Kathy Steligo, author of The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook

With close to 92,000 U.S. women choosing breast reconstruction last year alone, there needs to be A Book. Besides that being a lot of surgery patients, it’s a pretty complicated procedure with a lot of options and potential complications. (Angelina Jolie made it look easy, saying she completed her reconstruction in about nine weeks.)

steligoheadshotThe good news is, Kathy Steligo knew of this need 10 years ago, and wrote the book — The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook — that she, herself needed when she went through her first breast cancer diagnosis. In 2012, Johns Hopkins University Press printed the 3rd edition and it’s circulating now, helping women everywhere distill the process, plan ahead and feel informed.

I had a little chat with Kathy about this excellent news, and about her impressive career as a health writer/editor. (She’s a friend of Amoena, you know, with several excellent articles to her credit.) This month, we also posted a review of the book at TheBreastCareSite.com. We thought you would enjoy getting to know the author.

What does it feel like to have a third edition published?

It feels great! Although much of the information from the original 2002 edition and the subsequent 2005 edition is still relevant, a lot has changed, and as someone who is a bit of a compulsive, it was important to provide information about new procedures and innovative changes. It is a relief to have completed all the new research and writing required, and a comfort knowing that the updated information about mastectomy and reconstruction is available to anyone who needs it.

Do you remember your inspiration for writing the original? 

Absolutely! When I learned I needed a mastectomy in 2002, I couldn’t find answers to my questions or the information I needed about mastectomy and reconstruction. It was frustrating and difficult trying to make a decision without adequate input. Books in the library were woefully outdated with horribly discouraging illustrations of reconstructed breasts, and there really wasn’t much on the Internet at that time. It was hard enough having to understand and make decisions about what I was going through; I didn’t want other women to have the same frustrating experience. I wanted to give them a single, objective and comprehensive source of information about their surgical options and what to expect before and after surgery. And I wanted to answer so many of the questions that doctors don’t explain or discuss. So I began an exhaustive research effort, reading published studies, and interviewing doctors, and surveying more than 400 women who had mastectomy with or without reconstruction. I self-published the book for 10 years, until Johns Hopkins University Press published the new 3rd edition in 2012.

Do you still identify as a “survivor?” Or does one “move on” from that place eventually?

Once you’ve been through cancer and come out the other side, you always identify with the term “survivor.” That’s an important part of recovery and getting back to normal life–not considering yourself a victim. As you’re dealing with diagnosis, treatment and recovery, the experience seems to take control of your life, and you wonder if you’ll ever return to normal. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and eventually your treatment, doctor appointments and checkups slip away, and normal life gradually returns. But you never forget the experience and that you beat it.

Who are some of the great surgeons you’ve met through this process, and what’s special about them?

I’m privileged and grateful to have met many skilled and dedicated plastic surgeons, many of whom I now consider to be friends. During three writings of The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook, several physicians were abundantly generous with their time, information, and before-and-after patient photos. Among them, Drs. Rudy Buntic, Minas Chrysopoulo, Joshua Levine, and Michel Saint-Cyr were always exceptionally forthcoming and patient, providing insight to procedures and answering so many of my questions. My own surgeon, Dr. Frank DellaCroce, continues to inspire me with his commitment, innovation and exemplary skill. It is no surprise that these are the names that are most often mentioned and recommended by patients with whom I speak during the course of a year. These physicians go above and beyond what is required. They care deeply about the patient experience and they treat each woman as a unique individual. They are dedicated to providing the very best result for their patients.

Tell us a little bit about your work with FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered).

As FORCE’s Editor-in-chief, I edit the organization’s biannual newsletter, member updates, and a variety of other publications and writing. As a faculty member/presenter at FORCE’s annual Joining Forces Against Hereditary Cancer conference, I speak about mastectomy and reconstruction. The organization’s knowledge, reach and compassion on behalf of the hereditary cancer community never cease to awe and inspire me. Our newest project is development of a comprehensive reconstruction learning tool, including a video.

What’s your next project?

My newest book, co-authored with Steven Richeimer, MD, is A Pain Doctor’s Guide To Relief: Confronting Chronic Pain, to be published April 2014 by Johns Hopkins University Press. Chronic pain affects more than 100 million Americans, including many who have lingering mastectomy pain, sometimes years after surgery. Many individuals assume or are told that nothing can be done to relieve the pain that controls their lives, but that is usually not the case.

We heard you have a pretty fantastic garden. What do you love about gardening?

Summer is my favorite time of year. My garden supplies enjoyment, solace, and nutrition! Spending time among the lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, celery and a variety of herbs is soothing, no matter how stressful the day has been. Gardens require so little: just water, lots of sun, and a feeding now and again. They give so much more in return.

Kathy’s website, breastrecon.com, is also a very helpful resource. We’re so glad to know this expert, and we encourage you to share her knowledge with your circle of friends.

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