 2013. He is my knight in shining armor. My husband and I were married on December 23, 2012, and on December 26, I had a double mastectomy. The following February, I began chemotherapy with Dr. Linda Farmer at the Cancer Center of East Alabama.”

Both Cannon’s mother and grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. “It was not if, but when I would receive a diagnosis,” Cannon remembers. “I had a mammogram every year, but I actually found the lump myself.” After undergoing a double mastectomy and a successful round of chemotherapy, Cannon began the process of moving forward after the diagnosis. A year later, she chose to have breast reconstructive surgery at EAMC, performed by Dr. Trey Aquadro of East Alabama Plastic Surgery & Spa Auburn.

“I had an amazing support system,” Cannon says. “My family, friends, and church family at Church of the Highlands are wonderful and helped me to accept and move past my diagnosis. I am incredibly blessed. I win because God has me covered.

“After discussing different options with my doctors and family, I knew that reconstruction was something I wanted to do,” Cannon says. “Dr. Trey made me feel so comfortable and I actually looked forward to my appointments each week. Everyone at East Alabama Plastic Surgery was so supportive and I don’t have enough good things to say about Dr. Trey and his staff. The entire experience was great.”

Dr. Aquadro, a board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in reconstruction, explains that Cannon’s reconstruction consisted of two stages. “She had tissue expanders, which was the first stage, to make place for the implant,” Dr. Aquadro says. “Then we removed the expanders and replaced them with permanent implants. In total, it was about a three-month process.

“Breast reconstruction is not something you have to make a decision about immediately after your diagnosis,” Dr. Aquadro says. “But it’s important that patients know that it is always covered by insurance. A common misconception is that some insurance companies will not cover a reconstruction after a mastectomy.” The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) was passed in 1998 and ensures that breast reconstruction is covered by insurance providers for patients who have undergone a mastectomy.

Cannon, who moved to Opelika 11 years ago to be near her daughter, who was an Auburn University gymnast at the time, says that she is pleased she chose to have her reconstruction in the area. “I consulted offices in Birmingham, Montgomery and Auburn,” Cannon says. “I was thrilled with my results and I’m happy I chose to have my reconstruction here. The convenience of the office and the compassionate staff made it a great experience.”

“I think people don’t always understand the emotional and psychological aspects of breast reconstruction,” Dr. Aquadro says. “It’s so much more than just appearance. It allows patients to feel whole again, to feel feminine again, and begin to move forward after their diagnosis. It can be a very important part of the healing process for patients who choose to undergo reconstruction.”

“I am two years into remission and breast cancer has changed my life in so many ways,” Cannon says. “I was never afraid of dying, and because of my faith in God, I knew I was going to be OK no matter what. Breast cancer has made me more fearless and I have overcome things I didn’t know I could. Life is much more precious now. My story seems to come up in conversation often and I’ve found that being open about it, positivity, and having a sense of humor are important parts of healing. I enjoy sharing my story and being a witness to others because of my diagnosis.”