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  A Survivor's Story - Central/East  
  With the support and guidance of her husband, Michelle Hartog beat breast cancer and bounced back with the best reconstruction option for her situation. Now she helps other women do the same.  
  Michelle Hartog joined Warriors on the Water after beating breast cancer.  

By Leah Kircher

In 2012, Michelle Hartog of Winter Park was told something that no one ever wants to hear, or expects to hear. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news came when she went for a routine mammogram, which she had been having yearly since she was 35. Michelle had no family history of breast cancer, none of the risk factors, and was living a healthy lifestyle.
“It can really happen to anyone,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Michelle and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Hartog, had been married for 19 years at the time she was diagnosed. Jeffrey says how fortunate they are to have caught the cancer so early. “I had the initial fear that comes from having someone you love feel threatened, and then I went into the role of helper and fixer,” he says.

Fighting the Battle
Although the primary site for Michelle’s breast cancer was her left breast, she decided to get a bilateral mastectomy. “I decided that I didn’t want to have to go through this twice,” she says. She opted to remove the second breast for reconstruction purposes as well.
Michelle and her doctor decided the best course of treatment for her was chemotherapy. Although Michelle really did not want to do chemo, she said she thought it was better than doing radiation in the long run. “No one wants to do chemo,” she adds.
Michelle is a nurse and has seen many other patients go through the same treatment, which was one of the main reasons for her hesitation, but she persevered and battled her way through to beat breast cancer.
She had her mastectomy on October 1, 2010, and has been cancer free for four years now.

Decisions, Decisions
As a nurse, Michelle already knew a lot about her reconstruction options, but she still took the time to do her research. Michelle says her husband, who is a board-certified plastic surgeon, took on an active role throughout the research process. “My husband had a lot of input about the reconstruction,” says Michelle. “Ultimately, it was my choice though.”
Jeffrey’s medical knowledge – along with his support as a husband – had a big impact on Michelle’s overall experience. Jeffrey says he helped Michelle make the best decision for her treatment and reconstruction in a way that “any husband would support their spouse.” Yet, he was able to use his expertise to guide her through her options too. “I had the benefit of supporting Michelle through the eyes of a husband and also as a medical professional,” he says.
Michelle decided fat grafting was her best option. Fat grafting is a process that utilizes a patient’s own fat to re-shape the breasts. Michelle’s active lifestyle was one of the reasons she decided on fat grafting. She was a Pilate’s instructor, a woman who loved to stay fit, and she was worried how other reconstruction options would affect that. Some procedures, such as implants, have been known to restrict arm movement and cause tightness in the upper body area. Fat grafting offers a relatively easy recovery with a quick return to normal activities. Under the circumstances, Michelle found this very appealing.
Michelle began the reconstruction process at the same time that she got her second mastectomy. Like most breast reconstruction options, she says, it takes time and patience. Her personal process took a full year and half, but she is more than happy with her results. In December, it will be a year since Michelle’s last procedure. 

A Message Out Of a Mess
Since her breast cancer diagnosis, Michelle has become a proud advocate for women’s healthcare issues, including breast reconstruction options. She is involved within the local breast cancer community.
She stays active in the local breast cancer community, including her participation in a breast cancer survivor Dragon Boat team called Warriors on Water. The team will be participating in the 2014 Dragon Boat Festival held in Sarasota at the end of October. “It’s a little daunting to go there and see so many people and other survivors,” says Michelle.
Jeffrey’s practice, The Bougainvillea Clinique, is sponsoring her Dragon Boat team for the festival. The practice also sponsors an annual Breastfest to raise money for breast cancer charities and to educate the public about treatment and breast reconstruction options. The Hartogs started this program before Michelle’s diagnosis, and they have continued to broaden it since.
Because Michelle was diagnosed at Winter Park Hospital, the couple feels compelled to donate to the Park Mammography Scholarship fund. “I feel very grateful to the Winter Park Hospital and the whole system over there,” Michelle says.
She was also involved in the Winter Park Task Force, specifically when it came to the new Florida Hospital for Women at Winter Park Memorial Hospital. She says the hospital got a lot of input from patients. “They asked how to make the facility a little bit more kind, if you will,” she says. “They asked their patients what they can do to make this better, and I think they’ve done a fabulous job with that.”
Michelle says she is lucky to have been able to meet so many people and other breast cancer survivors along her journey. She also feels lucky that her family and friends were so supportive. “I was very fortunate to be surrounded by so many friends and people who did very nice things for me. This experience has made me able to accept more help from others since I was always the one helping others.”
Although Michelle has learned to accept a helping hand, it’s in her heart to always offer her own as well by offering encouragement and support when it comes to learning more about their options when it comes to breast reconstruction.

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