Exercise after breast reconstruction surgery is a tricky game. You must clear it with your plastic surgeon. Your incisions must be completely healed so that you do not compromise the healing process. One question I asked my PS (plastic surgeon) at my pre-op appointment before the final phase of my reconstruction was when I could get back to swimming. We have a pool in our backyard and I felt it would be good rehab as a post-surgical exercise. His answer, “When you are ready and when the wounds are all healed”.
New Sensations and Healing
I’ve been working up to this moment today. I emailed the nurse at my plastic surgeon’s office a couple of weeks ago and told her I was feeling some interesting and strange new sensations in my breasts. I couldn’t really put the feelings into words but I think she completely understood. She told me as long as I wasn’t experiencing pain those new sensations were OK and they would likely continue as my newly reconstructed breasts healed. I sensed it was muscles and ligaments waking up after surgery. So, with those words I was ready to get back into the pool to give it a try.
Self-image After a Mastectomy
Last year I didn’t get near the pool. There were two reasons. One was self-image. I had a double mastectomy in May of 2014 and I was suffering the emotional scars that come with that surgery. I just couldn’t bring myself to go in the water with or without prosthesis on. Added to the fact I was still physically healing, swimming just never happened last summer.
My husband worked hard to make sure the pool was crystal clear and swim ready for the 4th of July weekend. He heard me mentioning that I wanted to get back in the water and in his unassuming way got the pool ready for my maiden swim. He got in the water first today as I enjoyed a wicked game of backgammon on the patio with our youngest son, a long standing holiday tradition in our family. I told my husband I really wanted to get in the pool and was thinking about coming in after the backgammon game was over. His comment, “Be brave and get in!”
Oh, not good. That raised My Irish a bit. I looked at him and said, “I am brave!” His reply, “Yes you are. Be braver!” He is a man of brief and direct words. I never accused him of not getting straight to the point.
The Magic Happened
With that, I put on my swimming suit and got in. My first few strokes were a bit scary. My skilled plastic surgeon removed a tremendous amount of scar tissue during phase one. That scar tissue was there as a result of radiation twelve years ago. I found that I had much better range of motion after my plastic surgeon removed that scar tissue. But, when I got in the water to swim, I felt a bit of a tug on that left side. It was that tight rubber band feeling. Then the magic happened. After a few strokes I realized I was using muscles I hadn’t used in two years. It became easier to swim and actually felt quite good. The rubber band feeling melted away. My abdominal incision felt good as I gently stretched it out in the water. This hydro-therapy, as I call it, was working! I conquered the giant. I immersed myself in the water that day and felt so good I welled up with tears at how easy and curative this event was for me.
The other added bonus of getting back in my swimsuit was actually filling it out on top. OK, I know I’m getting down to the nitty gritty now but let’s just call it like it is. When “the girls” are gone for a while it’s good to have them back and floating gently in the water. I actually felt good wearing that swimming suit this year! I think “the girls” liked the swim, too!
I Think it’s Officially Bikini Season
I remember something my plastic surgeon told me at my initial consult to determine if I was even going to be a candidate for DIEP flap surgery. Once he determined that he could do DIEP flap surgery on me he looked at me with a bit of a grin on his face and said this, “My job is to get you back in a bikini by summer time. Whether you want to do that or not is up to you.”
I really chuckled when he said that thinking to myself, I’m 58 years old and I don’t think I’ll be getting back in a bikini any time soon no matter how good you are with those skilled hands. With hope in my voice I said to him, “Well, you work on your end of that statement and I’ll work on the last part of that statement.”
I was not going to blog today. I was going to limit my tweets and FB posts today. But this I had to post. Today I am celebrating the 4th of July with my maiden swim. And, I just may go shopping to find that bikini now. Hope, celebration, affirmation that exercise, being braver, support of family and the passion and skill of a plastic surgeon just does a girl good after a second cancer diagnosis and breast reconstruction surgery.
Update from writing this post 2 years ago: Bikini purchased! Mission accomplished. The temporary mustache tattoos for you, Dr. C! Plastic surgery humor and Cheers!