Reconstruction musings

G’day!

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to start an entry, and I think saying G’day is a fine start. It puts off on the right foot, don’t you think?

I’m happy to report that the cortisone shots in my spine – I had 3 of them altogether – have made a difference. It’s not all 100% or anything, but it is much much better. It takes awhile for it to take effect and I’ve read that you’re supposed to ‘ease back into things slowly’, so I have been.

We went grocery shopping on Sunday and I decided we’d go to the Mall for it since I had a few things to pick up at Kmart and BigW. Inadvertently I had Rod park at the furthest entrance to where we would end up so that meant a bit of walking from the first place to the next and then back again. I ended up with 5000 steps, and that’s the first time in a few months now when it used to be the norm rather than the exception.  I was a bit tired afterwards, but other than that, not in pain. Yay!!!!

Tomorrow I have an appointment with researchers at Flinders Medical Centre. I’m taking part in a research study following up women who’ve had breast reconstruction after breast cancer. They’ll be doing a laser body scan to create a 3d image of my chest and some more photographs of my chest as well. There are two studies. One is how patients view their reconstructions, and I had a 10 page survey to fill out for it. The other my photographs of my before/after pics as well as the 3d imaging will be part of a study with others (doctors, lay people etc) viewing these and completing survey information on what they feel the outcome was. The idea is to compare what the patient perceives vs what others do. Interesting concept.

Now, my chest is not in anyway symmetrical after my reconstruction and I am OK with that. I can wear normal clothes and don’t ever have to deal with a prosthesis again. I absolutely hated wearing a fake boob and resented it as a reminder that I’d had breast cancer. If I had a day that I’d forget about the cancer, having the prosthesis drop out of my bra when getting ready for bed was an unwelcome reminder. I may not be even, but since having the reconstruction at least I don’t have a constant reminder.

I didn’t have any easy time with reconstruction. The transplanted tissue (my procedure involved moving muscle and tissue from my back to create my new breast) tried very hard to die in the first few days. I developed blisters from an allergy to the surgical tape used (I actually have a permanent scar from one of the blisters), and they did a skin graft on the scar line to try to put it back together, more or less. It’s hard to explain, but on the right side nearest my arm, the scar, instead of being just a line, is actually a wide 1.5cm gap. It’s faded, but still there. It’s obvious that this breast is an ‘add-on’.

If that weren’t enough, two years after the reconstruction, I developed a massive abscess in the scar on my back that required emergency surgery and a long 2year recovery time where I had a deep 11cm hole in my side as my body healed from the inside out … very very slowly.

So no, I didn’t have a very good reconstruction experience – BUT – I feel so much more *whole* having my not-so-perfect add-on breast than I did before, and I feel comfortable going to my aqua aerobic classes without the need to hide and change in a cubicle.

The plastic surgeon has more than once offered to do another reduction on my ‘normal’ side to make my breasts more symmetrical, but given all that I’ve been through with surgeries, infections and abnormally slow healing, I am definitely satisfied with what I have and have no intention of putting my body through surgery again.

If I had to do it all over again I would, but if I could go back in time the one thing I would change is being tested for diabetes when my recovery from the mastectomy was slower than normal. This one thing probably would have changed the outcome of my reconstruction experience as a whole because with good control, there may have been better and faster healing, with less infection as well. Of course I can’t go back in time, but I now talk to the health care people every chance I’m asked about my reconstruction, that a test for diabetes can make a big difference in outcomes. You never know, with the cost of ‘instant’ tests (the HBa1c test in particular) coming down, sometime in the future maybe patients will be given this test before having surgical procedures so that the proper steps can be in place before having an elective surgery to ensure the best possible outcome. Or at least know in advance what extra issues a person is up against.

 

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