I said I’d update on where I’m at with my healing progress six months ago, so here’s the latest on my post surgery body, 18 months after my double mastectomy and muscle sparing TRAM reconstruction surgery.
Overall, I’d say I’m progressing well. I’m still really conscious of my tight stomach and numb torso each day, but it is WAY better than it was. The stiffness is less, the discomfort is reduced, my general feeling of well being has much improved. Still a way to go, but I definitely feel like I am “getting there”.
I had my final check up with James, my plastic surgeon last week. He is really pleased with my physical progress. I didn’t expect to, but I cried when he asked me, sincerely and kindly, how I feel about the breast surgery now. It just brings up so much sadness for me. As James says, I’m healing well on the outside, but have a way to go on the inside.
In a physical sense, he told me that they expect to achieve symmetry in the breasts under clothes about 80% of the time. But to achieve symmetry and great shape in the flesh, like my body has, is only achieved less than 10% of the time. So yes, the physical appearance is great and I’m so grateful for James’ skillful hands and kind heart.
Overall, I’d say these are the up and down sides for me of the surgery at this stage:
THE UP SIDES:
- I don’t have breast cancer, and there is a 99% likelihood that I never will! That is, by far, the best thing, and the whole point of the exercise. I don’t have any regrets and I’m so grateful I will never have to go through any of the challenging treatment that so many breast cancer sufferers do.
- My breasts, from the outside, feel quite natural and soft. Much softer than they were in the months after surgery, and really look well balanced and rounded just like you’d hope they’d be. They can still feel a little cool on the surface sometimes, as the blood circulation is still improving, but apparently way better in this way than the result with implants, which never really feel like natural breasts.
- My scarring on the skin surface is gradually fading every month. The stomach scar is more obvious than the ones on my breasts, which are really quite faint now.
- The internal scar tissue in my stomach has dissipated so much. It is quite remarkable the difference over the past 12 months. Bas, who does my lymphatic drainage massages, says he can’t believe how good the circulation is now. My stomach is much softer and less dense internally than it was. It’s not back to normal, but I’d say it’s about 80% of the way there.
- I can feel my core strength is improving. I’m going to go to a post surgery Pilates specialist this week and will start a program to really get that back up to speed.
- My stomach is much flatter than it was now that the lymphatic circulation has improved. I am starting to appreciate the benefits of the “tummy tuck” effect of the surgery, especially in the morning, when I have no food in my stomach. (This surgery is actually MUCH more invasive than a cosmetic tummy tuck, as the tissue removed is cut much more deeply than in a cosmetic surgery, and the scar is much longer. But the effect is similar.)
THE DOWN SIDES:
- The loss of feeling sensation in my breasts and stomach. This affects the entire area of my breasts and an area about 6 – 8 inches in diameter on my lower abdomen – so, most of the front of my torso. James tells me that over years, even decades, I might get a little bit of feeling back here and there, but overall, it is gone and for now, I couldn’t feel it if you stuck a sharp knife or hot coal in those areas. That makes me really sad, and I am still processing that loss. It is the biggest downside for sure, not to have any feeling in a big area of your body.
- My stomach is still feeling tight, but not nearly as much as it was. Considering about a third of the front of my torso surface area was taken out in order to create the new breasts, I suppose it is no wonder it feels tight. There is a constant firm pressure on my lower abdomen that I can always feel. It feels more distended and stretched after a meal, but slowly I think my body is adjusting to having less skin than it had before.
- I can still feel my breasts as sort of a separate entity attached to my body, and they feel quite heavy without a bra on, but the feeling is not as “grab-y” and tender as it was and I feeling like slowly they are being integrated with the rest of me. I’ve realized in recent weeks that I can even sleep on my stomach again now, so that’s a big improvement!
So, as James said, my healing on the outside is doing really well. My healing on the “inside” /how I feel about the trauma of the surgery and the loss of sensation still has a way to go. I know I’m sad about it, but I’m not sure exactly how much of the sadness I still carry with me is related to the surgery, and how much to the losses of Martha and Lou. I think I have been pretty good at letting it out, and consciously staring it down and processing it all, but I suppose it just takes time, and further contemplation and counseling to really come to terms with everything. I will persevere!
I’m always a bit reluctant to upload any body photos here (takes me a few days each time to get brave enough to share!), but I do think my healing is encouraging to anyone at the beginning of this process or those who are contemplating the same path. All I want to say to those women is “It gets better!” Very, very slowly, but surely, the healing continues and finally you see what those who have been through this before you mean – yes, it is worth it. And yes, you can do it!
So in the spirit of that, here are some shots of where my body is at now – not about to be in Swimsuit Illustrated (!) but a good shape, with scars slowly fading. Hooray for the skills of surgeons and the healing ability of the human body!