It’s now almost five months since my surgery, so this is an update for those women who want to know more about this “muscle sparing TRAM” reconstruction procedure that I’ve had, following my preventative double mastectomy. I figure this is the type of info I would have liked pre-surgery and it’s reassuring to be able to compare notes with others during recovery too, so here it is …
I thought that by now my stomach would be feeling pretty much back to normal (albeit with a whacking big scar across it!) Sadly, it is not. I feel like it hasn’t improved since around the three month mark. It is stiff and solid in a wide band from above my belly button to below my bikini line. It hurts there when I cough or sneeze and I can’t lie on my stomach because the whole surgery area is still tender underneath the numbness. It’s not comfortable at all and it’s hard to sit up from a lying position, and clumsy when turning over in bed or getting up. It is totally numb across a big area (see my little chart, showing how it is to be me at the moment). The numb zone can’t feel any touch or even the most extreme heat. My torso often feels really full, stretched, bloated and distended, like someone has stuck a bike pump in there and pumped it up! It is not good! (Yes, it could be worse .. I could be in severe pain rather than just uncomfortable … but still, it’s no fun! There’s not many moments of the day that I’m not aware of it, feeling solid and stiff.)
Meantime my bosoms continue to be totally numb too. Really, this surgery is so brutal! On the upside, my breasts are a good shape and look totally fine (with clothes on!). They feel firmer than before but are softening up. I have little pain, other than the occasional twinge or nerve ‘zap’. I can fit into a ‘normal’, non underwired bra but after a few hours of wear it is quite uncomfortable, especially on the under bust scar line, so I’m just sticking with the soft “pull on” bras for now (And maybe forever… I don’t care! I just want to be comfortable!) The scars are slowly, slowly healing up and becoming a little lighter. With the help of silicon strips at night, the scars are smoothing out a bit and becoming less rigid. The under bust scars are disappearing, but the vertical scars are still quite wide (about 1 cm wide and 6- 7 cm long). I can see that there will be a day where they have faded to become a much fainter line. Time will heal them. I won’t regain any erogenous touch sensation and I am grieving that loss. It’s a big thing to lose, something that I have always taken for granted. How I feel about my breasts now is more like how I feel about say, my elbows– just there and they do a job. They’re a decent shape to fill out my clothes, but not special and precious and feminine like they were before. (Note to all women – appreciate your bosoms and how lovely and soft and sensitive they are! I don’t care what shape they are, they are a big part of FEELING like a sensuous, feminine, woman! Hooray for them! With no sensation of touch, I promise you, you really don’t feel like yourself – and only you know or care about it. It is sad. And yes, I am sad for me.)
However, I am keeping the faith that there is much that can be done to improve things with my stomach. I have done a bit of research online and came across a forum with women complaining about the same abdominal stiffness and discomfort as me. A few of them recommended “lymphatic drainage massage”. So I have investigated that and I think it is going to help. Your lymph system carries toxins away from your blood stream. It is little talked about but it is important! Especially when recovering from surgery. A few weeks ago I noticed that my wrists, ankles and fingers are just slightly swollen. Only I would notice but my rings and watch are tighter than before. Then bizarrely, the term “post surgery edema” popped into my head. I’ve since found that’s what I have – swelling after my surgery, which is a symptom of poor lymphatic drainage. Anyway, to cut a long story short, there are only a few lymphatic massage specialists in Sydney and one of them is just a few minutes walk from our house! (Of course! The universe delivers, as Martha would say!) I have had one massage and definitely feel that the swelling is going down a bit (THAT’S why my stomach feels distended!). So I’m having one of them regularly in coming months to get things moving along, and bring the swelling down.
I’m also having weekly acupuncture and moxa (warming) treatment on my stomach scars (ie: fine needles inserted and a burning hot coal held over the scar area – I can’t feel it so thank goodness I trust Kaye, my lovely acupuncturist!) I believe that helps to get the blood circulating and accelerates the healing too.
Anyway, I am on a mission to heal myself as best I can. I still become tired really easily too. This is post surgery fatigue AND another “poor lymphatic drainage” symptom. Martha had the most dreadful lymphedema when she passed away so maybe it runs in our genes. Also I had glandular fever when I was a teenager, which damages your liver, and that’s not good for an efficient lymphatic system either.
So thought I’d post this in case these treatments help others with the same challenges. I still have another “touch up” surgery to go some time this year. I’m NOT looking forward to that … AT ALL! But I feel I might as well get everything looking as best as it can after enduring this much.
And for those who’d like to see the “real deal” (seriously, what woman’s torso looks like that sketch?!), I am going to be brave and show you my actual stomach scar, and new (slightly off center!) belly button, as they look this week. My big scar is brutal, but better than it was, with much more progress yet to come. I will make sure of that! … We shall overcome!
Brace yourselves ….
Here you go. I have been a bit apprehensive about revealing the real thing in this public domain (I had never planned to!), and up until recently I have been too sad for myself to share it really at all. But I figure I am always interested to know how other women looked afterwards, at various stages, so this is my abdominal scar, almost five months on – it’s big, it’s healing and it’s not that pretty. No wonder it does my head in, when my whole aim in life – as Martha tells me – is “to be happy and make things look pretty”. It does not make me happy. It does NOT look pretty! Some people have said to me that it is like a tummy tuck scar. However, I never wanted or needed a tummy tuck. And the scar line sits higher than a tummy tuck scar I think, so it’s visible above bathers and underwear (unless I want to wear full briefs, which I don’t!). Now I will never make the cover of Swimsuit Illustrated!
But it WILL get better! I know it will! I will keep on with these treatments and keep the faith.
And this is me, a full body version, so you can see what I mean about the distended stomach – see how it looks like a barrel? (SO attractive, just pointing out my body defects here!) But I do want other women to see how it looks. I took this shot for me BEFORE I started my lymphatic drainage so as I could see my progress (hence why I am not looking that glamorous, I was not planning to share!). And I WILL progress from here – you just wait and see!
Through all of this, I don’t have any regrets. It’s a MUCH bigger procedure than I had anticipated, but it’s WAY better than having cancer. I’m not complaining, I’m just telling it like it is for me so that others can understand it too.
Send me good vibes for ongoing healing – thank you!