Like every year, in January 2007, Sally went to the hospital for a routine breast examination. Her doctor didn’t find anything unusual, so it surprised her when, only a few months later, she felt a lump in her left breast. Sally decided to have it checked out, and when her doctor came into the room to tell her she had breast cancer, Sally went into a state of shock.
“You zone out,” she says. “You can’t believe it’s happening to you.”
Though Sally’s breast cancer was stage one, her doctor recommended a mastectomy of her left breast. During surgery, he found another cancerous knot underneath her right armpit, which led to the removal of her right breast only a few weeks later.
“It was pretty traumatic,” Sally says.
Before the surgery, Sally didn’t think the mastectomies would affect her. But the loss of both her breasts left Sally feeling incomplete and unattractive.
“Every single day, I was just so grossed out by how I looked,” she says. “Over time, I just got to the place that I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was just so ugly.”
Until then, no one — not her surgeon, her friends, or her insurance company — had mentioned the option of breast reconstruction to Sally. But after nine years of feeling poorly because of her lack of breasts, Sally started doing some research. She began reading about breast reconstruction and contacted her insurance company about covering the cost.
That’s when she found out how expensive breast reconstruction is — and that her insurance wouldn’t foot the bill.
Sally and her husband’s only income was Social Security and their only insurance was Medicaid. Medicaid would cover 80 percent of the cost, but Sally didn’t have the resources to cover the other 20 percent. The first surgery, to insert expanders into Sally’s chest, would cost around $40,000. The second surgery, to insert the actual implants, would cost about the same. There was no way Sally could pay for them, and she was devastated.
“You go out and you see other women that look nice and are able to wear pretty tops, and I felt like a freak,” she says. “I just could hardly stand to look at myself, I hated it so much.”
Sally didn’t give up, though. She dug around some more online, and in 2016, she stumbled across the AiRS Foundation’s website.
“Something just told me to click on that one,” says Sally. “I think it was a God thing really, because this whole thing has been a miracle, totally a miracle.”
Immediately after submitting her name and phone number to the AiRS Foundation online, Sally received a call. It was from an AiRS representative who listened to her painful story and assured her that AiRS would do everything in their power to provide her with the breast reconstruction she needed to feel whole again. Sally submitted the paperwork required for applying for an AiRS grant, and waited.
Waiting for the grant approval was stressful, but the AiRS representative was with her every step of the way.
When Sally’s grant was approved, the AiRS representative continued to support her through the entire process. They talked for hours on the phone, going over details about the surgery, the costs of reconstruction, and all other details involved.
In July 2016, the day before Sally’s birthday, she underwent the first surgery to reconstruct her breasts. The week before Thanksgiving, she completed the second surgery. Now, Sally is in a conversation with her doctor about reconstructing her nipples, as well.
“I wake up every morning and look to make sure they’re still there,” says Sally. “it’s just so hard to believe that it all came about.”
Sally is one of many women who feel overwhelmed and hopeless when it comes to breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. Breast reconstruction is often a vital step toward healing, but many women simply can’t afford it. That’s where we come in!
Help us help other women like Sally!
Has the information on our blog helped you or a loved one understand the options available to breast cancer patients? At the AiRS Foundation, we advocate on behalf of breast cancer patients like Sally, so they receive the knowledge and help needed to live full lives during and after breast cancer. Consider helping us by donating or volunteering! We are ALWAYS in need of help!