My Breast Reconstruction Story With Pictures
Never thought I'd have plastic surgery. Becoming a breast cancer patient changed my mind.
My story began when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, at the age of 46. I could feel a lump in my left breast, but my gynecologist didn't think it was an issue. I'd wrestled with thyroid cancer a few years earlier, which had initially been diagnosed incorrectly. This time I wasn’t taking any chances, so I immediately scheduled an appointment to get a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. If you have dense breasts like mine, it’s really important to know that the X-rays they take far too often fail to spot the growth.
Ultimately, I had a lumpectomy, followed by a preventive double mastectomy. I never thought I would ever consider plastic surgery, but the cancer changed my mind. I am not one of those women who ever thought I would turn to plastic surgery, but I can tell you, a little here and there made me feel like a sexy, young woman again. Breast reconstruction was a life changer for me. I am less embarrassed to be naked with my scars and with the right clothes, you can’t even see them. Some was covered under my insurance and some I had to pay for out of pocket but I loved the results. I was getting a lumpectomy but chose to have both breasts reduced, or rather have them match and make them perky and nice again. Now I don’t have to wear a bra.
After my double mastectomy, my breasts were reconstructed using tissue expanders and a flap procedure. When considering breast reconstruction, you essentially have two options: have a flap procedure or go with breast implants (or a combination of both). The flap procedure is reconstructive surgery that involves taking tissue (skin, fat and their associated blood vessels) from your abdomen and turning it into breast tissue to increase your breast size. Breast implants are a simpler surgery that involves saline or silicone implants being placed under your chest muscle to increase the size of your breasts. Although the surgical procedure to have a flap is much more intense than have breast implants placed and the recovery is longer, I ultimately decided on flap surgery because it leaves you with much more natural feeling breasts. A flap, when done correctly, also does not have to be replaced every 10 years or so like implants.
There are different types of flap procedures you can have. All of them are similar in concept, except the donor tissue site is different. A TRAM, or transverse rectus abdominis muscle flap and a DIEP, deep inferior epigastric perforator flap, take tissue from your abdomen. A latissimus dorsi flap takes tissue from your upper back. A GAP , or gluteal artery perforator flap, takes tissue from your buttocks. Finally, a TUG, or transverse upper gracilis flap, takes tissue from your inner thigh. You and your surgeon will decide what donor site is best for you. For me, my abdomen was the best donor site and I settled on a DIEP flap.
I will not lie, flap reconstruction surgery is pretty intense. You are in the operating room for many hours and there can be complications, like if the the blood vessels for the flap aren't connected correctly, the flap can die and will need to be removed. The greatest risk of this happening is immediately after surgery and blood flow to your flap is usually tracked using a doppler machine. You're also at a pretty high risk of infection because of the length of the procedure and amount of tissue that's moved around. Fortunately, I did not have any issues during my reconstructive surgery.
My recovery hasn't been all peaches, but everything went well and I don't regret having reconstructive surgery. I absolutely love my new breasts! Now that I've healed from my surgeries, I'm headed back to the doctor to get the scars reduced on my abdomen and have my right breast reduced, as my left breast shrunk from radiation therapy.
For those of you wondering, my health insurance company covered all reconstructive surgery. The tummy tuck and liposuction I've had since my reconstructive surgery were covered by me though.
My Tips to Anyone Dealing With Breast Reconstruction:
- Don’t accept the final results if you don’t like them. You should feel beautiful after reconstructive surgery and they will go in and redo it as many times as they need to. Sometimes radiation therapy shrinks the one that is radiated and you need to have the other one redone to match it a few years later. Do it! I feel fantastic and I am still getting one more fine tune.
- Take care of yourself. I chose to have a tummy tuck after my double mastectomy. I wanted a flat tummy after having kids in my 40s and feeling like Frankenboob for a while, it was empowering. I love having a flat belly and feel like after all the surgeries to deconstruct me, it’s my turn to reconstruct me.
- Enjoy your new and improved body. I decided to have some liposuction after the reconstruction and my tummy tuck. Since I was getting a mastectomy and lumpectomy, they couldn’t put my body through any more strain to heal, so I had it done months later. I woke up loving how I looked. I went from feeling like my body betrayed me to feeling in love with myself. I was terrified of not feeling like a real woman after my mastectomy and now I looked more womanly and curvy than ever before. I feel sexy and young. I lost a few years of living with 15 months of chemotherapy and radiation, but I feel like I got them back. It really gave me a shape I hadn’t seen since high school.
- Be fearless. I was terrified of the surgeries. I have young children and had to think about whether I was being selfish to put my life at risk with general anesthesia for cosmetic improvements, but, the doctors will assure you that the risks (depending on your health) are truly minimal. Plus, the outcome was amazing. Learning to overcome my fears was everything!
Keep the sensation if you want. I was lucky that I had a choice to keep my nipples during my mastectomy, so I kept most of the sensation in my breasts. Some people do not have this option during their breast reconstruction surgery and will require nipple reconstruction surgery or tattoos to restore the appearance of their nipples.
- Do your research and find a good plastic surgeon/breast surgeon. You've already been through enough and only want the very best surgeons operating on you!