Resilience, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit was the inspiration for an art exhibit and talk held at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell on Oct. 26, 2017, entitled, “Reclaiming Life After Mastectomy.” The program featured sculptures created by Zucker School of Medicine clinical assistant professor of surgery, Ron Israeli, MD, a plastic surgeon specializing in post-mastectomy breast reconstruction.
A student of classical European sculpture techniques, Dr. Israeli applies his skills and talent as an artist to his work as a plastic surgeon. As an ongoing sculpture project that began in 2011, he has been creating life cast sculptures of some of his patients with the goal of generating awareness of breast reconstruction as a vital part of the recovery process following mastectomy. Dr. Israeli says that the process of creating the cast reflects the step-by-step approach utilized for breast reconstruction.
“In my practice, the staged nature of reconstruction allows me, over a period of months and often years, to get to know patients very well,” said Dr. Israeli. “The purpose of this project from the beginning has always been to provide a sense of hope for women dealing with breast cancer and facing mastectomy.”
A founding partner at Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, PC, Dr. Israeli has worked with a team of physicians and healthcare specialists to develop a breast reconstruction practice with a uniquely holistic approach, including the formation of the Patient Empowerment Program (PEP), created by Mollie Sugarman, a psychotherapist with over 40 years of experience.
“As traumatic as it is to learn of a diagnosis of breast cancer, sometimes the greater impact is the fear of losing one’s breast,” said Ms. Sugarman, clinical director of the PEP. “PEP provides tools for our patients, including spouses and partners, to deal with the emotional components of all stages of the breast reconstruction journey. It establishes a community of support which provides strength in facing their fears.”
During the event, several patients shared their stories of triumph over breast cancer and the significance of participating the life casting, including Lucienne Colombo, who underwent two years of multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and is a survivor.
“Not that my life before cancer was bad, but life after cancer is definitely different. I take life at my own speed—I eat the cake,” said 48-year-old Ms. Colombo, a conductor for the Long Island Rail Road. “For me, participating in the life cast project represented rebirth and freedom, it was time to live.”
For Dr. Israeli, the life cast project is also a reminder to always consider the patient as a whole, both body and mind. “Creating the life cast brings that altogether—[the patients] can see it, they can feel it, and can show others that you’re going to be okay.”
Special thanks to “Reclaiming Life After Mastectomy” panelists, Randall Feingold, MD, Zucker School of Medicine clinical associate professor of surgery, and, Lora Weiselberg, MD, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Breast Cancer Service at Northwell Health’s Monter Cancer Center, for their expertise and contributions to the program discussion.
For more information about the life cast sculpture project listen to recent radio interview on WRHU 88.7FM, or view