As part of Tamika Gianni’s breast cancer treatment, she received radiation after breast implant reconstruction, which led to severe pain. After undergoing an innovative procedure, she is now pain free and has a new lease on life.

In 2019, Gianni was dealing with chronic hives that landed her in the emergency room. She was prescribed a concoction of medications including Benadryl and prednisone, but developed shingles due to the large amount of prednisone.

Then I noticed something was odd with my right breast, my nipple was inverted, but I thought it had something to do with the shingles,” she said. “When I went to the doctor they quickly wanted to do a biopsy. It was a good coincidence because I could have brushed it off.

After undergoing testing, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and two months later underwent a double mastectomy to reduce the chance of developing cancer in the left breast. A year after that, she had breast implant reconstruction with radiation but later developed severe discomfort.

“I had lymphedema in my right breast and the implant was pushed up near my collarbone,” she said. “I had a hard time putting on my clothing and sleeping on that side.”

Her Hartford HealthCare oncologist, Patricia DeFusco, MD, encouraged her to talk with E. Stirling Craig, MD, a plastic surgeon with the Cancer Institute at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. Even though Dr. DeFusco is located in Hartford, the Hartford HealthCare system-wide breast program allowed Gianni to easily be referred to Dr. Craig to optimize her care.

“It’s very common to have discomfort after radiation and in particular if you had a previous implant reconstruction,” said Dr. Craig.

Dr. Craig suggested Gianni undergo a DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforators) flap procedure, where fat, skin and blood vessels are taken from the abdomen and moved to the chest to rebuild the breast.

“Most women carry additional fatty tissue in the lower abdomen and upper thighs and it’s the perfect quality of fat to replace the fat that’s in the breast,” explained Dr. Craig. “As a result, we not only make the breast more aesthetically appealing we also make the abdomen flatter with a tummy tuck.”

Gianni spent two nights at St. Vincent’s Medical Center after the procedure and could immediately tell that the pain she had been experiencing was gone. A month later, she was vacationing in Florida with her family.

“I couldn’t believe how fast I recovered,” Gianni said.

“The pain I felt had held me back. I feel like a new person mentally, physically, and spiritually.”