We love hearing your stories, and think anyone who is willing to tell their story in a public forum is so brave, and you can never know how many people they might touch or help by sharing their experience. Toni is one of these women, and each and every one of us needs to read her story. She was lucky enough to have the assistance of one of our favourite surgeons, Dr Mark Hanikeri from Subiaco in WA which just reinforces why your plastic surgery experience is so often shaped by the surgeon you choose. Usually, we write an article around what someone tells us over the phone or emails us, but Toni has written her story in such a way that we wanted to leave it just as it is, in her words. Thanks for your bravery Toni, and we are so glad you are able to share your story with us.
So, initially I had a small lump in my armpit. I had been quite unwell with various colds and things that I couldn’t shake, and I thought it was perhaps it was a by-product of that. One day I had a doctor’s appointment booked for my son who no longer needed it; so I thought I would go and get the lump checked. The GP sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. The technician didn’t pick anything up in the ultrasound but decided to biopsy the lump. I also had the mammogram. All these results came back clear.
The night of the biopsy I started to discharge from my left nipple. I immediately went down to the GP. He said it was likely to be a breast infection, but it wasn’t anything sinister as we had the all clear. After several weeks and many courses of antibiotic the discharge wouldn’t clear up and I felt frustrated. The GP sent me on to Royal Perth Breast Clinic. The doctor there said it looked like a breast infection that was at this point starting to clear up. She said before you go though, we will do an ultrasound. Right away I could tell something was wrong. Supervisors came in and I ended up having six core biopsies, and they told me the results would be available later that day. You know when results come in that quickly, the news probably isn’t going to be very good!
I went back in the next morning and was told I had 10cm of high grade DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ). I was also told I had a little bit of time to get surgery sorted, but not a lot. I went first to a general surgeon who said the only option with so much cancer was a mastectomy. I was only too happy to just get rid of it all. The plastic surgeon that normally works with David Oliver was unavailable. My sister’s friend worked for Mark Hanikeri and he agreed to do my surgery which would be scheduled for December 22nd. I was sad as this meant I would be in hospital for Christmas and I had two young boys aged 2 and 3.
Next stop was Mark Hanikeri’s office. He outlined my options. I didn’t have enough belly fat to do a tram flap, so he explained that he could do a lat dorsi reconstruction, and then later do a breast lift on the other side to match them. I remember being completely overwhelmed by all this as I was still struggling with the fact that I had cancer. Mark was very professional on this first day. I remember him saying later that he had to remain somewhat cool on the first visit as he understood how overwhelmed I was then. Since then, Mark has operated on me another 6 times so it’s like being reunited with a friend.
The operation involved removing all of my breast tissue, including the nipple. Then a flap of my lattimus dorsi muscle was removed but still attached by blood vessels and threaded around to my breast to cover the nipple hole and provide something for the implant to sit inside. The operation took about 6 hours. When I woke up I was quite amazed to see I had somewhat of a breast there still. It was sitting very high as it was so swollen and it was black and blue. I got quite sick from the painkillers so I had to cease all medication until the nausea had subsided and then slowly introduce everything. The pain was by no means unmanageable. My sister would come in and shower me and I had my own pj’s which helped me feel better. I had been given a pretty bag to put my four drains in and also a breast pillow which sat under my arm and helped get comfortable.
It was a difficult time to be in hospital as being Christmas, the staff numbers were reduced and I certainly wouldn’t ever choose elective surgery anywhere close to that time. I spent 6 nights in hospital, as I had to wait until the drains were below a certain amount before leaving.
The next step was to go back and check in so they could redress the wounds if necessary. I had a very decent size scar on my back to attend to as well as the breast. The tissue expander felt very uncomfortable and foreign in my chest but that passed as the swelling decreased. All of Mark Hanikeri’s nurses were so kind and considerate. They were sympathetic to the journey I had been on. I never had to wait long at appointment time. I felt comfortable to ask any questions. I had to get one injection into my breast to expand the tissue expander further, in order to stretch the skin out ready for the implant. You have to wait three months for the exchange from expander to implant, as it takes this long for the swelling to go down. The exchange is relatively simple, and Mark just went in to the existing scar and swapped them over.
About a year later after getting my other breast checked, I realised with children as young as mine, I just did not feel comfortable that the cancer might not be missed again so I decided to have the other breast off as a precaution. There was no question about who I would have that done with and went back to see Mark. The whole process was a lot easier this time as I didn’t have the cancer cloud over me. I was able to laugh and joke along the way. I was able to manage my pain better the second time around. This time I did have a hematoma, which is just an unlucky complication. It meant I had a large collection of fluid in my back. It was just a case of getting it drained out with a needle and really wasn’t much of an issue.
When it came time to take out that expander and put the implant in, I asked Mark if he would give me a tummy tuck at the same time. I had always loathed my tummy, even prior to pregnancy; it was always protruding compared to the rest of my body. I felt completely safe in Marks hands – it was not something I had ever considered prior to getting cancer as after the surgeries. I realised how amazing a job Mark did and recovery was nothing like I had imagined – it was much easier. My tummy hurt considerably for a couple of days. After that if I coughed, it hurt, but apart from that it was okay. Initially, you can’t stand up straight, which is an unusual feeling but this frees up more and more each day. One week after the operation, I was attending meetings at my children’s school. Two weeks later, I was back at the gym, only doing things like the treadmill of course. I always followed post-surgery instructions to the letter, as I didn’t want to waste the excellent results by lifting when I wasn’t supposed to. You wear compression garments for 6 weeks. Mark would always lean on the side of caution when it came to post surgery and I appreciated that.
Mark then was able to create nipples from the back skin where my nipple had been removed. I don’t know how he did it, but they look like real nipples! Then I later got them tattooed so they look real. My breasts look so real, so perky and amazing, my friends are all totally jealous.
I felt really blessed to have Mark Hanikeri as my surgeon. He is just such a nice person and his results surpassed anything I could have dreamt of.
If you would like more information on Dr Mark Hanikeri see his listing on our website here, or you can phone him directly at his clinic on 08 9380 0311.