I want to be in control

Nina Remollino is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago. She had a 7cm tumour in her right breast. She received chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, and is now cancer-free.

Nina is a brave woman, not only because of the surgery choices she made for herself, but because she also chose to share her story. It is her hope, as it is mine, that this will help other women to feel more comfortable expressing their own wishes for their bodies to their doctors.

Nina decided that, for her, it was very important to not only have a breast reconstruction of the affected right breast, but to undertake surgery to remove her left breast because her initial tumour was not able to be seen using mammogram and ultrasound, and she wanted to avoid any possible future problems. “This time I want to be in control,” she said. But Nina had a few specific demands:

  • She wanted to keep her own nipples;

  • She didn’t want implants;

  • She wanted to know that both of her surgeons were on the same page with all the elements of her care.

My colleague Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier and I organised combined consultations at Chris O'Brien Lifehouse to better understand her wishes while she was being treated for breast cancer. The 3 of us came up with a treatment plan together, using a different surgical preparation step for each side.

There are 3 things that were really innovative in this procedure:

  1. We were able to preserve both of Nina’s nipples using different surgical techniques for each breast and a state of the art machine that tests blood flow.

  2. We performed the reconstruction for both her breasts using tissue from her tummy and we were able to preserve her tummy muscle using a particular muscle preserving surgery known as the DIEP flap.

  3. Dr Warrier and I consulted together in the same room. While that may sound like a simple thing, combined consultations are not common, but they are something that I hope more surgeons and medical professionals will be willing to arrange, thereby putting the needs of their patients first.

Personalised medicine is not just about technological innovation. It’s also about a mindset shift in the medical profession that puts a patient back in control of their treatment options. A more personalised approach to medicine means ensuring patients are heard.

The Today Show, Channel 9 Studios Sydney recently filmed Nina’s journey and you can watch her story by clicking on the image.

Along with our colleague Dr Fred Clarke we performed this surgery on 10 July 2019.