Ana C. Avila Arias, 44, didn’t see herself the same after a double mastectomy to treat her breast cancer, to the point where she said she "didn't feel like a woman anymore."
"I was so afraid my husband would love me so much less if I wasn't the woman that he met," she said, her voice cracking more with each tear.
Just one week before her surgery on Aug. 3, 2015 at Lenox Hill Hospital, Ana married her long-time friend, who had stuck by her through her diagnosis when, she said, most would have run away. The Latin singer, who goes by the name La Morena Del Mambo, continued performing on stage right up until her surgery.
"I kept putting it off," she said.
Ana, a Bronx resident, elected to have an immediate breast reconstruction at the time of her double mastectomy. Breast Surgeon Dr. Jennifer Lehman performed her double mastectomy. Plastic Surgeon Dr. Wojciech Dec performed her reconstruction using fat from Ana's own lower abdomen to reconstruct her breasts with a technique called Deep Inferior Epigastric Artery Perforator Flap. For short, it's called the DIEP Flap.
"There are two broad categories of breast reconstruction: implant-based reconstruction and natural tissue reconstruction," he said.
Nationally, about 80 percent of breast reconstructions are done using implants. But, at Lenox Hill Hospital, Dr. Dec said about 50 percent of patients elect to use natural tissue reconstruction.
"Natural tissue reconstruction, such as the DIEP Flap, is the gold standard of breast reconstruction," he said. "In cases, for example, of a nipple sparing mastectomy, the reconstructed breast can look almost exactly as the native breast."
The DIEP Flap transfers the tissue, fat and blood vessels from the lower abdomen – the same tissue that gets removed in a tummy tuck – to reconstruct the breast. Those vessels are reconnected to vessels in the chest so tissue has blood flow. This technique can be done at the time of the mastectomy or at a later date.
"I tell Dr. Dec that I'm his miracle patient," Ana said. "For me to see my breasts the way they were and the amazing work that Dr. Dec did made me feel whole again."