Terri Coutee had barely turned 47 years old when, like too many women, her life was irreparably changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Twelve years into recovery, Coutee was struck with the bad news again. Despite physical and mental hardships, her indomitable spirit was never broken.
In 2014, Coutee was back in school after nearly three decades as a teacher and educator to complete her postgraduate degree. April 2 brought a sudden halt to her plans, however, when a suspicious shadow was found on her yearly mammography.
By the end of the year, her life had completely changed; Coutee had undergone the Deep Inferior Epigastric Artery Perforator Flap procedure.
The DIEP Flap is the technique in which skin and tissue is taken from the abdomen to recreate the breast.
After her surgery, Coutee had found her calling, to become an advocate for other women going through situations in life similar to her own.
“After my surgery in December,” she said, “I started getting the names of women going through this process, and I started getting more and more phone calls. And I said ‘this needs to have a wider outreach.’”
The group in San Antonio responsible for her surgery asked if she wanted to become a patient advocate, and the pieces seemed to come together perfectly. Working with medical professionals, Coutee is able to provide women across the nation with vital information regarding breast reconstruction surgery.
Because October is national breast cancer awareness month, Coutee is working with The University of Arizona Cancer Center to provide information to women in the Tucson community regarding procedures like her own.
Coutee became an advocate, and participates in events in order to supply women with factual, accurate information. Her intention has never been, nor will ever be, to persuade women to undergo reconstructive surgery. She only hopes to offer a means of information and advice.
The two greatest concerns regarding the surgery brought to her by women, and concerns she herself felt, were concerning scarring and the pain after surgery.
When it comes to the scars, Coutee said, its best to realize there’s nothing you can really do about it, and just accept the fact that scars are a natural occurrence.
As for the pain, Coutee said despite the nature of the surgery, she felt little more than manageable pain afterwards.
“I had very little pain,” she said. “And when you know that you’re cut from hip to hip for the surgery I had at least and all those fat and blood vessels are transferred up, people think that’s huge surgery, and it is. It can last upwards on nine to ten hours. But I had very little pain and it was very well-controlled.”
Though not all women will have a similar experience because everyone’s bodies are different, Coutee said other women she has spoken with after surgery felt similarly.
Now a national advocate, she is pushing to have a reconstructive information bill pushed onto the house. Coutee wasn’t always such a strong force in the breast cancer awareness community. Not too long ago, she was just a blogger with a mission.
“I had no expectations for going into this,” she said about starting her website, www.diepcjourney.com. “I just hoped that I could reach more women.”
Now the ball is rolling, and Coutee said her blog, and her entire advocate movement “has taken on a life of its own, in a very good way.”