Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy can be seen by many as optional. Some women opt to not go through the reconstruction process for a number of good reasons.
For me, like many women, I chose the reconstruction process as a way to become whole, physically. Or at least close to it. Make no mistake, the decision to start the process was not taken lightly. As a matter of fact, I waited one year after my mastectomy to even start the process. Some of the wait time was due to allowing my body time to heal. But much of it was time to allow my mental and emotional being to heal. I wanted to enjoy vacations again. To enjoy sleeping in any position, and even enjoy having less doctor’s appointments for a while. I wanted freedom from dressing changes, as well as freedom from drainage tubes. Having my prosthesis at that time, gave me just that. The prosthesis also gave me the look of being symmetrical.
Breast Reconstruction Options
There are many options for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. Your option may vary depending on your treatment, such as radiation. It can depend on your mastectomy technique, or even the expertise of surgeons in your area. The two main types of reconstruction options following a mastectomy are implants, or breast flap. A breast flap is essentially the use of your own tissue and blood vessel transplanted to create your breast. Breast flaps are performed by plastic surgeons who specialize in micro surgery. There are several donor sites for breast flaps.
Due to the extensive tissue damage from radiation, breast reconstruction has truly been a journey. Initially my plan was to undergo one of the breast flap procedures. After meeting with three excellent plastic surgeons, I opted for the less invasive procedure of having an implant. Initially I didn’t consider having an implant due to the higher failure rate following radiation. After discussing different techniques with the plastic surgeons, we agreed that an implant could be successful in my case.
To help ensure success, prior to having the implant placed, I underwent fat grafting. This was to help add healthy tissue to surrounding implant area. During my second surgery I had the actual implant placed. At the same time, I had a breast reduction of my healthy breast. My third surgery was to create my nipple. Yes, I had three surgeries over a 12 month period! And guess what? I still have one more to go. My plastic surgeon and I are taking it very slow allowing me to fully heal after each phase. Though it sounds like lots of surgeries and recoveries, they have all been outpatient (no overnight hospital stay) surgeries, requiring me to be out of work for one week or less.
As mentioned before, reconstruction has been an attempt to become whole again. And to help erase those physical reminders of cancer. In the end your reconstructed breast may never be the same as the ones you had before, but who cares, those ones tried to kill you anyway!
I have often been asked what to buy someone going through breast surgery and Tender Tanks, by far tops my list. A dear friend of mine bought one for me prior to my mastectomy two years ago. It was convenient that I purchased a second tank. To this day I still wear a tank when I visit my oncologist or plastic surgeon. It beats wearing a paper gown any day!