Melanie Purcell is now fully recovered from a surgery that she chose to undergo after giving birth to her second child at age 32. She says her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 and after she suffered her own scare with thyroid cancer, she decided to take the protective step against breast cancer.
"At that point it was easy for me that I want to have a prophylactic double mastectomy," Purcell said.
She says the decision was made easier by recent advances in surgery that preserve more of the breast.
"The surgeon was known for doing a nipple sparing mastectomy where I knew he could save my nipples and my breasts could look like my actual breasts," she said.
After the double mastectomy, Purcell turned to Dr. Kamakshi Zeidler, a plastic surgeon in Campbell. Zeidler says new generation of breast implants is far more natural at imitating the shape and texture of the human breast.
"The technologies developed that can make breast reconstruction much more natural," Zeidler said. "The first is the highly cohesive silicone implants, what are commonly known as 'gummy bears.' They're cohesive silicone that hold their shape."
She says a second advance is the refinement of a technique known as fat-transfer. Fat is taken from the waist area, and then used to soften and sculpt the shape of the new breast.
"I've had patients say that no one knows they've had the surgery, certainly don't even know they have implants," Zeidler said.
For Purcell, who's now several months out from her reconstruction, the news that actress Angelina Jolie has gone public with the story of her own mastectomy is comforting. And perhaps more comforting is her belief that her decision will help protect her against an elevated risk of breast cancer.
"I feel wonderful with my decision, and I would never second guess it. It's something I know I'll never have to look over my shoulder again," Purcell said.
Zidler also points to a technology developed in the Bay Area called AirXpanders. The device forms a pocket in the breast area to help stretch scar tissue and to accommodate the implants. It's controlled by the patient herself, and often much less painful than traditional saline injections.
Written and produced by Tim Didion