Iwona Zurawska was a 38-year-old new arrival to the United States from Poland in 1998 when she took advantage of an offer for a free mammogram. Zurawska, whose parents had both ultimately died from cancer (breast and colon), was found to have a very early stage breast cancer.
What followed was a lumpectomy and radiation. In 2003, a diagnosis of ovarian cancer (after which she was told she had six months to live) resulted in a hysterectomy. Two years later (despite the erroneous prediction of a shortened lifespan), a basal cell skin cancer was removed.
Zurawska spent the next few years overwhelmed and depressed. Her impressionable, then 19-year-old daughter also had a difficult time with her mother’s health concerns. With her family’s history and now her extensive personal history, Zurawska opted to have genetic testing. When the test revealed that she was positive for both the BRCA1 & BRCA2 genetic mutation, she chose to have a double mastectomy.
In June 2013, she also opted to have immediate breast reconstruction with Dr. Russell Ashinoff. Zurawska had the pedicle TRAM flap, a choice customized for her in part due to having had radiation to her breast. In this procedure, the surgeon cuts a section of skin, muscle, fat and blood vessels from the abdomen. He/she then tunnels the tissue underneath the patient’s skin to its new location, and uses it to form a new breast mound.
“I love him,” Zurawska gushes of Dr. Ashinoff, “He did an excellent job.” Despite continuing to undergo the healing process, the 53-year-old concludes, “I am happy to be alive; that’s my first priority.”
With the help of Dr. Ashinoff, a supportive partner, and her now 29-year-old daughter, Iwona Zurawska now faces a brighter future in a not-so-strange land.