I am a breast cancer survivor and a physiotherapist. I enjoy trail running and hiking, spending time with my dog, cooking and baking, reading, listening to music, and traveling. I do not have any children.
How did you find your surgeon? What were the specific reasons you chose him or her over other providers?
I found Dr. Welk through my breast cancer support group, The Knowledge Is Power Breast Cancer Tribe, and my friend Stephany’s recommendations. I specifically chose him because he was very straightforward with his recommendations and was able to perform a less invasive procedure than was being recommended by my previous surgeon while still being able to achieve the desired end result. In addition to his surgical skill and knowledge, I also truly appreciated Dr. Welk’s sense of humor. Being able to laugh a little throughout the process really helped ease my apprehension about undergoing a revision. I knew I could trust Dr. Welk right away and that I was confident after our consultation that I going to be in very good hands.
What type of procedure did you have and why did you decide to have this procedure?
I had a breast reconstruction revision due to an implant that was bottoming out. My original implant-based reconstruction of both breasts became uneven within 3 weeks of the initial exchange surgery (exchanging expanders for actual implants.) My left breast was bottoming out, which means the left breast was slipping out of the pocket, and it was sitting about 1.5 inches below the right breast.
I had been waiting for my Canadian plastic surgeon to repair it for over a year still without a surgical date. I lost trust in her ability to fix this as the same situation had happened with my expanders and she was not able to secure the implant in place. She was recommending a complete overhaul which would mean replacing both implants and undergoing another 4.5-hour surgery. I needed to move on in my life and did not want to have this hanging over my head. At the same time, I wanted to make sure I had a surgeon who was highly skilled and experienced to fix this so I would not need to have additional surgeries. Dr. Welk came highly recommended by my friend, Stephany. As soon as I met with him, I knew I found the right surgeon for me. He recommended a much less invasive procedure, about 1 hour-long surgery, without having to exchange the implants.
Describe your surgical experience and recovery.
My recovery was an absolute breeze! I only needed to take pain meds for one day after surgery. The entire team was amazing, the facilities were top-notch and the entire process was handled precisely and efficiently. I felt everyone I dealt with truly cared.
Dr. Welk followed up with me personally by phone and text while I was in Seattle even though it was over the weekend. He also gave me his personal cell phone number, something he does with all of his patients, in case I had any concerns. After I returned to Canada a few days later he continued to call me periodically to make sure I was doing okay. His follow-ups were much more frequent than any of my previous surgeons in Canada. I was able to return to work (on light duty)1.5 weeks later. My Canadian surgeon’s recommended surgery would have required 6 to 8 weeks of time off work! My surgical incisions healed perfectly and I have not had any issues with the implant since. It has been a couple of years since my revision and the reconstruction is holding up well.
What were your fears about having this procedure and how did your surgeon help you overcome them?
The only concern I had prior to my surgery was the fact that I would be having a procedure in a city and country not my own. What if something went wrong? What if I have complications after I return to Canada? Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. I will not go into the detailed differences between my experiences here in Canada and in Seattle, but I will say this: there was never a time under Dr. Welk’s care that I felt worried. Throughout the entire process, from booking the surgery to the procedure itself and then throughout my recovery, I felt completely supported and taken care of. Dr. Welk and his staff checked on me frequently.
Describe why you are happy you chose this procedure. How has it positively impacted your life? Your self-esteem?
I don’t think anyone is happy about having breast reconstruction as it is an extremely stressful and traumatic experience to be dealing with breast cancer treatment and surgeries. That said, I am so happy that I was able to put the process of getting my body back (as much as is possible) behind me so I can now enjoy my life. I have returned to my career and enjoy all the activities I used to before cancer. I no longer feel self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit or going for a swim. I feel feminine again.
Having this fixed had a tremendous impact on my confidence! Prior to the surgery, I had to wear patterned tops to mask the unevenness of my breasts. I never wanted to wear tank tops or swimsuits. Every time I would glance at myself in the mirror while stepping out of the shower, I was reminded of the incredibly traumatic stage of my life. While I was already out of chemo and radiation and was considered “healed,” I did not feel healed at all. I felt disfigured. This surgery allowed me to return to feeling good about my body again. It marked the end of being a cancer patient and the beginning of my new life.
Tell us specifically about why you are happy you chose the surgeon you did? Describe his/her most outstanding qualities.
I think for me, establishing straightforward communication with Dr. Welk was key to having the level of trust in him that “all would be well.” Dr. Welk tells it like it is. He is a straight shooter. I don’t appreciate doctors that sugarcoat things as it can really set patients up for a big letdown, which is exactly what happened with my original surgeon in Canada. While she said she would take me through my recovery, I could never get a hold of her and she did not seem to remember what we discussed in previous visits. Dr. Welk was clear in what he could and could not do for me. He outlined all the possible risks and actually convinced me to do a less invasive procedure to ensure better healing of my already radiated skin. He was always available when I had questions, even on weekends. I’m happy to say he delivered on his promises AND his great sense of humor made the most stressful period of my life easier to handle. His experience, expertise, and skills made a complex procedure seem simple.
How did our staff support you in your surgical experience?
From booking the procedure to providing me with pre-op instructions, all the way through the follow-up by phone and in-person after surgery, the clinic’s staff was always pleasant to deal with. The efficiency of the surgical team combined with their compassion made the entire process less stressful.
Do you have any advice for others who may be considering this procedure?
Do your homework and do not rush your decisions. Choosing the right surgeon is crucial to your results and your recovery. Just because a surgeon is skilled in one type of reconstruction does not mean he/she will be equally skilled in all of them. Make sure that you actually like the way your surgeon is communicating with you. If it does not feel right, find someone else who is communicating “on the same wavelength.”