Woods writer pens new book on breast cancer

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 29, 2016

METRO DETROIT — When Patricia Anstett’s good friend Donna Dauphinais lost both breasts in September 2011 to breast cancer, Anstett discovered a side of the disease she felt needed more attention: breast reconstruction surgery.

“It took her five years to get the results she wanted,” Anstett said. “Most women go back for two procedures, or three or four. They live with uneven results.” 

Anstett has never had breast cancer, but after watching Dauphinais fight the disease and undergo the reconstruction process, the Grosse Pointe Woods resident has written a book, “Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You.” 

Anstett — a retired medical writer who worked for 30 years at the Detroit Free Press — interviewed several local breast cancer survivors ages 20 to 72 who had various procedures and viewed the latest techniques and best practices at work. Anstett’s book was released June 16 by Rowman & Littlefield, with photography by Detroit Free Press photographer Kathleen Galligan.

“We want to improve the conversations that women and doctors have about these topics. We want women to know there are options and they have a choice. They don’t have to rush with the decision of reconstruction,” Anstett said. “We live in such a breast-conscious society.”

Anstett’s book also includes advice on finding good doctors, clothing, breast forms, how men react to breast cancer and more. Anstett found out that women who don’t choose reconstruction say they get pressure to have it anyway. 

Five years after having a double mastectomy, Dauphinais had her last reconstructive surgery six months ago. As the administrator of records for the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, the 57-year-old Grosse Pointe Farms resident said she knew “a lot about breast cancer.”

“I was completely unprepared for reconstruction,” Dauphinais said. “Nobody gave me the information I needed. Nobody said, ‘You can wait.’ I think it’s important to some women to have reconstruction (surgery). For other women, it’s not. You should know what the options are.” 

Dauphinais is featured in two chapters in “Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You” — “Revisionists” and “The Nipple: The Ultimate Challenge.” Reconstruction in the beginning did not go well for Dauphinais. 

“I had a lot of ripples,” she said. “It was a bad outcome, I thought.”

Dauphinais, who did not have a history of breast cancer in the family, had her implants changed, but there were still problems. 

“They were a mess,” said Dauphinais, whose mom, Dorothy Dauphinais, offered support every step of the way. Unhappy with the procedures, Dauphinais contacted Dr. Dennis Hammond, a plastic surgeon in the Grand Rapids area, who eventually treated her.

“I think he worked a miracle with me. I am pleased with my outcome,” said Dauphinais, who has been cancer-free for five years. “I feel great. I feel I learned a lot. What I learned is you have to take charge of your own care. I hope that women know they have more choices.”

‘The chemo was the worst part for me’
For 30 years, Linda Johnson went for an annual mammogram. The Detroit resident was “shocked” when at Christmastime 2013 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent 2014 fighting the disease. Like Dauphinais, the disease did not run in her family. 

“It was a lump. It was a pretty good size,” Johnson, 69, said. “(My doctor) wanted to shrink it down. I went through chemo first. It did shrink it down a lot. The chemo was the worst part for me. I was so sick and weak.”

After that, Johnson had a lumpectomy. According to the website www.breastcancer.org, a lumpectomy is the removal of the breast tumor and some of the normal tissue that surrounds it. 

Johnson underwent radiation in July 2014 at the same time that her daughter JoLinda gave birth to Johnson’s first grandchild, a boy named Leonard. Johnson, however, couldn’t see or hold him just yet. The family lives in Barcelona, Spain, and Johnson couldn’t travel abroad while undergoing treatment. 

“We Skyped every day,” said Johnson, a former East Detroit Public Schools principal, who finally met her grandson in person in August 2015 in Barcelona. Johnson is featured in chapter 18 of Anstett’s book, titled “Clothing and Breast Forms.”

“She knew I was open about the whole thing dealing with body changes,” Johnson said. “After surgery, you have tubes hanging off you and need a chemise.”

All along, Johnson leaned on her husband, Bob, for support.

“My husband was a fabulous caregiver,” the breast cancer survivor said. “He took me to all my chemo appointments and all my doctor appointments.”

Johnson also turned to Gilda’s Club for support and to an online group of about 50 women who prayed for her. 

Southfield resident Katrina Studvent tells her story in chapter 14, “Sex and Intimacy.” 

“Sex and intimacy was an issue for me, and just body image. When you’re trying to be intimate, it can be uncomfortable,” Studvent said. “It was an honor to be a part of her book.”

Studvent was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 30 after she noticed a change in her body. Studvent asked her mom, Christine Lawson, about it, who encouraged her to visit her doctor. 

“It didn’t register,” Studvent, now 40, said. “Breast cancer just wasn’t on my radar.”

Studvent had been married to husband Donald for about 18 months, and her daughter Alyssa, now 11, was just a baby at the time. Studvent got a second opinion and then began chemotherapy. 

“It just became the steps of getting through it,” Studvent said. “It was about the business of getting healthy again.”

As she battled the disease, Studvent had her left breast removed in September 2006. She developed an infection and for seven years wore a prosthetic. 

“At first it was a challenge,” she said. “Trying to get in a bikini and fitted dresses was a challenge. The prosthetic bras are not attractive.”

Then, when on a trip out of the country with Donald, Studvent hit the beach in a bathing suit without her prosthetic. 

“I wanted to be open to sharing why I am the way I am,” said Studvent, who said one woman asked her about her missing breast. “I hope my challenges help women who have gone through it or are going through it.” 

Studvent underwent reconstructive surgery three years ago on her left breast, which went well. Family and friends were a bright spot for Studvent as she battled cancer. 

“It took a village to get me through it,” she said. 

Anstett has a number of public events scheduled to discuss the book, including a fall program at the St. John Hospital and Medical Center’s Van Eslander Cancer Center in Grosse Pointe Woods. 

For more information on “Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You,” visit www.bcsurgerystories.com.