Woman's breast cancer survival story reminds importance of self-exams

Susan Champman makes rowing look effortless, but gliding backwards on this Detroit canal takes physical and mental toughness - just like her fight to survive.

Her journey started two years ago in the fall of 2013.

"I was lying in bed reading and, for whatever reason, I felt a twinge and reached over and did a squeeze and felt a really big lump. So, that was three weeks from doing a self-exam and feeling nothing to feeling a really large lump," she remembers.

That lump would change everything.

Susan was quickly diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

"Horrified. I was terrified. It's a very frightening diagnosis," she says. Her first instinct is to get rid of the cancer with chemo and then with a double mastectomy.

"Whatever I could do to live was the only thing that was important to me," she says. But at the same time Susan methodically considered her treatment options.

"Then you start thinking, 'Well, why shouldn't I look as good as I can?'" she says. That's how she ended up at St. John Hospital with plastic surgeon Dr. Melek Kayser. Susan decided on a lesser known option called fat grafting, or moving the fat from one part of her body to another.

"We create the entire breast mound from a patient's body fat," Dr. Kayser explains.

First there's liposuction, then that fat is processed and injected.

"The fat, once integrated, will plant itself, establish a new blood supply," he says.

But to keep fat alive and build new breasts, a suction cup-like bra that's worn during treatment is necessary.
"Through negative pressure, it stimulates growth. It also actually helps to increase blood supply," says Dr. Kayser.

The process can be tedious, taking several treatments, and there are no long-term clinical studies on fat grafting for breast reconstruction. But Dr. Kayser has seen great success

"Using the patient's own natural tissue that doesn't reject and it has the potential to last a lifetime," he says.

For this wife and mom and lover of life and rowing, the future is bright.

"I think you would never know that I had a double mastectomy," she says.

One of the reasons Susan wanted to share her story is because she found a lump doing a self-breast exam - a lump that wasn't there a month earlier. You have to know your body.

We're excited to be making strides against breast cancer this Saturday morning, joining the American Cancer Society to raise funds and awareness. You can find more information here.