Comedian and “The Funniest Housewives of Orange County,” producer Cindy Burns was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at 55. She turned to cosmetic procedures when cancer treatment left her face looking hallowed and sagging.
“I would look in the mirror, and I didn't recognize myself. The stress of being given a two-year death sentence and eight rounds of chemo had taken its toll,” Burns tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. “My weight was 89 pounds on a good day. I looked like a holocaust survivor, which is not a good look for a Jewish girl.”
Burns said that once chemotherapy treatments ended, the relief she felt on the inside didn’t match the outside. Right after her last chemotherapy treatment, Burns went to Corona Del Mar, Calif., plastic surgeon Robert W. Kessler, M.D. who used dermal fillers Sculptra (Galderma) and Voluma (Allergan), as well as Botox (Allergan), to fill the hollows of her face and restore a more youthful look.
“What Dr. Kessler did was give me my life back. Looking in the mirror, I now saw Cindy, the beautiful survivor,” she says. “The [fillers] and Botox gave me the confidence I needed to get back on stage and do what I love... making people laugh.”
Dr. Kessler says plastic surgeons tend to focus on an artificial distinction between patients.
“We think of them as either reconstructive or aesthetic,” he says. “[In reality,] there is little distinction between them.”
One might think a cancer patient’s main concern is the cancer and their physical appearance or their vanity is secondary. But that’s not always the case, especially since cancer patients often watch themselves physically disappear during treatment, Dr. Kessler says.
“It’s important to look well in order to feel well. Cindy knows she still has the disease, but now, at least, she looks well. And mentally and emotionally, that’s a very powerful thing.”
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A Question of Safety
Chemotherapy has a global effect on the body, Dr. Kessler says.
“There’s the loss of appetite. The chemo strips the lining of the GI tract, so it makes it difficult to eat. And when you eat, you don’t absorb as much of the nutrients, so you do lose a dramatic amount of weight. We know what the impact of weight loss… the skin relaxes and sags. With chemotherapy, volume loss in the face is a very dramatic thing,” Dr. Kessler says.
To treat the facial aesthetic he lists noninvasive procedures, including fillers, botulinum toxin injections, lasers and other devices and topical skin care, that are usually safe during and immediately after standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast, colon and other non head and neck cancers.
Exceptions to performing noninvasive procedures include patients who have depleted immune systems during treatments such as bone marrow transplants, as well as others who might be receiving cancer treatments, such as head and neck radiation but want facial aesthetic procedures.
“Obviously we aren’t going to be talking about major surgical procedures in this group. Creating incisions, opening wounds and doing things that are going to require significant healing and could cause infection are not indicated,” he says. “Things like fillers, are really innocuous. If you look at hyaluronic acid, it’s perceived by the body as ‘self’. There is no immune action to those fillers, and they can be done very safely.”
A Holistic Approach
Plastic and cosmetic surgeons should talk about any concerns with patients’ oncologists, according to Dr. Kessler.
“I think it goes back to the understanding that we need to address the whole person, for a much more holistic approach and not pigeonhole people into cancer reconstructive and aesthetic [categories],” he says. “Recognize that the person sitting in front of you is going through some emotional things and needs to feel well completely.”
When people hear they have cancer, it knocks them down, Burns says.
“You are faced with mortality. It affects you emotionally, physically, mentally and often financially. With desperation, you try to make sense of it all. You want your healthier, happier life back,” Burns says. “I picked myself up and started to regain my strength. Dr. Kessler listened to me. He understood how important it was to stay positive and manage my health. Looking good gave me the confidence to stay strong and return to health. What a beautiful gift it is to look in the mirror and like what I see.”