I just read this on a breast cancer website: “In Australia, around 5,000 women have a mastectomy every year, but only 6% to 12% of these go on to have reconstructions. This compares with 42% of women in the US and 16.5% in England.” It is thought that this is because when diagnosed with breast cancer, Australian women are not being as well informed and empowered about all of their treatment options.
I suppose that means I’m one of only 500 Australian women in the past year that have had a mastectomy and reconstruction. A much smaller proportion had bilateral surgeries (on both breasts). And most reconstructions are done with implants, not a tissue transplant (TRAM or DIEP) as I have had so I am a rare breed! That being said, when you see the low rates of breast reconstruction in Australia, it makes sense that this rate is rising fast, as information and awareness improves, especially with the “Angelina effect” on preventative mastectomies.
So I’m hoping my blog helps an increasing number of Australian women and their family and friends understand what it is like to go through a double mastectomy and tissue transplant breast reconstruction. No wonder I found it hard to find a blog written by an Australian woman!
This week it was nine months since my surgery. It is quite amazing (and tedious!) to me how much the recovery is still so top of mind for me every day. I thought I would be well over it after a few months. While the surface of my breasts and a substantial area of my stomach are completely numb, underneath that the deep tissue is still uncomfortable. It seems as if I can feel where the new tissue has been attached to my chest wall – the area feels kind of heavy, as if someone is squeezing the tissue there. And my stomach still feels like I am wearing a way too tight girdle or something. There are really very few moments in the day that I’m not aware of that tight, pinched feeling in my breasts and stomach, no matter what I wear (or don’t wear for that matter!). It is improving and it is bearable, but it’s not the best!
On the upside, I really feel like I have made LOTS of progress with my healing in the last few weeks – YEAH!! I think the exersizes with my trainer, Darius, have really helped build my core strength. I’ve been pushing myself at home too, with yoga like exersizes every morning. I’ve been practising yoga for almost eight years and did Pilates for another 7 or 8 years before that, so I just intuitively have been practicing exersizes that I think will be helpful to get my torso stretched out every which way. I’m learning that the “burning” feeling in my stomach when I stretch is actually a good thing, as it is the internal scar tissue pulling apart and allowing regular blood flow through again. Today I passed a huge milestone in that I went back to my regular yoga class, after an absence of nearly a year, and I could do everything in the beginner class! I’m so pleased – I thought I’d be spending most of the class in “child’s pose” unable to do much else!
The main outcome of my exersize is that it feels like the internal scar tissue is finally breaking up. What did feel like a hard plastic disc in my abdomen, about the size of a side plate, and 2 or 3 cm thick, now feels like it has loosened up to be a wad of wet paper mache that is slightly smaller, and only 1 cm thick embedded under my skin. I know that doesn’t sound great but believe me, it is much, much better!
The other big news of the week is that I have confirmed my follow up surgery to go ahead in a few weeks. This surgery will be to neaten up the existing vertical scars on my breasts (currently 2 cm wide from nipple to base of breast) and on the ends of my stomach scar. The scars themselves are fading, but my surgeon James says they can be much neater with this surgery, which is a usual part of the reconstruction process. He will also take fat from my hips and use it to fill in hollows at the top of my breasts. The surgery will take 2 – 3 hours. I will be in hospital for a few days then recover at home for a few weeks. I do feel quite a bit of dread about it, but I’m telling myself it really is only surface surgery, not deep tissue like last time. And last time it was a 12 hour surgery so this should be a walk in the park by comparison!
I’m having the surgery at a different, smaller, private hospital in Sydney so that should reduce that “oh no, not again!” feeling too. I was worried that this surgery might generate even more internal scar tissue. James says my internal scarring is normal (I was thinking I had some sort of over reaction to the surgery but apparently not!) and this surgery won’t exacerbate it. Part of me was hoping that my exersize improvements would negate the need for this next surgery, but really, exersize isn’t going to help fix the scarring on my skin.
I am being brave and showing you this pic of how my stomach looks this week so that you can see the scar is fading, but it does need work at the ends (especially on that right side!) I hope that helps other women to see what they might expect at this stage from the same surgery. I will let you imagine the breast scars for yourselves – I’m not putting images of my bosoms out on the internet!
Anyway, I am just trusting James, my surgeon, who has assured me that one, it is MUCH less traumatic than the first surgery and two, I will be so glad I’ve had it done in a few months time. I don’t want to have come this far and not have the best outcome possible, so I am committed to the second surgery now. There may even be further touch ups down the track but I can’t think about that now.
I’m keeping the faith here. I know how to prepare for surgery now and get through it with least trauma… My journaling, exersizing, creative projects, self soothing and meditation rituals will be put to good use!
I keep thinking what I’ve been thinking for over a year now: “JUST MAKE IT BE OVER!” …. Bring it on!