Mitchell's Breast Cancer Journey Gave Her Added Purpose
- Journalist Andrea Mitchell, 76, discovered her breast cancer early following a routine mammogram in 2011. She underwent a mastectomy (removal of the breast) followed by a delayed breast reconstruction to treat her cancer. She’s since advocated early detection.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women at average breast cancer risk begin screening for breast cancer at age 40. Women with the BRCA gene mutation, who have a family history of cancer or have dense breasts, are at higher risk and should talk with their doctor about when to screen and may be younger than 40.
- “Breast reconstruction is a restoration of a woman’s form and her sense of self,” Dr. Andrea Pusic, Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tells SurvivorNet.
- Many different options and techniques are available to get the reconstruction, meaning immediate (at the time of mastectomy) or delayed (which could be months or even years later).
Veteran journalist Andrea Mitchell, 76, admitted she once delayed getting breast reconstruction following her cancer diagnosis to continue covering the presidential campaign. She said she desperately wanted the elongated campaign to end so she could get beyond the treatment phase of her breast cancer journey. Since battling the disease, Mitchell says her unexpected cancer diagnosis taught her a life lesson in early detection.
“For you women out there and the men who love you, screening matters,” Mitchell said to NBC News.Read More
“I put off reconstruction after my mastectomy because I wanted to get through the Republican primaries first. I didn’t want to be out again for surgery,” Mitchell said, according to The Hill.
“Breast reconstruction is a restoration of a woman’s form and her sense of self,” says Dr. Andrea Pusic, Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Many different options and techniques are available to get the reconstruction, meaning immediate (at the time of mastectomy) or delayed (which could be months or years later).
WATCH: When to consider a mastectomy.
Depending on your cancer treatment plan and the type of reconstruction you will have, you might be able to begin breast reconstruction during the same surgery as your breast cancer surgery.
Immediate reconstruction can get better results than delayed reconstruction, meaning fewer surgeries. However, it may indicate a more extended initial hospitalization and recovery time. This long surgery may also have a higher risk for complications, such as infections, than two separate surgeries.
“Delayed reconstruction,” Myckatyn says, “according to most studies, has fewer complications than immediate reconstruction.”
During that campaign cycle, the primaries lasted for several months. Mitchell jokingly said before a Washington, D.C. crowd, “It went on so long, I thought it would never end because I knew I had to get back into the hospital.”
Since her cancer journey, Mitchell has advocated for early detection and breast cancer screening. In 2020, she was awarded the Pink Ribbon Award for breast cancer advocacy.
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What to Consider When Thinking About a Mastectomy and Breast Reconstruction
When a woman decides to have a mastectomy, several factors go into that decision. Among things to consider is whether to have breast-conserving surgery such as a lumpectomy. These decisions should be made alongside your doctor by openly and candidly discussing risks vs. benefits.
WATCH: Restoring sensation after a mastectomy.
“A double mastectomy typically takes about two hours for the cancer part of the operation, the removing of the tissue,” Dr. Elisa Port, Chief of Breast Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System, tells SurvivorNet. “The real length, the total length of the surgery, can often depend on what type of reconstruction [a patient] has.”
Other factors that weigh into the decision to get a mastectomy are the size and features of the tumor and your family history. However, the gravity of your decision comes into full view, especially if you get a mastectomy and remove both breasts.
Some women decide to have their breasts reconstructed and have implants put in right after the mastectomy, while others don’t have reconstruction at all.
Dr. Port added that most women opt to have some reconstruction. The length of these surgeries can vary a great deal. When implants are used, the procedure can take two to three hours (so the total surgery time would be around five hours). The option is also to take one’s own tissue (usually from the belly area) and transfer it into the breast area during reconstruction.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you are faced with a decision regarding getting breast reconstruction or some form of a mastectomy, here are some questions you can ask your doctor to learn the best option for you.
- What is the recovery time for each?
- What are the risks and the probability of each?
- What can I expect my breasts to look and feel like?
- Can I do reconstruction later?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing it now?
- Will my reconstruction options change if I wait?