by Tiffany Sweeney

Cassy Dee paced along her patio in disbelief; “I have breast cancer. I have breast cancer. I have breast cancer.” The doctors believed her to be too young. She was only 41 years old. She had three girls to raise. As a nurse, she knew what she was about to face. She knew what to expect, but to experience it would be another story.

In 2011, Cassy was diagnosed with Stage 2 Ductal In Situ Carcinoma, or DCIS, after she discovered a lump. DCIS is a form of cancer found in the milk ducts of the breast that has not yet spread outside of the breast and into the lymph nodes. Cassy’s prognosis was positive, and her medical team at Benefis Sletten Cancer Center was confident in her care regimen. Together, they moved forward with a mastectomy and inserted expanders. Cassy was uncomfortable with tolerable pain. This was just the beginning of her journey.

For almost five years, Cassy’s implants sufficed. Then, the implant on the radiated side became encapsulated, forcing its way up her chest and almost to her shoulder, causing severe pain and necessitating removal. Cassy went through multiple surgeries to increase the elasticity in her post-radiated, irritated skin. Within two weeks of the implant being replaced, it became infected and resulted in sepsis and yet another hospitalization. The other implant was eventually removed a few months later, and by that time, she was physically and emotionally tapped out. With no implants, she made the decision to live her life flat. Her body and emotional health had had enough.

Throughout Cassy’s medical struggle, life began raining down around her. Her stepfather died of lung cancer, leaving her mother and the rest of the family in despair. Her sister moved to South Carolina. After much reflection, Cassy made the difficult decision to leave her turbulent marriage of 15 years. She felt alone, raising three girls on her own while she worked a demanding job. For two years, she embodied being flat, physically and emotionally. She struggled to adapt to her new life and look, from shopping for clothes that would fit properly to finding adaptive equipment, which felt unnatural and heavy to wear. And entering the dating world—that would prove to be a nightmare.

It was time to act. Cassy did her research and discovered a breast reconstructive surgery known as deep inferior epigastric perforators (DIEP) flap surgery. Surgeons take the body’s fat, nerves, veins, and more from the abdominal area to create and form new breasts. It would simply be an altered readjustment of her own body.

She scheduled her surgery for March 2020 and prepared with anticipation. She went in for her pre-surgery lab work, and the surgery was cancelled. The numbers were just not where they needed to be to proceed. Yet, Cassy did not give up. She took a much needed trip of inspiration to South Carolina to be with her sisters. While there, she consulted with surgeons, scheduling her next surgery date for April. Then, COVID-19 struck, shutting down all elective procedures. Again, the surgery was cancelled.

Cassy remained optimistic and determined. As the country began to re-open, her surgery was rescheduled for May, and this time, all details fell into place. Two days after surgery, she left the hospital with a transformed body and mind. She spent the next four days healing on a sandy beach. Finally she felt whole again.

After working at Benefis for 23 years and calling Montana home, Cassy decided it was time to make a change. She went to court to receive full custody of her girls, and within two weeks was in a car to South Carolina and a fresh start.

Cassy’s breast reconstructive surgery was truly life changing. She discovered her new, vibrant self, filled with hope she never could find before. Her scars serve as a reminder of her strength as she journeyed to find a body that she finally feels comfortable, proud, and sexy to be in.