Bonnie Versus Breast Cancer
As a lifelong Gainesville resident, Bonnie Green has lived a full life in a small town.
Born in a local hospital, which she laughingly says no longer exists, Bonnie was raised in the heart of The Gator Nation. She graduated from a local high school, went to college at Santa Fe and got married. She worked as a cardiovascular echo tech, then spent time raising her children as a stay-at-home mom of two. She spent her spare time focusing on creative endeavors: crocheting, painting, drawing and writing.
She had no idea that the little town that had afforded her so much light and happiness would soon become the backdrop for the darkest period in her life.
In the fall of 2016, Bonnie visited the doctor for a routine mammogram. She was faced, for the first time in her life, with an unusual result.
“They asked me if I had time to do a biopsy that day,” Bonnie said. “I have to tell you, it scared me to death.”
Bonnie knew what a biopsy order might mean. Several of her family members had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past, and Bonnie had helped her sister through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment just five years earlier.
“I started worrying. What if that happened to me, too, with all the family history,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie’s intuition proved to be correct when her biopsy results came back positive for pre-cancer in her right breast.
With a diagnosis of pre-cancer, Bonnie’s care transferred to Lisa Spiguel, M.D., a surgeon at UF Health specializing in oncology and surgical breast cancer treatment. Spiguel sent her for an MRI to get better cancer visualization.
“Bonnie came to see me initially because she had had an abnormal screening mammogram,” Spiguel said. “I wanted a full evaluation, so I ordered a breast MRI.”
Sitting in the MRI machine, Bonnie had a feeling something else was wrong, but results weren’t available immediately. She spent the next several days in a panic.
“I was anxious and calling, and when they got the results, they told me I had to come in, so I knew something was wrong,” Bonnie said. “So, I asked the nurse to tell me the truth over the phone, and that’s when I found out.”
The MRI had discovered Stage 1 breast cancer in her other breast, meaning both breasts contained cancerous tissue. To ensure successful treatment, and that the disease wouldn’t spread, Bonnie needed surgery as soon as possible.
Bonnie describes that moment of diagnosis as one of pure shock and sadness, pulling her into a darker place than she’d ever imagined. The woman who’d once loved to paint and crochet began to set all of that aside. She would start paintings but never finish them, and she began to give away the pieces of art she’d treasured the most.
Still, Bonnie refused to let her soul be crushed under the heavy weight of a cancer diagnosis. With the help of an anti-depressant, lots of prayer and ceaseless support from her family, Bonnie rallied and prepared herself for the first stage of her fight.
Bonnie opted for a double mastectomy, a dramatic surgery in which Spiguel would dissect the lymph nodes of the breast and remove all breast tissue and muscle near the cancer-affected area. After the procedure, with all the tissue removed, Bonnie’s breasts would no longer exist.
“After discussing all of the risks and what her future risk of breast cancer was, Bonnie elected to proceed with a bilateral mastectomy, not to treat her cancer better but to prevent future cancer,” Spiguel said. “When a woman has decided to proceed with mastectomy, we talk about the role of reconstruction.”
Hoping to return her breasts to their original appearance after the surgery, Bonnie was introduced to UF Health plastic and reconstructive surgeon Mark Leyngold, M.D. to discuss her options for breast reconstruction.
“Dr. Leyngold is the best,” Bonnie said. “He really just put me at ease, and the dedication the girls in the office put in to make sure every question was listened to was just amazing. He was adamant that he was going to give me exactly what I wanted breast reconstruction-wise within the parameters of what fit me.”
Bonnie decided that the best option for her body was to undergo a flap procedure, using tissue from her abdomen for the reconstruction.
Dr. Leyngold guided Bonnie to this decision but says that it really comes down to what the patients want, not his preference.
“We really have to take into consideration what they feel is appropriate or what they feel is a good outcome and what their goals are,” Leyngold said.
“I’ll kind of combine my expertise and their goals and give them a good result where they feel happy.”
On the day of the procedure, in January of 2017, both surgeons went in and performed their respective duties in remarkable collaboration.
Spiguel performed a double mastectomy, dissecting Bonnie’s lymph nodes and removing all of her breast tissue and nearby muscle. Afterward, Leyngold placed tissue expanders under the skin where Bonnie’s breasts used to be in order to make room for the future tissue transfer.
The procedure was successful and Bonnie went home to recover, but she soon felt that something was wrong. After feeling pain in her right breast several days post-procedure, she came down with a fever of 103.
“I let Dr. Leyngold know, and he immediately had me come in, no waiting, and had me come into the hospital,” Bonnie said.
Dr. Leyngold discovered that Bonnie had an infection in her right expander, a common complication for breast reconstruction surgeries. He immediately treated it with antibiotics.
“He [Dr. Leyngold] took such good care of me,” Bonnie said. “Even when I was in the hospital and safe, everyone was constantly checking in and making sure I had the right care.”
After healing, Bonnie underwent 18 rounds of chemotherapy beginning in May of 2017 and was able to undergo her breast reconstruction. Today, she is cancer-free.
Bonnie credits her success to the joint efforts of Drs. Spiguel and Leyngold and their teams, calling them experts in the field who made her feel like family.
“We try to create an atmosphere that makes the patient feel like they’re being cared for, like they’re in good hands,” Leyngold said. “We try to instill confidence in our skills and give the patient an understanding that we’re not just there to operate on them, but we’re there to treat them as a whole patient. We spend time with patients in the room, and let them ask all their questions and put them at ease.”
Just a few months ago, Bonnie began to get back into what she loves most, and today she is back to crocheting and painting again. Bonnie works for the University of Florida’s Health Science Center Library has joined their marketing team and says she feels lucky to be a small part of promoting what UF Health can do, especially because of all that they have done for her.
“They’re concerned and they’re professional, yet friendly and courteous,” Bonnie said. “I couldn’t have made it without Dr. Leyngold and Dr. Spiguel and their teams. I really just felt like they went above and beyond with everything, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m sure they do the same thing with their other patients, too.”