THOUSAND PALMS, Calif. - Breast cancer took a lot away from VJ Sleight.
"What I lost was a lot of friendships because not everyone there can handle it," Sleight said.
She got a part of herself back, though.
"The first time I got cancer I didn't feel like a woman. I didn't feel like a whole person. But when I got reconstructive surgery, I started to feel like like myself again," Sleight said.
We sat down with VJ, a two time breast cancer survivor, on Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day -- an initiative designed to promote education and access for women who want post-mastectomy breast reconstruction.
"It's really important for women to know they have a right to a full reconstruction. The first time I had cancer I did not know that and I waited 14 years before I had my breast reconstructed," Sleight said.
Part of the awareness is making sure women know they could get the procedure done on the same day as the mastectomy or months to years later. Plastic surgeon Andrew Hayduke says the timing depends on the woman's condition.
"If a patient has advanced cancer and other medical issues going, perhaps a delayed construction is a better choice. However many women are otherwise healthy, planning a mastectomy, and placing the expanders at the same time is a good idea. It's convenient," Hayduke said.
Thanks to the 1998 Federal Breast Reconstruction Law, your insurance could cover the procedure.
"If an insurance company is willing to pay for a mastectomy which they do, they have to, by law, pay for reconstruction as well as anything I feel I need to do on the opposite side to get the best balance," Hayduke said.
"One of the loopholes was that individual insurance policies like I had did not cover all the reconstruction. Most people don't understand individual insurance policies are regulated by the state and not the federal government and that was a federal law," Sleight said.
VJ says the surgery changed her life, and it can change yours, too.
"There is life after cancer, and don't be scared into something you don't want to do. Find out what your options are," she said.
Eisenhower Medical Center's series of free lectures during Breast Cancer Awareness Month will continue Thursday, October 17th.
``The Angelina Jolie effect: are you at risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer?'' will be given at 5 p.m. at Eisenhower's Lucy Curci Cancer Center in Rancho Mirage.
Free breast exams will be offered from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on O. 23 and Oct. 30 at Eisenhower Clinics in the Coachella Valley. More information is posted at www.emc.org.
For reservations, call (760) 834-3798.