My mum had a mastectomy in September 2005 after finding two breast lumps.Since then I've been more consistent in checking myself for lumps. In December 2005 I discovered a lump that turned out to be a simple cyst.
When I discovered a small lump at the left hand side of my left breast in Feb 2012 I was referred to St.Vincent's University Hospital to the symptomatic breast clinic. My doctor seemed to think it was a cyst but referred me for a specialist opinion. Off I went to the breast clinic one Thursday afternoon thinking."Here I am with a cyst bothering these good medics who must be so busy". That day on my mammogram they could see a 12mm x 15mm lump with calcification present over a 9cm area. My breast surgeon Ms Jane Rothwell explained that the calcification could possibly be DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and if this were the case I would have to have a mastectomy. To have this diagnosis confirmed over the next few weeks launched my husband and I into the world of breast cancer, mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy and possible radiotherapy. After a sentinel node biopsy confirmed that my axillary nodes were clear and no radiotherapy was required, to my delight this made the possibility of immediate reconstruction a reality.
Now to the Question no woman ever wants to ask."What reconstruction would work best for my lifestyle?". I have always been an active person. I have participated in many sports from hockey, athletics, tennis, cricket, golf, table tennis etc. As a 44 year old mother of two kids, I coach hockey, enjoy gardening, walking, have 2 active kids, am an active housewife and work part-time caring for adults with learning disabilities. I don't run or jog to keep fit but I'm active, don't smoke and don't carry excess weight. I have good general health and would some day love to have enough time to play golf.
My breast surgeon, Ms Jane Rothwell and my plastic surgeon, Mr Colin Morrison were brilliant with the information they gave us regarding the various reconstructive options. We found both of their opinions invaluable as we tried to decide which reconstruction would work best for me (a) an implant (b) an LD flap of muscle from my shoulder blade or (c) a DIEAP flap of abdominal tissue.
DIEAP flap breast reconstruction has become a viable breast reconstructive option at St.Vincent's University Hospital in the last year. With the surgeries I had underwent in the past, Mr.Morrison had to consider whether I was a suitable candidate for this operation. I have had two cesarean section deliveries and also key-hole surgery to remove an ovary.
The idea of a minimum 8 hour operation, a 7 day stay in hospital and a 6 to 8 week recovery period doing little or nothing was what I was signing up for. There is nothing that can prepare you for the shock of losing your breast but I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to have an operation which gives the most authentic reconstruction possible and that's exactly what this operation is.
The surgeons said the operation couldn't have gone any better as the detachment of abdominal tissue from it's blood supply and reattachment to a blood supply in the chest wall went well. There were no surprises with the abdominal blood vessels. I spent my first night after the operation in ICU, followed by 3 nights in HDU. This involved regular checks by nursing staff that the reconnected blood supply to the reconstruction was flowing freely. This period could have been so much more stressful but the follow up, monitoring and expert care I received from Mr.Morrison and Miss.Rothwell was so reassuring. Two days after my operation I sat out for a few hours. I wiggled my toes and feet for Ireland to avoid clots. Those were hard days as I got mobile again but when I wasn't working to be mobile I rested.
The abdominal wound and two drains were painful. The two drains from my breast were removed before I left hospital. The drains from my abdomen were removed two weeks after surgery. I rested so much over those first few weeks. It amazed me how much rest my body needed as it healed. Lying down to rest I'd find I'd drift off to sleep for an hour or two. My appetite for protein and good food was immense.
So what does the reconstruction feel like? My nipple was removed and it was a real shock in ICU that first night when the nurses were checking the reconstruction for a pulse..they apologised for the coldness of the gel and I couldn't feel any sensation at all where the nipple was removed from. Even if you've been told this is how it will be it is a difficult adjustment.
The scars on the breast and the abdomen do fade over time. Facing the change in my body after surgery has been difficult. Fully embracing this change has helped me appreciate the great reconstruction that I have had. Having breastfed both my kids, the reconstructed breast was so much firmer than my own breast. Initially it seemed very firm by comparison, but 6 to 8 weeks after surgery it became softer. I also undertook a good deal of massage with E45 lotion and this has helped to increase the sensation in the skin surrounding the nipple area.
My mum had a mastectomy but didn't have reconstruction. About 4 weeks after my surgery my mum saw my reconstructed breast and said "Oh Debs it's really lovely". Again, another turning point for me as I'm reassured by my mum's words of endorsement.
I'm a 38B and I can still wear the bras I wore. They fit perfectly. Also all my tops and blouses look great. There is no issue with the neck line. It's only 3 months since my surgery and I'm still adjusting. I'm undecided about nipple reconstruction or tattooing.
I'm thankful for all the medical care I've received over these past months. I'm also thankful to my husband for his words a few days before surgery.." You're much more than a left breast to me"..but I'm thankful I can put on a bra and top and go out with confidence.