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Breast Reconstruction for the “Well-derly”

Finding a lump on your breast can be a very scary experience for anyone. For Ruth K., who was 87 years old at the time, not only was it scary, but it brought up many questions for her—one in particular, “Should I just ignore this? I’m old. It just might be easier. Maybe it is nothing.” But, Ruth, being extremely active and healthy, simply could not. Prior to Christmas 2017, testing began, and soon after, it was confirmed by Dr. Jennifer Montes at the Hunterdon Breast Surgery Center that she had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in her left breast. Many women can relate to hearing this harrowing news—it is life-altering—and it is the beginning of a journey with an unknown ending. And, like many women, Ruth “had a life,” as she says—and she wanted to return to it as quickly and as unscathed as possible.

Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1930, Ruth is a survivor and an eternal optimist. As she says, she “really didn’t have a choice”—growing up in Germany during WWII was very hard and extremely scary, especially for a child. Ruth says, “You simply had to go on.” It is with this attitude, along with the encouragement of Dr. Montes and Dr. Zuhaib Ibrahim at The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction, that this would be possible—and let’s face it—she knew it wasn’t the scariest thing she had faced in her life.

There were other priorities, too. Ruth didn’t want to miss a day of work at the school where she had accepted a new job as a lunchroom aid. Prior to that, she was the manager of the cafeteria for 44 years. There were also weekly bingo games and trips that had been planned to cruise around the world.

And today, less than six months later, she is doing it all!

“My doctors are the reason I am fully recovered and feeling whole,” said Ruth, because in addition to the removal of the tumor, Ruth made another tough decision—a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction surgery! This was the most aggressive option on the table, and the reconstruction was questioned by so many family members, friends, and even other health professionals. “They said to me, ‘why would you do that? Do you really need to have boobs?’” As Ruth explains, it had nothing to do with “the boobs,” but rather with her outlook and her desire to feel exactly the way she did before the cancer diagnosis. She felt she could handle the extra surgery time and recovery, and her doctors agreed. “Dr. Montes said that it would be ageism if she didn’t provide all the options available. I liked that she said that. She was right.”

Referring to Ruth as part of the growing group of elderly, healthy, adults they called “The well-derly,” Dr. Ibrahim came on board and reviewed Ruth’s case extensively with Dr. Montes and their team.  The decision was made that immediately after her mastectomy, she would have placement of implants to restore the shape and volume of her breasts.

At the time of the surgery, Ruth had just turned 88. With the support of her family, complete trust in her docs, and her unwavering positive attitude, the surgery went well and was relatively quick. The full breast tissue test results came in two weeks later and confirmed a few things—Thankfully, the tumor was small and did not spread to the lymph nodes—it was stage 1A. In addition, it was discovered that additional cancers were starting to form in both breasts, and although slow-growing, they were present Ruth had goals…including living to be at least 100. She felt good about her decision, and that was reassuring.

The follow-up appointments with Dr. Ibrahim for the reconstruction were frequent and, according to Ruth, would have been a bother if it wasn’t for Dr. Ibrahim himself, and his staff. “He is a caring doctor. He called me frequently to follow up, and his nurses, including Marianne, made themselves available to me. And it was such an important part of my recovery. I never felt worried because I knew that they were the best around and truly cared about what happened to me. They were encouraging, too. And we laughed a lot.” Dr. Ibrahim and his team understand the important role that reconstruction plays in the lives of many breast cancer patients. They aim to return to a woman what cancer has taken from her and promote the best quality of life.

Ruth adds that she had not been to the hospital or under a doctor’s care in quite some time—and the level of care and compassion was much better than what she had experienced previously and well beyond what she expected.

Referring to Dr. Montes and Ibrahim, Ruth says, “I am really amazed by what they did, how they helped me. I felt very lucky they were my doctors. They were up on all the latest advances and technologies, which made me feel confident, and they encouraged me that I would be fine.” “They didn’t treat me like I was an old lady, I respect them—all the schooling they’ve had and years of dedication to medicine—but mostly, I admire them for being wonderful human beings.”

Ruth has lived a long life already and has been an inspiration to many people in it, including her children and grandchildren, her extended family, the kids, staff and teachers at her school, and many friends. It’s her easy-going style and attitude that are admired. And to other women who are part of the “Well-derly,” she says, “Do what YOU want—don’t listen to others—and remember age is just a number.”