Carol and her supportive husband

Patients like Carol Jackson make it a pleasure to come to work everyday. So says the team at Stillwater Plastic Surgery. Carol is a mom, wife, teacher (fourth-graders’ favorite at Matthews Elementary) and breast cancer survivor. Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery on her right breast a decade ago. Earlier this year, Carol came to Dr. Capizzi to “upgrade” to Gummy Bear breast implants. Carol was primarily seeking pain relief. Unfortunately, her original latissimus flap reconstructive surgery and subsequent surgeries – performed by other plastic surgeons – produced chronic pain. Carol was in search of solutions. This led her to Dr. Capizzi and Stillwater Plastic Surgery.

STILLWATER: Let’s get started and focus on the here and now. Can you tell us what three words describe the way you feel about yourself right now, today?

CAROL: Healthy, free, balanced.

STILLWATER: Can you give us an overview of your first reconstructive surgery?

CAROL: I had latisisimus flap surgery with an adjustable implant. I went into that surgery with the impression that it would be a breeze. How very wrong I was. I was left with so much scar tissue that it “squeezed” my implant and I was in constant discomfort. No one would listen to me, but I knew this wasn’t normal.

STILLWATER: Why did you feel the time was right NOW to undergo a revision of the first reconstructive surgery?

CAROL: This was not my first revision. I left my first plastic surgeon and had numerous surgeries with surgeon number two. My implant was replaced countless times over the years. I gave up having symmetry for comfort, but I really never had comfort. I was left feeling very self-conscious about how I looked and very depressed about constant discomfort. I was tired of having surgery, and I gave up. Fast forward a few years, and I ended up at Dr. Capizzi’s office. I wasn’t ready to give up!! So very thankful for that decision!

STILLWATER: Just curious … you opted for a new plastic surgeon for the revision. How did you find Dr. Capizzi? What gave you the confidence to choose him and Stillwater?

Carolina Breast Friends, The Pink House

CAROL: When I was first diagnosed 10 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a wonderful group, Carolina Breast Friends (CBF). I was a founding member, and I am proud of that to this day!! Someone told me about Dr. Capizzi then, but I couldn’t justify the drive to Huntersville (at that time he was not in Charlotte). When I started looking in January for a new surgeon, I went to CBF’s website and read thru blogs. When I saw his name a light bulb Came on. I remembered that name!

STILLWATER: Your original breast reconstruction surgery and revised reconstructive surgery with Dr. Capizzi occurred about a decade apart. Can you tell us the biggest changes that you’ve seen in breast cancer treatment during this time?

CAROL: So many changes. I have friends/acquaintances going through treatment. I can’t help them. Things are too different. I can, however, counsel them through reconstruction. I feel like an expert!

STILLWATER: Gummy Bears are all over the news. Tell us what your decision-making process was like relative to type of implant.

CAROL: I just listened to Dr. Capizzi. I didn’t pay attention to the news. I trusted him with all my heart. I knew what he was explaining was accurate and I went with my gut feeling.

Carol with lifelong friend Linda at the Susan G. Komen run before her diagnosis

STILLWATER: You’re an educator. What advice would you give to women faced with a reconstructive breast surgery decision today?

CAROL: I would say first, educate yourself. It’s not easy. It’s a process. Secondly, do it for you. Not anyone else. Don’t plan around work or other obligations. Take time to heal. (I speak from experience on that one!) And three, make sure you have a doctor who listens to you!!! You know your body.

STILLWATER: Now I’m going to ask you to speak to doctors as a teacher. What advice would you offer plastic surgeons and the medical community regarding patient care and reconstructive surgery?

CAROL: Listen to your patients. Teachers have to “differentiate” – that is, know each child as an individual and meet those needs. Doctors must do the same. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If we say we hurt, we hurt. If we feel unbalanced, we are. Listen. Schedule appointments knowing that it may take more than the allotted time. We deserve it. This is something that most doctors don’t seem to do. Stillwater Plastic Surgery does!!

STILLWATER: It’s another teaching question. Now imagine your students are friends and family of women battling breast cancer and most specifically undergoing reconstructive surgery. What do you have to say to loved ones? How can they be more helpful? Any dos and don’ts?

Carol at race for the Cure after diagnosis and treatment

CAROL: I always want to put myself in a helping role. That’s the teacher/mom in me. This year and last year I was able to mentor a 4th grade student whose mom was/is dealing with breast cancer. I love being able to say,” look at me!!! I’m a 10-year survivor and I’m doing great!” I feel such a sense of pride when 9-year olds light up after that!  I tell them to just be supportive. Don’t say “you look fine” or “don’t worry” because (1) we don’t feel like we look fine, and (2) we do worry!

I say, cuddle up and let mom cry. It’s ok to have mom cry. I say, mom needs mom time. She’s still your mom, no hair, no breast … it’s still mom learning to deal with a new self.

Carol and her fourth graders shopping for the class Angel Tree at Christmastime

STILLWATER: As a teacher, we know you are dedicated to lifelong learning. We grow from joyous and challenging experiences. Can you tell us what you have learned through your experience as a breast cancer survivor?

CAROL: I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything. I’m stronger, more appreciative, more thankful. Would I like to feel like I did physically 10 years ago before my diagnosis? ABSOLUTELY! But, my journey has been much more positive than negative. The people that I’ve met along the way – Amazing!!! The things I’ve learned about myself – powerful!

Carol with her husband and two handsome sons