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Bend breast cancer survivor shares story

By Alicia Inns
Published On: Oct 26 2012 03:37:07 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 26 2012 07:59:08 PM CDT

In a special report marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NewsChannel 21's Alicia Inns talks with a Bend woman for whom reconstructive surgery was a life-changer.

BEND, Ore. -

"It was devastating. You feel like you're in a bad dream that you can't wake up from."

March, 2011 -- a month Dianna McClain says she'll never forget.

"When I went in for my annual mammogram, which was a little late, they called me back after about a week and said that they saw something suspicious and they wanted to redo the mammogram and do an ultrasound," McClain explained recently.

"And sure enough. they referred me to Dr. Higgins and I had the biopsy done. I just remember when he was checking all my results, he turned to me and said, 'I'm 99 percent sure you have breast cancer,'" McClain said.

It turns out Dianna had invasive, hormonally fed Stage 1 breast cancer in her left breast. Surgery quickly became the topic of conversation with her doctor.

"To me, every second the cancer was in me, I felt like it was getting bigger," McClain said.

Dr.  Andy Higgins is one of the owners of the Bend Surgery Center, an outpatient care facility. As McClain's doctor, the two discussed her options and decided on a bilateral mastectomy -- a surgery to remove both breasts.

"One of the ways to think about is you're shelling out the breast tissue from underneath the skin, all the way to the pectoralis muscle," Higgins said.

"The bilateral surgery just gave me peace of mind," McClain said. "I didn't have to wake up every morning wondering if I had cancer in my other breast."

Luckily, the cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes. So McClain's breasts -- along with all the cancer -- were gone.

"They came back all clear, and so my breast cancer had not spread -- and that was such exciting news," McClain said.

Six months later, Higgins and McClain discussed having reconstructive surgery, which rebuilds the breast mound so that it takes the same shape as it was before.

"The plastic surgeon will come in and put in what's called a tissue expander, essentially an empty bag that sits above the pectoralis muscle," Higgins explained. "Then, over time, they inflate that with a saline to stretch that muscle out. After it's stretched out enough, the expanders are replaced with the permanent implant."

"It does give me my self-confidence back," McClain said. "You stand up straighter, and you don't realize what you lost until you lose it. Now I don't take one day for granted. Every day is important."

Now this mother of three and grandma is living her life as if she's been given a second chance. She's become an advocate for breast cancer survival and helps others with the journey.

Dianna's been cancer-free now for a year and a half. And perhaps the most important thing she's learned -- while losing your breasts changes your life, getting them back is life-changing.

"I don't know how to explain how I feel afterwards, it's simply exciting," she said. "And I haven't stopped smiling since."

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