Suzan Kim, Breast Cancer Survivor
Ask Suzan Kim about her experience with breast cancer and you might not get the expected response.
She uses words like "grateful" and "blessed." She describes her hospital stay as fantastic. In an article she wrote for her doctor's office she flatly states, "I know it sounds crazy, but my journey through breast cancer was an amazing time."
Crazy perhaps, but Kim's time at Torrance Memorial so positively influenced her that she now regularly volunteers for the hospital and serves as a breast cancer mentor. Diagnosed in 2010, the day after her 41st birthday, Kim, a full-time flight attendant, had never given much thought to hospitals. Healthy her whole life, she shrugged off her doctor's recommendation to get a mammogram on her 40th birthday; a year later she finally scheduled one.
Imaging showed ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS) in her left breast. Although DCIS is a noninvasive, early form of breast cancer, Kim was "mentally prepared for one of two options: to have to have chemotherapy or not. I really didn't want chemo," she recalls.
Luckily, Kim didn't require radiation or chemotherapy. "I was fortunate not to have had to go through everything. However, because the size and grade of the DCIS, she had a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy (removal of only a portion of the breast). For her reconstruction, she was referred to Dr. Michael Newman, a plastic surgeon on staff at Torrance Memorial and with South Bay Plastic Surgery.
Meeting with Dr. Newman helped reassure Kim of her outcomes and helped her ultimately decide to have a surgery known as the DIEP Flap, which takes skin and fat from the stomach area to use as tissue for breast reconstruction.
In the hospital for five days post mastectomy and reconstruction, Kim's follow-up revealed that there were potentially still cancer cells inside the skin of the breast. If her primary surgeon removed them, it would alter the reconstruction job they had just completed. Because there was a less than one percent chance of it turning into cancer, Kim opted not to undergo surgery again.
Then she met with Dr. Newman. "He said to me, 'I am not okay with it. We need to get it out. We are scheduling another procedure right away.' This happened just before Christmas, and it was so busy and hard to get a surgery," says Kim. But Dr. Newman was able to fit her in a few days later, remove the suspect cells, and have her out within a couple of hours. His swift intervention is something that Kim is particularly grateful for.
"He cared enough to do another surgery. He is truly a humanitarian, someone who cares about his patients and goes above and beyond."
Kim's stay at the hospital was equally impressive for her. "Everyone was so wonderful; I had a fantastic experience at the hospital. They made me laugh at a very hard time in my life. I don't have enough good things to say."
Kim had always wanted to do volunteer work but was unsure of where to devote her efforts. After her surgery, the volunteer program at Torrance Memorial became the logical choice. Immediately Kim felt support from the hospital and others in the program.
"At volunteer orientation, they went around the room with introductions and when they got to me I said 'I'm here because I was a patient and I want to give back. Last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.' And the whole room started to applaud," remembers Kim.
Now she helps with everything from Bingo to mentoring others undergoing breast reconstruction. As someone who rarely even gave a thought to doctors, now Kim talks at length about medicine, diagnosis, treatments, and recovery. But the experience is something she treasures. "I want to help people. Whenever people have a question, I am always there to talk to and try to do whatever I can do to help that person or seek out others who can help them. It's truly my passion."
Her passion for assisting others has also made her a mentor at work. A full-time flight attendant, Kim gets to meet many different people who are going through cancer, recently diagnosed, or putting off the annual check-up. "People often say how glad they are to have met me because they haven't had a mammogram yet," says Kim.
Kim knows that when it comes to cancer, she has been incredibly fortunate. She had exceptional care from her hospital and doctors. She didn't have chemotherapy or radiation, had no metastasis and is back at work full time. But she also sees herself as a breast cancer and reconstruction success story and someone that can represent hope for others.