When I found out I was BRCA 2+, I began to research which type of prophylactic surgery to have. Once I had decided to have the DIEP procedure I went on to research surgeons. I was based in New York and I was confident I could have the best of the best. I found the surgeon in town who was the most highly recommended, whose office was super professional and who had been doing this procedure longer than anyone else. I was sure I had found my surgeon. I next heard that he couldn’t take my insurance, and although initially devastated, I quickly came to see that this was my lucky break, because the practice then recommended the wonderful Dr. Chen to me. Knowing what I know now about what makes a surgeon great, I look back on my early decision-making and my criteria for selecting a surgeon seems so misplaced. From the first day Dr. Chen became my primary surgeon she also became my advocate. With Dr. Chen I always knew someone was in my corner; with the initial surgery she challenged the surgical team to try a nipple-sparing mastectomy on hilariously large breasts and in the reconstructive surgery she encouraged her surgical partner to spend an extra hour to really make things perfect. This combination of perfectionism, ambition and dedication all translated to me being incredibly happy with the results and feeling like I really did get the best of the best. And for all this I will be eternally grateful.
But at the end of the day what I will really remember about Dr. Chen and her team is how they helped to make a really sucky time in my life seem okay. Her staff was always amazing. They were professional and efficient, but more importantly they were empathetic and thoughtful. I enjoyed turning up to the office and felt like I could ask for anything. The single most memorable image that will stick in my mind is Dr. Chen’s smiling face each time I came out of surgery. She’d be standing over me with the most inane grin buzzing with enthusiasm for how well the surgery went. I knew then, even in a drugged haze, that she loved her job and really cared about each individual patient.
I couldn’t help but wonder a few times over the 18 months I was in Dr. Chen’s care whether the fact she was a female surgeon made a difference. I am certain that there are male surgeons out there as equally talented as her, but I am not so confident that as many of them would realize that just sitting with your patient for two hours on a Friday night in hospital might be just what your patient needs. I am pleased that Dr. Chen is so dedicated, because it meant she replied to my weekend emails. I am glad I found a plastic surgeon that is such a perfectionist, because I now have breasts 10x more beautiful than they were before. I am glad that she was ambitious because I got to keep my own nipples even when it had never been done on breasts my size before (GG cup). But above all I am grateful that I found a surgeon who is compassionate and a good listener, because that meant I never felt alone or scared.
- Lisa G.