The Emotional and Physical Roller Coaster of My Breast Reconstruction

The Emotional and Physical Roller Coaster of My Breast Reconstruction

My breast reconstruction was transformative and therapeutic, however it was additionally emotionally difficult.

When I used to be recognized with breast most cancers in 2014 at 42 years previous, I acquired referrals to a couple plastic surgeons. It by no means occurred to me {that a} plastic surgeon won’t have expertise with breast most cancers sufferers. In the postdiagnosis chaos, I didn’t even know to ask. I assumed reconstruction could be the straightforward half.

I additionally wasn’t but related with the breast most cancers neighborhood, the place others might have empowered me with their tales and experiences.

When I used to be given the names of three plastic surgeons, I went with the one which accepted my medical health insurance. My session was temporary. They confirmed me a small portfolio of breast reconstructions utilizing implants and defined the process.

They didn’t educate me on some other choices, like autologous reconstruction (utilizing your individual tissue for breast mounds relatively than implants) or aesthetic flat closure. They by no means talked about how radiation can have an effect on a reconstruction.

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Mentally making ready for reconstruction

Before I share extra about my precise reconstruction expertise, I wish to share how I gave myself a small sense of ceremony to honor my physique earlier than the approaching adjustments.

Before something was accomplished to my physique, I documented myself with easy iPhone captures. Already mourning, I used to be attempting to say goodbye and start a grieving course of.

I clearly bear in mind taking footage of my breasts in my favourite bra on the day I acquired my prognosis, questioning if I might die, questioning what it could be wish to lose my breasts.

Leading as much as my mastectomy, I additionally took intimate private pictures of my chest with my then-husband. I wished to recollect what as soon as was and would by no means be once more.

I’ve returned to these pictures numerous occasions to mirror on how far I’ve come, and to honor the reminiscence of the previous me when a pang of grief got here. There was consolation in turning to these footage throughout emotional moments, like listening to a tragic tune when working by means of emotions after a breakup.

Later, I used these premastectomy pictures and different footage taken all through the course of my remedy, reconstruction, and restoration as half of an exhibit titled “Reconstructed: A Breast Cancer Documentation Project” put in at El Comalito Collective.

I by no means supposed to indicate anybody besides my closest associates these scrappy iPhone selfies. But for me, documenting my expertise and educating others gave me a measure of therapeutic. The exhibition allowed me to really feel seen and heard whereas educating viewers about my particular person breast most cancers expertise.

I usually encourage folks to heal the pain of changed bodies through creative outlets like writing, portray, sculpture, embodied dance motion, or collage. It may also help you deeply course of by means of the feelings of having a modified physique — even should you don’t contemplate your self inventive.


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What I realized postmastectomy

At the time of the mastectomy, I had chest expanders positioned underneath my pectoral muscle groups. Chest expanders are principally empty balloons that surgeons fill with saline over time to stretch remaining chest tissue and accommodate for breast implants later.

My first chest expander saline fill was very painful, and I returned to my plastic surgeon the identical day to take away some of the saline. Instant aid! Over the following 7 months, the saline fills by no means precipitated me a lot ache.

The plastic surgeon put in my implants earlier than I began radiation. Later, I realized what a mistake that was. Radiation usually causes pores and skin and tissue to scar, tighten, and shrink, which might tremendously have an effect on the end result of implants or autologous reconstructions.

I used to be very dissatisfied with my implant reconstruction, which was nowhere near my former measurement.

I can solely communicate to my very own expertise and my observations throughout the breast most cancers neighborhood over time, however I might be leery of a plastic surgeon keen to do reconstruction previous to radiation. If you already know you want radiation, discover a surgeon that has labored with radiated tissue.

Radiated scar tissue precipitated my implants to shift up towards my collarbone and armpit. It wasn’t painful, however it was uncomfortable.

I nonetheless wore an unsightly pocket bra that held breast prostheses to attempt to mimic my former form. I missed carrying lovely lingerie and by no means wore low-cut or V-neck tops. I seemed nothing like my former self in clothes, and I turned very depressed.

It is an understatement to say I used to be bereft. I used to be deeply mourning the amputation of my breasts and the loss of the erogenous zone of my nipples.

I knew I wanted to discover a new plastic surgeon and see if they might enhance my state of affairs.

Finding neighborhood and hope

Eventually, I related with the breast most cancers neighborhood on Instagram by means of hashtags. I noticed flat advocates like Beth Fairchild and the late Chiara D’Agostino, whose visibility led me to noticeably contemplate flat closure at one level.

Others shared pictures of their breast reconstructions, too. Theirs seemed nice — mine didn’t. I turned extra crushed, and I longed to have my curves once more.

Eventually, I met somebody who had undergone a DIEP flap reconstruction. They had a hip-to-hip scar the place stomach tissue was eliminated and transplanted to the chest. They let me see and really feel the reconstruction and described the surgical procedure to me.

I used to be in awe of how pure the reconstructed breasts seemed — they hung naturally, jiggled, and felt gentle and heat just like the breasts I as soon as had. This gave me hope.

Later that day, I examined my radiation shrinkage scars and felt how chilly and laborious my implants had been. I loathed my chest and wished one thing higher. That’s when a breast most cancers good friend directed me to a brand new plastic surgeon.

The surgeon informed me they might enhance my implants, but in addition that I is likely to be an excellent candidate for autologous surgical procedure. They instantly organized an appointment for me with their peer, a microsurgeon, who specialised in flap reconstructions.

Meeting my surgeon, Christian Kirman, MD, in Walnut Creek, California, turned out to be a transformative expertise for me, each mentally and bodily. Dr. Kirman gave me again what I had misplaced: confidence and peace from physique picture self-loathing.

I’ll always remember seeing my second reconstruction for the primary time. Despite the drains, staples, stitches, and bruising, I had curves once more! I couldn’t wait to purchase fairly new bras.

I felt like a brand new individual with the burden of despair and despair lifted. I clearly couldn’t be identical to previous Monica, however having curves once more helped me heal.

I nonetheless look down in wonderment once I see that I’ve cleavage once more.


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Reclaiming management of my physique

DIEP flap reconstruction is an in depth surgical procedure with an extended restoration time. My surgical procedure took about 14 hours, and I used to be within the hospital for five days. The purpose of the primary surgical procedure was to make sure the stomach tissue relocated to my chest didn’t turn into necrotic.

Later, I had nip tuck revision surgical procedures for symmetry and nipple reconstruction, that are nipple protrusions comprised of my very own pores and skin.

I additionally underwent fats grafting, which is the method of having fats culled from donor sights in your physique by means of liposuction and injected across the new breast mounds to sculpt the form and add quantity the place wanted.

At one level, I wished to have areola tattoos or maybe ornamental illustrative tattoos to make my reconstruction look completed. Tattoos are a beautiful and essential choice for some folks.

However, over time I’ve come to a spot of acceptance with my scars. To me now, the absence of my nipples and the looks of my scars are regular for what has occurred.

I’m not ashamed and I don’t really feel the necessity to “finish” them off that manner now, however I reserve the best to vary my thoughts sooner or later.

My message for others

I would like folks to know that you just don’t need to reconstruct instantly. You can wait months or years. You can be part of the league of folks normalizing aesthetic flat closure.

Find no matter feels best for you, and don’t cease till you might be glad. Get second and third opinions from surgeons.

Having my curves returned to me and wanting extra like my previous self has been therapeutic for me. There remains to be an emotional toll at occasions when I attempt to get pleasure from dwelling my finest life, akin to when courting. Explaining that I’ve scars as an alternative of nipples, and that half of my stomach tissue now lives on my chest, could be tiresome and anxiety-inducing.

If you might be studying this and have questions on reconstruction and you’ve not but related with the breast most cancers neighborhood, I urge you to take a look at the Bezzy BC peer-support neighborhood, the place I’m the neighborhood information.

We have teams each for breast reconstruction and flat closure, the place you’ll be able to join with others to ask questions, share private tales and sensible suggestions, and simply be heard and held in a protected area.

And whereas what I assumed could be the best half of my most cancers remedy turned out to be one of probably the most emotionally difficult points, it was additionally a transformative, therapeutic expertise following my most cancers trauma.

Article initially appeared on July 20, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister web site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on July 7, 2021.

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The Emotional and Physical Roller Coaster of My Breast Reconstruction

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