Louise's DIEP breast reconstruction story
Single mastectomy and full axial clearance September 2011. Six chemo cycles, Herceptin radiotherapy followed by Anastrazole beginning in April 2012. At Anita’s suggestion, I’m pleased to provide this text as a possible help for anyone who’s thinking of having breast reconstruction and/or maybe their family/friends.
Why did I choose reconstruction?
· Practicality: wear more of my clothes ; not flashing a prosthesis or the sunken chest
· To reclaim something back from cancer; I want my body back
· Because I can.
Isn’t a lot to go through – just for a new breast? Maybe. My view is that these weeks/months are only a snapshot amongst hopefully many more years of life to experience with greater confidence.
What did my partner, family, friends etc think about reconstruction?
In short, everyone was supportive, expressing only concern for my wellbeing. Close family were reassured by my/partners confidence in the surgical and nursing teams. There were a few “interesting” comments from acquaintances – based on (some) understandable ignorance- about my motive, the procedure and the outcome. Free cosmetic surgery it is not.
Was there a time, pre-op, when you wondered if you were doing the right thing for you?
September 2013, Tuscany, 30 degrees Centigrade. I’m floating in a clean, quiet swimming pool, staring up at azure sky. Screeches of high soaring kites cut through the purlopp,plop.lurrop as the cool water laps my ears. Occasional breezes rustle through the surrounding cypress trees. Yesterday’s sightseeing is rewarded with today’s lazy, lazy, warm, warm relaxing mmmm. Nearly 12 months of rigorous exercise has produced a body which I’m not entirely ashamed - and wearing a bikini – with a well disguised prosthesis. I’m jolly well going to enjoy milestone: my first proper holiday abroad – since I finished all my hospital treatment. Suddenly, an exuberant party of Italians arrives . “Careful”, my partner says: the prosthesis has come loose and I push it back into the pocket. We maintain prosthesis vigilance although I’m self-conscious about my necessary, frequent checking. But the decision to reconstruct is made and a surgery date pencilled in – wonderful – I can look forward to not worrying about a prosthesis embarrassing me in public. This was when I knew I was making the right decision for me. It was SOOOO the right decision.
Day before op
Quite calm. Uneventful journey to East Grinstead. Partner staying more locally and he’ll return to me early next morning before I journey to theatre. Relaxing evening with hot chocolate – and then sleep.
At 06.30, I’m woken up for the cup of black tea, which the anaesthetist has insisted I should drink to give my stomach something to work on. My family would know this is no hardship (I’m a tea pot) and I’m very pleased to have it. From previous experience, I know these next two hours before going to theatre will pass quickly in a series of visits from various medics. Oh! That trolley man arrived quickly – they always do! Usual pre-general anaesthetic prep and chat covers the usual “gin and tonic” joke from the anaesthetist, moves on to brief shared appreciation for Tuscany - and then I tell them how far the “gin and tonic” is reaching…..
Much later that same day: back in my (dark) room. Very very thirsty Sooooo.so tired. The night passes with frequent obs, sips of water, presumably some sleep and it’s so flipping HOT and STUFFY: heat that helps the relocated blood vessels in the new flap (breast) to “flow”.
Day One post-op.
Still very hot. Partner visited for several hours – but I can’t remember much.
Day Two post-op
Nurses and Anita are very happy with the way the flap is taking. I tackle a trip to the bathroom , and with the help of a nurse, walk around the room and out and up the corridor . Chuffed – up and about!
One or two drains were removed today which makes things a bit more comfortable.
Is shower day. Anita’s daily check confirms healing progressed sufficiently to permit a shower with assistance – hurrah I feel and smell soooooo much better - fresssssssshhhhhhhh. A nurse tactfully agrees I smell better.
Nurses introduce me to a lovely woman up the corridor who’s a couple of days ahead of me in her DIEP with a different surgeon. We compare pants, support bras and post-chemo haircuts. I’m always pleasantly surprised how good it is to share our experiences: always positive, encouraging, uplifting, funny, reassuring, enlightening, educative.
One week post op
A bit uncomfortable – but hey - I don’t regret this whatsoever.
Two weeks post op and at home
Unexpectedly, I’m having difficulty remembering what my pre-op left side looked like – and I like this very positive surprise and acceptance of my new form. Prosthesis - I do not need it any more. I do not need it any more. Haha
About three weeks post surgery
Recuperating at home. In bed, snug and warm and a cat for company. My fellow DIEP-er emails to confirm she’s recovering well, with the support of family and friends. Christmas is a-coming!!
What does your partner think of the work?
After reassuring him the sight was not gruesome, he did look and pronounced the new breast as “very good”.
Four weeks post surgery/what continues to surprise you?
I still relish the comparatively novel experience of putting on bra with all me in it. Haha. That my 54 year old body healed so quickly, but I must respect it: no heavy lifting, no cycling, definitely no power plate exercising or horse riding for about 12 weeks ( I think). Subsequent follow up with Anita confirms all scars healing very – and joy - I no longer have to wear a bra or the big pants at night .
Eight weeks at home
Pre Xmas drinks at friends. New tight trousers and loving my new bonus flat tummy. Later at home, I realise that at no point did I even consider the location and look of a left breast. There was no hoiking back a prosthesis into position, no fidgeting. I think to myself, this is what it used to be like – just getting on and being and doing, without e.g. a prosthesis reminding me of its existence and hence (sorry to say) of cancer. That’s a positive I hadn’t anticipated – in that way - nor so soon.
Four months post surgery
Next follow-up today with Anita. As anticipated, there may be some re-alignment required if I choose to – but, you know what - I’d be happy with what I’ve got if I didn’t go down that route as I’m already a new woman! The result is fantastic and I’m so grateful to Anita and her team for their expertise, skill and care. Let’s see what today brings!!