Breast cancer survivor describes her journey through treatment, reconstructive surgery

Kimberly Collins lives in southern Maryland, about two hours away from Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Yet she still traveled to AAMC to get a second opinion on her breast cancer diagnosis — and then, ultimately, treatment and breast reconstruction.

“That’s a drop in the bucket for getting good care,” Kimberly says.

She opted to undergo a double mastectomy with Wen Liang, MD, a breast surgeon at The Rebecca Fortney Breast Center at AAMC, followed by reconstructive surgery with Devinder Singh, MD, chief of Plastic Surgery at AAMC and medical director of AAMG Plastic Surgery.

AAMG Plastic Surgery’s plastic surgeons work closely with the breast surgeons, oncologists and radiologists at The Rebecca Fortney Breast Center — a level of collaboration that is unusual in highly specialized care.

“When I walked into the breast center, I knew I was in the right place,” Kimberly says.

Dr. Liang, she says, treated her not just as a cancer patient, but as an individual person.

A breast cancer diagnosis is  terrifying, Kimberly says. She was drawn to Dr. Liang’s compassion as well as her expertise and knowledge.

“Dr. Liang wanted to see for herself what she was looking at,” she says, adding Dr. Liang didn’t give the scans to the radiologist until she reviewed them.

“And she actually had some questions,” Kimberly says. “She went that same afternoon during my consult to the Radiology department and had them read my films with her questions included. When you have a doctor with that much buy-in and partnership in your diagnosis and treatment — you don’t question it.”

Kimberly says she’d spent a lot of time researching Dr. Liang, but no time researching a plastic surgeon. That’s when the partnership between The Rebecca Fortney Breast Center and AAMG Plastic Surgery was especially important.

“If I had had to research a plastic surgeon — it would have changed my whole emotional journey,” she says.

“When I meet with a breast cancer patient after hermastectomy, there are always a lot of questions. And rightfully so,” says Dr. Singh. “Chief among them, what kind of reconstruction are we talking about?”

Kimberly opted for silicone implants to eliminate the need for extra incisions. Other methods of reconstruction, including deep inferior epigastric perforator artery (DIEP) or superficial inferior epigastric artery (SIEA) flap reconstruction involve using the patient’s tissue from another part of her body, such as the abdomen or thigh.

Dr. Singh was “the jewel in my crown” of treatment, Kimberly says.

Dr. Singh says it’s a team effort. Ken Collins, Kimberly’s husband, adds that the team approach was evident as Drs. Liang and Singh worked to include all members of their family, including their two children, in discussions about Kimberly’s care.

“Everybody was a part of it,” he says. “It was an incredible experience that I wish I had never had.”

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