Breast Cancer Survivor Finds Hope in Reconstructive Surgery

Oct. 15, 2006 — -- Loretta Sutton is a mother, a grandmother and a breast cancer survivor.

Seventeen years ago, when she was 41, doctors found a tumor in her right breast.

"The result came back that it was malignant -- but … it hadn't gotten into the breast tissue," Sutton said. "It was in my milk ducts and my lymph node."

When her doctors said she needed a partial mastectomy, she didn't hesitate. The cancer would be gone, but so would half of her breast.

"It was like, 'Oh, I'm losing a part of me,' and that's a part of my sexuality," she said. "So it was really devastating for me."

Sutton remembers clearly the first time she saw herself in the mirror after the surgery.

"It was like looking at a different person, you know," she said. " 'My life is over.' … I looked like a freak, you know. That's what I was thinking."

Sutton was so uncomfortable with her body image that she gave up some of the pleasures in her life. She lives near the beach and loves the water, but hasn't been swimming in 17 years.

Her changed body compounded problems in her marriage. Eventually, she divorced and avoided dating.

"I tend not to try to … get in intimate situations," she said. "I don't even let people get close, you know. I used to love to hug, but I don't even like to do that anymore."

For 17 years, Sutton said she's dreamed of being "normal" again.

When she had her mastectomy, she had no insurance to cover reconstructive surgery. Even with two jobs she could never afford it -- until she met Dr. Anthony Griffin.

Griffin agreed to perform a $30,000 surgery for free.

"Once or twice a year, I take on a charity case or a case to give back to the community," he said. "I was compelled by Loretta's story."

Sutton hoped to look like the body she had in old photos.

"I know I will never be exactly like that," she said.

Sutton is hoping the surgery will change her life by boosting her self esteem and confidence.

But most breast cancer survivors do not make the same choice. A recent study found that only 16 percent of survivors have reconstructive surgery.

Some women don't want the hassle. Some proudly wear their scars. Others are in committed relationships and feel no need to go under the knife again.

Sutton admits she is influenced by the pressures of society and its image of the perfect body.

"I guess with my background and the way I came up and with the people that … I've been around all my life … that's the image of a woman," she said. "Maybe you don't have to have that. But I do. … That's just a part of … my being, a part of … my sexuality, a part of my sensuousness."

"I mean, it's just a part of me. That's the way I am," she added.

Sutton was a bit nervous about the anesthesia. And as with any surgery, there are always risks. But Sutton said, for her, the risks of the surgery will be worth it to feel like herself again.

"I want my breasts to be … almost the same size … so I can go out and shop and buy some cute little outfits," she said. "I can buy me a little V-cut and be able to wear it and be, you know, feel good about myself again."