COLUMBUS - Columbus resident Diane Hoenk said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2018.

“It was a shock, of course," Diane said.  "You hear ‘cancer.’  I mean, that’s a bad word, you know?  You don’t want that, you know?  You learn to deal with it, but you have to have support."

She said the cancer was far along enough that doctors at Columbus Community Hospital told her she would need more than just a little tissue removal: They recommended a mastectomy, where they remove the entire breast.

Diane said after she underwent the procedure, she had a couple options: Go with a prosthetic or have reconstruction surgery.  She said she quickly decided to have reconstruction done.

She is one of plastic surgeon Dr. Sanjay Mukerji's patients. 

Dr. Mukerji said he's been working in South Dakota for more than 15 years and that CCH asked him to provide his services at its Columbus Plastic Surgery Clinic.

"When there wasn’t a plastic surgeon in town, either the patients were leaving town or they had somebody coming in just for the day to provide that service occasionally," he said.

Dr. Mukerji said it's best for patients to start reconstruction right after the mastectomy.

“It’s great for them not to wake up and have something be missing entirely," he said.  "It’s great for them to wake up and be started on their journey back to full health and full recovery.”

CCH said that wasn't possible until Dr. Mukerji joined the hospital in January.

The part of reconstruction Diane is on now is the stretching phase, using a saline-filled tissue expander that Dr. Mukerji fills over time to stretch the skin.  He said it can take around two months, after which he replaces the expander with an implant.

Diane said it's helpful to have this new service in Columbus.

“I think you feel more comfortable with somebody here permanently than somebody coming in randomly from other towns," she said.  "So I put my trust in Dr. Mukerji to do a good job.”

Dr. Mukerji said Diane will complete her reconstruction in January.

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