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NBC News’ Kristen Dahlgren will undergo surgery to regain feeling in her chest

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Kristen Dahlgren has opened up about how losing feeling in her chest after her double mastectomy has been one of the most surprising and hardest side-effects of her breast cancer treatment. 

The NBC News correspondent, who is cancer-free after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in September 2019, revealed in an essay published by Today that she plans on having a Resensation procedure to try and regain feeling in her chest when she has breast reconstruction surgery earlier this year.  

‘For me, I’d really just love to feel a hug — or my little girl cuddled up against me on the couch,’ Dahlgren, 48, wrote.  ‘If it doesn’t work, life certainly goes on, but like I have so often in the past year, for now, I am hanging on to hope.’ 

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Candid: NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren has revealed she will undergo Resensation, a procedure to attempt to regain feeling in her chest after a double mastectomy

Looking back: Dahlgren, pictured after chemotherapy, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in September 2019

The journalist announced in April that she was cancer-free after undergoing a double mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and 25 rounds of radiation. 

Dahlgren explained that while her life ‘has returned to a semblance of normal’ the lack of feeling in her chest has been a ‘constant reminder’ of her cancer battle.  

‘It hits me every time I take a deep breath, or get a hug, and especially when my daughter lays her head on my chest,’ she said. ‘That’s when I really “feel” the toll the breast cancer has taken. It’s discomfort and numbness all at once. Of all of the side effects of treatment, for me, this may be the hardest.’

The mom admitted that before her breast cancer diagnosis, she never realized that women lose feeling in their chests after mastectomies.   

‘It makes sense, of course — since the nerves are cut during the surgery — but it’s not something that is often talked about,’ she noted. After all, the most important thing in the surgery is removing all of the cancer and saving your life. 

‘So, numbness is something I thought I would just have to live with.’ 

Life-saving decision: While reporting on a hurricane in North Carolina, Dahlgren dashed to a local hospital to get a mammogram and ultrasound after finding a ‘dent’ in her breast

Battling breast cancer: The journalist underwent surgery, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and 25 rounds of radiation 

However, that changed when a friend introduced her to Dr. Constance Chen, a reconstructive plastic surgeon in New York City. 

Dr. Chen is one of a handful of surgeons who performs Resensation, a procedure that involves reconnecting nerves as part of natural tissue or ‘”flap” reconstruction. 

‘She removes fat and tissue from another part of your body to create breasts, but when she does the microsurgery to connect blood supply, she also uses a nerve graft to reattach nerves in the chest,’ Dahlgren explained. ‘It’s similar to the grafts that have been used since 2007 in arms, legs, and hands.’

While other plastic surgeons she had spoken with told her the ‘procedure isn’t there yet’ or ‘it doesn’t really work,’ one of Dr. Chen’s patients has seen great success with the procedure.  

Jane Obidia was newlywed and about to have a child via surrogate at age 43 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and advised by her doctor to undergo a double mastectomy.   

Obidia told Dahlgren that later, when a nurse placed her newborn daughter, Alana, on her chest, she couldn’t feel it. After having an issue with her implants, she turned to Dr. Chen, who performed Resensation along with a natural tissue reconstruction. 

Celebration: Dahlgren announced in April that she was cancer-free after seven months of treatment 

Honest: Dahlgren explained that while her life ‘has returned to a semblance of normal’ the lack of feeling in her chest has been a ‘constant reminder’ of her cancer battle

The mom said she now has 80 per cent of her feeling back in her chest, which has helped her feel more like herself post-cancer.  

‘It was her story that helped convince me to try the Resensation procedure when I have my reconstruction later this year,’ Dahlgren said. ‘Dr. Chen warns me there are no guarantees. She cannot say it works for everyone, but she says when it works, it works well.’

The correspondent noted that while it adds a couple of hours to the already long surgery, it is often covered by health insurance under a law that guarantees women the right to reconstruction.

Dahlgren also discussed Resensation on the Today show on Thursday, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  

‘It’s not something that we talk about a lot and frankly, I had never really thought about or realized that women who have mastectomies generally lose feeling,’ she said. 

‘Think about that. That’s never feeling a hug or my little girl falling asleep on my chest. I thought it was something I had to live with.’ 

Dahlgren noted that the procedure ‘may not be for everyone,’ but it is something that people can ask about.    

Memory: Jane Obidia got 80 per cent of feeling back in her chest after the procedure. She recalled not being able to feel her newborn on her chest after her double mastectomy 

Staying positive: While it’s not guaranteed to work, Dahlgren said she ‘hanging on to hope’

‘Women should at the very least know what options are available,’ she said. 

The journalist also talked about her upcoming reconstruction, telling Today co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb that she doesn’t know if her husband is going to be able to go with her because of the ever-changing visitor policy amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dahlgren was covering a hurricane in North Carolina last year when she noticed a ‘dent’ in her breast that rang an ominous bell.  

It brought back the words of a woman she’d interviewed, three years prior, who had been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer after noticing a subtle change in the shape of her own breast that doctors initially dismissed.

Armed with that little known information, Dahlgren pressed doctors until she, too, was screened, outside her home state, between assignments. 

It hadn’t even been a year since she had had her last mammogram, but the urgent exams she had done in North Carolina revealed two things: she had dense breast tissue and stage 2 breast cancer.  

Dahlgren believes that interview that taught her about breast cancer’s less obvious signs likely saved her life. 

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