Eight weeks today since my surgery so that means I’m two-thirds of the way through the official recovery period. I’m progressing well but it’s a long time to be on pain killers, have your surgery top of mind much of the time, sleep every afternoon for two to three hours, not be able to drive and just generally be house bound! However, I am looking on the plus side too, in that I’m so fortunate to have the time and space to just have the full time job of resting and healing with plenty of love and support around me. Yes, I am lucky for that and also to have been given the advance warning of my impending breast cancer threat. Things could have been MUCH worse! There are many, many women in way more challenging, painful and difficult positions than mine.
This week has also seen me pass another milestone since I have had the dressings removed from my left breast. This is progress but it also means that I’ve had to face seeing the ‘damage’ of the surgery. In all, I suppose I’d have to say it looks much like I’d thought it would. The vertical scar from nipple to base of breast is about 1 cm wide. It is healing but it is purplish in colour as well as dimpled and dented in places. Now I can see why they recommend follow up surgery in a few months to get all of those things smoothed out. The scar under my breast is a clean fine line, so that is good news. It will be another couple of weeks until the dressing comes off on the other breast (and then I can FINALLY have proper showers without having to worry about not getting the bandages wet!)
I don’t really want to share the real deal in photos here – it’s not pretty! So you can suffice with the shot of me in a singlet yesterday. One breast with dressings still on, the other without. Gives you the idea that the breast shape is good and looks much like it did before under clothing. Underneath the singlet well, let’s just say I don’t want to put you off your lunch! Yes I know the scars will fade, but I can’t imagine there is any woman out there that would WANT their body to go from what god gave them, to the one with the assortment of big scars I now have on my body. I am lucky too though, that I retained my nipples. Many women also have their nipples removed with their surgery, depending on the location and severity of their surgery.
The other significant downside is the loss of sensation which I will never regain in my breasts. I will recover some feeling in my breasts and most in my stomach, but never full sensation like before. I asked my doctor about this before the surgery and he looked me right in the eye and said, “You will never have erogenous sensation in your breasts again”. At the time I took this on board but it has only been in recent days that I have actually started to process this – the one long term impact of the surgery that will never be “fixed” or return. The scars will heal, I’ll forget about all of the pain and discomfort, but I will never regain that sensation so I have been mourning that, whilst still grateful that I have had the surgery and put the continuing threat of breast cancer behind me. I don’t think there is much general awareness of this “cost” of reconstruction. (It’s the same for all women with mastectomies and reconstructions – yes, Angelina too!) Not that I wasn’t told! I was. And I’m glad I was. I would still make the same decision again today, with the same information to hand. But it is still sad! Quite a big loss for any woman to say goodbye to, whatever their age or situation.
So one other thing I wanted to mention on today’s post is about the difference between a “boob job” and breast reconstruction. With a breast enhancement (or ‘boob job”), it is an elective surgery. A woman chooses to do this to improve the appearance of her natural breasts, not because she has any health threat. Her surgery will be 2 – 3 hours, she will go home from hospital after 1 – 2 days and have 1 – 2 weeks recovery. Her scars will be next to invisible. She will regain full sensation in her breasts. They will (hopefully) look better than they did before.
A woman undergoing breast reconstruction will be doing it because of a threat to her health (and often, her life). She will have had her breast tissue completely removed in a mastectomy. Her surgery will be 6 – 8 hours (for implants) or 10 – 12 hours (for tissue transplant, like mine) and then recovery will be 6 – 8 weeks (for implants) or 10 – 12 weeks (for tissue transplant). She will have large visible scars on her breasts, and on her abdomen (or back or thighs or wherever the tissue is removed from) too, in the case of transplant surgery. She will never recover full or erogenous sensation in her breasts. It will be better than having no breasts at all, or having cancer, but I can’t imagine there is any woman who would undergo this surgery unless there was a significant threat to her health.
I thought that worth mentioning so there is an improved understanding on this increasingly widespread surgery. It doesn’t comfort a woman who has gone through mastectomies and breast reconstruction if someone, however well meaning, says to her, “oh yes, I had a friend who had a boob job, and she was really pleased with it. It was painful but she was happy in the end”. Or, “just think how great you are going to look in a bikini this summer”, or “I’ve always wanted a boob job. And how great you get a tummy tuck too!”
Ahhhhhhh, no …… it doesn’t compare. Same area, but not for the same reasons, and not with the same outcome. A breast reconstruction is NOT a cosmetic procedure. It is a medical solution to a health threat, not an enhancement – more like a “here’s the best we can do under the circumstances and we hope to make it acceptable, at least under clothing”, with a few long term downsides thrown in. No one would “choose” to do this, in order to achieve the final cosmetic result.
But yes, it is all for the best outcome. Better than dying from this dreadful disease, or having to endure ongoing horrendous treatment and the continual fear that cancer may return. And better than having no breasts at all.
Just saying – and spreading the word on behalf of many women who have had, and still will have a breast reconstruction. It’s not nice (to say the least). It is hard. There are long term implications. And it is worth it. Being surrounded by love and understanding does help to come to terms with it, so I’m hoping the insights on this blog help everyone with the understanding bit!
With gratitude for ALL of the love and understanding being sent my way – I have had plenty! So hooray for that too. Onwards!
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