HOUSTON – When a woman first receives the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer, her first thought immediately turns to fighting the cancer as best she can.
But another important part of the picture is breast reconstruction, which studies have shown can have a tremendous impact on survival and quality of life.
A recent survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found seven out of 10 women eligible for breast reconstruction following cancer surgery are not being informed of their options.
BRA Day, or Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, was created to help educate women about their options.
Susan Sternitzky, of Cypress, told Local 2, "You know, you think that you're moving along, it's behind you and then something else."
Sternitzky was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2006. Since then, she has had at least seven surgeries to reconstruct her breast. Like many survivors, she tries to stay positive.
She said, "I do feel whole and I do have to remind myself, I'm alive and cancer free."
The two main options for post-mastectomy breast reconstruction are implants or using the body's own tissue.
Plastic Surgeon Dr. Jamal Bullocks with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic said treatment should be tailor-made for each patient.
Bullocks said, "There are a few key things that influence the reconstruction -- how soon (the cancer is) found, the overall prognosis and of course, how bad the cancer is and what sort of therapies the patient will need."
Radiation is the biggest game changer.
While it kills the cancer, it often takes with it surrounding healthy tissue.
Sternitzky had radiation after a double mastectomy and implants.
She recalled, "For about six months, it was fine. But then, the tissue just started deteriorating."
After removing the implant, Sternitzky wore a prosthesis for two years then had another surgery using tissue from her back.
Plastic Surgeon Dr. Steven Kronowitz with UT MD Anderson, who's consulting with her, has done extensive research and found complications are more common in patients who receive implants after radiation.
He explained, "They've had multiple surgeries performed. They come and they're just not even sure if they want to have additional surgeries. They're not satisfied. So the important lesson here is planning and making all these decisions up front in regards to planning and reconstructive approach."
Bullocks told Local 2, "At the end of all of the therapy that they're going to have, at least there's something they can look forward to at the end of the road and that's living a life that's cancer free with a breast that's also cancer free."