A Patient Shares Their Surgery Story

A woman riding a horse in a training ring

Georgi Anderson mounts a horse and spins it around, excited to be able to ride again not long after surgery.

Anderson, the breast cancer patient from Wisconsin, returned to Lake County 10 weeks after her surgery. She shared her story of recovery after being diagnosed with breast cancer in December.

After seeing multiple doctors in the Minneapolis area and not finding one to provide her with the options or solutions she was seeking, Anderson traveled more than 800 miles to Lake County, where she met with Dr. Paul Vanek.

Vanek, a double board certified general and plastic surgeon and chief of surgical staff at Lake Health, was able provide Anderson with the treatment she was looking for.

Anderson, who is athletic and rides horses, was looking for something other than the traditional mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, which requires expanders to be inserted and inflated every 10 days for six months prior to reconstruction.

Vanek is one of the few physicians in the country and the only one in Lake County to perform the relatively new pre-pec, nipple-sparing mastectomy, which requires less healing time and no expanders. It allows the reconstruction to be done at the same time as the mastectomy, which is what Anderson was looking for.

Anderson who underwent the surgery at TriPoint Medical Center in Concord Township on Jan. 28, recovered for a week at Vanek’s home with him and his family tending to her prior to her returning to Wisconsin.

Ten weeks after her surgery, Anderson is staying the with Vanek family again as she returns to share her story of recovery.

She spent the afternoon of April 12 horseback riding at Legacy Equestrian Center, 7909 Sherman Road in Chester Township.

“I recovered extremely quickly due to the nature of the surgery and the fact that is was done cleanly, one and done (referencing the fact the mastectomy and reconstruction were both done in one procedure),” Anderson said.

The only restrictions she faced after her surgery were lifting restrictions for the first five weeks.

“I went home and couldn’t take a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you use your pectoral muscles anytime you use your upper body and that was all settling in due to the implant was on top of my pectoral muscle.”

Anderson, who saw Vanek a couple days ago, was given a clean bill of health.

“First of all, the most important thing is she is cancer free, she is pain free, she is comfortable and she looks beautiful,” Vanek said. “She looks feminine and has a beautiful breast shape on each side.

“She loves how she looks. She is completely comfortable and doing all activities she wanted to perform, having faced a cancer operation with reconstruction and mastectomy.”

Vanek noted that with her being an incredible athlete, being able to restore her to top performance after the bilateral mastectomy was one of the primary outcomes.

Anderson was on a horse five weeks after her surgery.

“I got on a little horse at about five weeks and just trotted around a bit,” Anderson said. “I just locked the girls (breasts) in with like four bras and was good to go.”

Anderson notes it was difficult to be off her horses and not able to ride.

“Georgi’s reconstruction recovery is what everyone is hoping to have,” Vanek said.

Vanek notes that Anderson saw an oncologist at Lake Health/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, who confirmed she would not need to undergo chemotherapy and has an outstanding prognosis.

“From my standpoint, this is the last surgery I should have to perform on her as her implants should last her for life.” Vanek said.

Vanek stated he is humbled by the outpouring of support for Anderson and for his family as she recovered with them.

“It’s one of the privileges of being a physician and a surgeon to make a lifelong impact on someone and being chief of surgery has opened my eyes as to how much of a gift Lake Health is to our community because we deliver state of the art care every day to Lake County and beyond,” Vanek said.

Vanek anticipates that this new procedure will become more prevalent through the United States over time.

Anderson states that she is grateful for surgeons like Dr. Vanek who are capable of doing this and putting you back together.

“I mean I just think I was so, so lucky to be done with this and have it be one and done and have it be my results are perfect and everything is great and I am good,” Anderson said.

“I think I feel like I am back to normal, but it’s a new normal. I didn’t have any angst or anguish over anything that changed about my body. I feel really good about myself, and I am happy to be alive and happy to be clean.”

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