In support of Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, or BRA Day, AOPO spoke with tissue recipient Kate Kane to share her story.
When Kate Kane was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2011, her doctor outlined her options for treatment. Kate’s doctor explained to her how each course of action would impact her options for reconstruction. Her thin stature made her a poor candidate for breast reconstruction using an autograft, a procedure in which the same individual’s tissue is taken from one part of her body and grafted to another. So, Kate’s doctor raised the option of using donated tissue, called an allograft, to act as a resting place for the implant.
“You know doctors,” Kate said, recalling the discussion, “they don’t recommend, but they give you choices. And, it seemed that when it was said and done, [using donated tissue] would be a better outcome.”
If 2012 was any indication, it seems Kate was right. After having a bilateral mastectomy in January of that year followed by reconstructive surgery that March, by that August the physically active Kate was able to pick up where she left off before her diagnosis: biking hundreds of miles for cancer research – something she had trained to do all summer.
Being active is more than just a hobby for Kate; it was her social life. “Part of [breast cancer] is that you have physical healing, but you have a lot of emotional healing. It’s hard to describe the difference,” she said. “To be able to be back to normal – or, a new normal – was huge for me. All of that was because I came back healthy and was able to recover quickly.”
I can’t imagine having gone through what I went through and having that be a turning point in my life where I have to stop doing the things that I did not just for my overall health and well-being, but as my social life. I’m so grateful that I was able to do that. The cancer didn’t get me and the reconstruction brought me back to my life.
Kate knew she would receive a tissue donation early on in her diagnosis, but the thought never bothered her. She shared that she didn’t have any reservations. After all, registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor was just what you did in the Kane family. The Kane’s even have a family friend whose daughter, Emily, is approaching the 5 year anniversary of her heart transplant – a miracle that has made the importance of donation hit closer to home and made registering a no-brainer for Kate’s teenage son when applying for his learner’s permit.
“Anyone who is thoughtful about checking the box for organ and tissue donation needs to understand that so much of what we have – the tissue that I received and the heart Emily received – that comes from somebody who has made a sacrifice, who made a decision so that if I no longer can live, then someone else can make use of every single thing that I have,” Kate offered. “And there’s that gift, it’s just awesome, in the absolute truest sense of the word. For another person making the decision for a loved one, that you can say ‘I loved this person with all my heart, but he or she is no longer with us, and I’m going to give this gift because he or she would have wanted that.’”
Kate describes that ability and generosity as “jaw-droppingly awesome,” and she is not wrong. “My surgery wasn’t life or death,” Kate said, “but it certainly was restorative, and I’m incredibly grateful.”
Generously donated tissue is one of many options available for breast reconstruction surgery and one tissue donor can help up to ten breast reconstruction patients. Learn more about the options available for breast reconstructive surgery at breastreconusa.org and register your decision to be an organ, eye and tissue donor at registerme.org.
To learn more about the gift of tissue donation, visit the American Association of Tissue Banks.