After eight rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation and a mastectomy, Kristen Dahlgren is thrilled to be in remission from breast cancer. But she’s been surprised by what ended up being one of the “hardest” side effects from her mastectomies — losing feeling in her chest.
The NBC correspondent, who announced in April that she is now cancer-free, said the numbness in her chest is “a constant reminder” of her ordeal.
“For now, life has returned to a semblance of normal, and I am trying to enjoy every second,” Dahlgren, 47, wrote in an essay for Today about her treatment and recovery. “There is, however, a constant reminder of what I have been through and what is yet to come. It hits me every time I take a deep breath, or get a hug, and especially when my daughter lays her head on my chest. That’s when I really ‘feel’ the toll the breast cancer has taken. It’s discomfort and numbness all at once."
“Of all of the side effects of treatment, for me, this may be the hardest.”
Dahlgren, who discovered her breast cancer in Sept. 2019 after reporting on unusual signs of the disease and then noticing symptoms herself, said it wasn’t an issue she ever anticipated.
“Before breast cancer, I never realized that women who have mastectomies lose feeling in their chests. It makes sense, of course — since the nerves are cut during the surgery — but it’s not something that is often talked about,” she said. “After all, the most important thing in the surgery is removing all of the cancer and saving your life. So, numbness is something I thought I would just have to live with.”
Dahlgren asked if she’ll ever regain the feeling in her chest, and plastic surgeons have said it’s not possible just yet. But she also found one surgeon, Dr. Constance Chen, who performs “flap” reconstruction to reconnect the nerves in the chest, with encouraging results — one patient said she’s back to 80 percent feeling in her chest.
Dahlgren will undergo reconstruction with Dr. Chen later this year, and while the surgeon has warned that “there are no guarantees,” she’s hoping for similar results.
“I’d really just love to feel a hug — or my little girl cuddled up against me on the couch,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, life certainly goes on, but like I have so often in the past year, for now, I am hanging on to hope.”
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