You are currently viewing Reconstruction surgery refusal: Hauraki woman facing $40k bill
After being denied post-cancer breast reconstruction surgery, Ruby Wallace is now raising funds to get the operation done privately, but it’ll cost upwards of $40,000. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Reconstruction surgery refusal: Hauraki woman facing $40k bill

Ruby Wallace can no longer look at herself in the mirror.
At 34-years-old, she no longer goes swimming, wears singlets, or feels confident in her skin.
It’s because back in June, 2023, she was diagnosed with an invasive ductal carcinoma – the most common type of breast cancer – and had her left breast removed.
Since then, she has tried unsuccessfully to arrange reconstruction surgery through Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand, but said she has been refused five times.
The mastectomy, and the visual reminder of it, had “ruined” her.
“I’ve continuously got it covered,” she said, “and it’s not even about how I look, it’s about how it feels. I don’t care about what other people think of it, but my personal opinion is that it’s vile and I hate it.”
Ruby is a mother-of-three and dairy farmer from Turua, but since the diagnosis, has had to put a pause on work.
In one of her refusal letters, seen by The Profile, Te Whatu Ora states that the Waikato DHB was “only able to make appointments for patients who have the greatest level of need compared to other patients with similar conditions”.
But Ruby said she was told “right off the bat” she wouldn’t get reconstruction surgery due to her history as a smoker.
“They shut me down straight away but then changed their tune and said they were understaffed due to Covid. Then, a day before my operation, they said they could put it off for eight weeks to give me a chance to give up smoking, but there was no guarantee they’d do the reconstruction and they didn’t want to go down that road because they didn’t know how bad the cancer was,” she said.
Ruby had been exposed to cigarette smoking from a young age but said she’s since cut back following her mastectomy.
According to a Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand spokesperson, breast reconstruction was seen as an important part of treatment and recovery for a significant number of women having surgery for breast cancer. They explained that all patients who met the criteria for reconstruction at the time of their initial surgery would have the surgery done at the same time.
However, smokers were not able to undergo reconstruction due to the microvascular nature of the surgery.
“These criteria exist because they define a group of patients at much higher risk of complications from breast reconstruction,” the spokesperson said.
“Patients who do not meet the criteria for safe reconstruction at the time of breast cancer surgery are advised so they are able to address those factors and will be placed on a waiting list either at the time or when eligible to undergo delayed reconstruction.”
Te Whatu Ora also said that due to high acute demand across its theatres, it currently had limited capacity to offer delayed reconstruction.
This meant that women who were not able to undergo immediate reconstruction, such as Ruby, were being advised that while they were unable to receive an appointment for delayed reconstruction, they would remain on a waitlist – pending their meeting eligibility criteria.
There were 25 breast reconstruction surgeries during the past 12 months, Te Whatu Ora said.
“People do tell me I should be thankful that I lived through cancer, but this makes me feel ill just thinking about it,” Ruby said. “Unless it has happened to you, you don’t get how it can affect you.”
She and her husband James have started fundraising in a bid to get the reconstruction surgery done privately. However, this will cost the pair upwards of $40,000.
One surgical procedure consists of a small, balloon-like device partly filled with saline being inserted under the skin and chest muscle.
They have launched a Givealittle page and have started a raffle to help accrue some funds.
“Everything else that’s happened in my life I’ve taken with a grain of salt… but this is screwing with my kids, it’s screwing with my mariage, and it’s screwing with my work,” Ruby said.
“I know this isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but I just want something to look forward to.”
DETAILS: To donate to Ruby’s cause, visit or for raffle tickets, contact James on 021 201 0280.