Sandy’s Tummy Tuck Experience

In Sandy’s life, there’s not much room for fretting, sniveling or second-guessing. Instead, the cancer survivor values a realistic, down-to-earth approach to whatever comes her way, even when some pretty big challenges lie ahead. As she tells about some of the medical experiences of her 56 years, you can almost hear an inner voice telling her, “Oh, get on with it!”

Long Road to Thick Waist

Sandy lives in Manteca, a town in California’s Central Valley, with her husband of 36 years. “I’m happy, he’s lucky,” she says of her “fabulous” Tim. One of her medical challenges came early in life as Sandy underwent a preventative mastectomy and reconstruction at Stanford in her 30’s. She explains, “I had suffered lumps and bumps since the age of 16, and this was considered the treatment that would give me the best chance of avoiding cancer.”

Then, four years ago she found a lump under her arm. Ironic, she agrees, to have no breasts but get breast cancer anyway. When Dr. Wiener, Sandy’s oncologist, “a man I trust with my life,” confirmed the diagnosis, Sandy’s first reaction was to skip treatment. But since her cancer was only at stage 2, Dr. Weiner and Sandy’s husband persuaded her to go ahead. After two rounds of chemotherapy, one round of radiation and a year of a “magic bullet” drug called Herceptin®, Sandy was pronounced cancer-free.

One of the side effects of treatment, Sandy relates, was that she lost her youthful shape. Her heritage is Basque, and she says people of Basque nationality tend to carry weight in their butt and legs. But because her hormones were so affected by treatment, Sandy says her prom queen waist thickened for the first time ever. “Extra fat landed there, and I had the rolls from hell.” She got tired of seeing this strange shape in the mirror, and a few months ago she finally decided to see what could be done.

Sandy and Tim Decide

One of Sandy’s friends, also a cancer survivor, had breast reconstruction with Dr. Thomas McNemar. Sandy went to see him on her friend’s recommendation and she recalls he spent over an hour with her. Sandy found the plastic surgeon to be reassuring and professional. Not only that, he was personable as well. “He treated me like an individual, and I really felt like I built a friendship with him.”

As Sandy tells it, she was interested in moving ahead with a tummy tuck and liposuction but Tim wasn’t prepared to see his wife undergo elective surgery after all she had been through. Sandy, who didn’t want her husband to fret, found out that Dr. McNemar had trained at the Buncke Clinic in San Francisco, a world-renown center of reconstructive surgery, micro surgery and plastic surgery. It happens that one of the couple’s sons had hand reconstruction at the Buncke Clinic years ago, and Tim had been much impressed with the quality of the work. Discovering Dr. McNemar had trained there gave Tim the reassurance he needed.

For Sandy, the final factor to consider was money. “You’ve heard of people who squeak, they’re so tight? That’s me,” Sandy says. She remembers thinking at the time, “Oh, the money.” Her next thought was, “But if I don’t spend it, he’ll just put it in his sand rail.” (Her husband’s hobby is racing sand vehicles.) You can hear Tim laughing in the next room. “Yeah, I could have had a new transmission!” he yells. “Well,” Sandy says, “you married the prom queen and she needed fixing!”

So How Did It Go?

Eight weeks have passed since Sandy’s surgery. The tummy tuck didn’t cause her too many challenges and she recalls she noticed change for the better in her abdomen right away. On the other hand, she says liposuction isn’t the “quick fix” some people may think it is. She’s glad Dr. McNemar prepared her for the recovery period, saying, “You’re going to think I put fat in there for a while.” There was some discomfort and some bruising, and Sandy remembers everything got tighter before she started to shrink. If you’re considering liposuction, she advises, “Get up and move instead of lying there sniveling. You’ll feel better.” She adds, “Be realistic, and listen to your doctor.”

Today, Sandy says she feels much better about her body. “When I get out of the shower, that’s where the difference is for me. There’s no avoiding that big mirror, and my stomach has never been this tight since my sons were born. It feels peculiar, but I’m getting used to it and it’s lovely!”

Looking back on her motivation, Sandy says Tim has been so good to her through everything-pregnancies, cancer, all of it. She says he tells her, “You always look good to me.” On top of that, Sandy says that her self-esteem has always been pretty good. Nevertheless, Sandy didn’t like working hard to disguise those “disgusting rolls.” “I had to dress differently,” she says. After surgery, she’s delighted with the change in her physique. “I did this for me and I’m glad.”

“Your Age Is Still Your Age”

Sandy offers a word of advice based on her experiences and her practical nature. “You need to have age-appropriate expectations,” if you’re going to have plastic surgery. “I feel I look great, but certain parts, like my arms, give me away.” Sandy says that no matter what, “your age is still your age.” Still, you don’t have to live with everything that bothers you. “You don’t have to look like you’ve been beaten with the ugly stick.”

Asked if part of the motivation for her was living the best life she could after cancer, Sandy quickly dismisses the whole survivor thing. “Everyone survives something,” she declares. “In some places, if you survive the parking lot, you’re doing good.” Sandy concentrates her energy more on taking care of herself and others. She thinks about concepts like kindness between people, one of the things she finds missing too often in today’s world. To Sandy, “A little kindness goes a long way. That’s something I discovered about Dr. McNemar, he’s kind.”

A self-described happy camper, today Sandy says she’s simply, “Looking forward to going forward.”

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