To have or not to have… immediate reconstruction after a double mastectomy.
It’s a pretty serious question thrown at you shortly after you hear the words “you have breast cancer.” I remember being in a fog after learning of my diagnosis and thinking “does it really matter because I have CANCER and could die – does the physical shape of my body after surgery really matter at all?”
I chose the immediate reconstruction. Why? The simple answer is because that was what my doctors recommended. My emotions spinning out of control at the time, the last thing on my mind was what it would be like being a woman living without breasts. I just wanted to be living. I was thankful that I had the mastectomy surgeon and reconstruction doctor in the same room at the same time while making my decision. The not-so-simple answer for making this choice was a personal one. Being only 40 years old, my surgeons enlightened me to start thinking about the me that would be left after all the treatments, and I had high hopes that I could resume life as usual and people would stop looking at me with that pitiful “it’s the last time I will see you” look or “I don’t know what to say to someone who has cancer” look. Having the immediate reconstruction would lessen the amount of surgeries and speed up the process of getting back to normal, or so I thought. The reconstruction would also allow me to still have the shape of a woman and therefore feel like one.
The double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction surgery and recovery was painful but successful. The temporary expanders were put in place so that the skin where my breasts once were could heal and stretch to host the silicone implants that would soon come.
Sadly my expanders went flat before the transfer to implants, which is a harmless risk, because they are filled with saline so it was just absorbed into my body. Due to this untimely mishap, my surgery date to install the new implants after radiation was moved up to before radiation. I was now faced with more fears of what my body was going to look like, as it is more ideal to have the surgery after radiation so there is an opportunity to address some of the side effects that may occur.
Again, my doctor performed another successful surgery and after recovery, I was quite pleased with the outcome of the silicone (gummy bear) implants. Covered with a bra and clothing, no one would guess that I am missing the breasts I carried for 40 years. I looked like a well-curved woman, but upon a closer look, things aren’t quite that simple. Having no nipples and long diagonal scars that run the length of my entire breasts makes looking in the mirror quite uncomfortable, not to mention the cold hard feeling of concrete sitting on my chest. Hugging has become a distant second to shaking hands or offering a kiss on the cheek. Nonetheless, I remain grateful for the treatment that has allowed me to live. Without having had the mastectomy, the chemotherapy and the radiation – there is a real good chance I wouldn’t even be alive to tell my story. And without the immediate reconstruction after my double mastectomy I don’t believe I would have been able to embark on the long journey back to finding the feeling of being “the me” that I have known for the first 40 years of my life.
Shelly Straub is a breast cancer survivor. She is the founder of www.ATaleof2Boobies.com and has self published the book “One Year With Cancer.” She is also founder and President of the non-profit organization Hope Chest for Chartiy.
Follow Shelly on twitter @ataleof2boobies or find Hope Chest for Charity on facebook at www.facebook.com/CNYHopeChest