Hope found in reconstructive surgery

While undergoing a gruelling treatment regime for triple negative breast cancer, Sonia Van Deventer admits there were times she wanted to give up.

Months of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery left the Lavington mum extremely fatigued and with painful side effects including mouth ulcers and blisters on her feet.

But apart from her three young children, Ms Van Deventer found great motivation to keep fighting each day in reconstructive surgery.

“A breast reconstruction was the one thing that kept me focused and positive throughout my entire journey,” she said.

“It meant that I was going to get new boobs, perky ones, and a flat tummy.”

Ms Van Deventer is one of more than 30 women who have undergone breast reconstructive surgery at Albury Hospital in the past three years.

It comes after the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre Trust Fund invested $345,000 in a new surgical microscope, specialised skin graft machine and other related equipment in 2020.

It meant reconstructive surgery could be offered in the region for the first time, overseen by plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr Queenie Chan.

Dr Chan said it was now an option for breast cancer patients to have all of their cancer treatment, operative and oncological, and reconstruction procedures completed locally.

“In most cases, there would be no reason to travel outside the area for any treatment or procedure,” she said.

“This has taken away the stress and financial burden for patients and their families, who can have the support of family and friends close by, and in their immediate recovery.”

Ms Van Deventer was just 43, with three children aged from seven to 14 years, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2020.

She underwent a double mastectomy in July that year, which she said left her feeling embarrassed about her body to the point where she would turn her back on her partner while getting changed.

“I didn’t feel whole, and I just wanted to feel like a woman again,” Ms Van Deventer said.

In July this year, Ms Van Deventer underwent a deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap breast reconstruction, which involved using skin and fatty tissue from her abdomen to rebuild breasts.

She then needed a latissimus dorsi (LD) flap reconstruction, where skin, fatty tissue and muscle was removed from her back to reshape her left breast as the original transfer didn’t take due to damage from radiation.

All of her treatment, including follow up procedures and appointments, were done just a few kilometres from her home in Albury.

Had she had to travel as far as Melbourne, Ms Van Deventer said she would’ve had to have given serious consideration to whether she would have followed through with the surgery.

“It would’ve been the cost of travel and time away from family,” she said.

“Also all the follow up appointments and with the wounds that I had, it wouldn’t have been very comfortable travelling for long periods of time.

“I was just stoked that I could actually get it all done in Albury. It’s definitely a very, very good service here.”