A Letter to my DIEP Flap Sisters

A Letter to my DIEP Flap Sisters

I have heard from a number of DIEP flap sisters lately that are having upcoming surgery for phase one or two of breast reconstruction. Some currently have cancer. Others have gone through their cancer surgery and treatments and are at the point they can now physically proceed with DIEP flap surgery. There are those of you who are BRCA positive and still others are ready to complete phase two and finalize your journey.

There is excitement and exuberance in your comments.

I am so excited that I have a date for my surgery!

My insurance has been accepted for my DIEP flap!

My surgery is just two weeks away!

I will be able to look back soon on this entire process and be able to move on!

I know how you feel.

I sense your anticipation in removal of a disease that took you on an emotional ride that you had no road map for. You have been labeled a hero by both family and friends and for what, because you had breast cancer or a high likelihood of getting it because you are BRCA positive? You didn’t make that choice but you faced it bravely and head on in the best way you knew how. You have cried alone in silence. You have cried with others when the tears welled up in your eyes spontaneously just telling someone everything you have been through, fears of your future, fears of your health, and fears of how you would heal and be after this long and onerous surgery.

You dealt with those friends and family who didn’t quite understand why you would choose to have a plastic surgeon cut you from hip to hip and lay open your chest in a surgery that last upwards of a normal person’s workday to have tissue and blood vessels disconnected and  transplanted to have  new breasts built. “Aren’t you putting your life at great risk?” was a question I was asked on more than one occasion. And then there is, “Man, I wouldn’t want to be under anesthetic that long!”

You Have Been Through a Battle

You have been through a battle that the average person would never walk into. But, you have prepared for this. You have calmed the nerves of family members when yours may have been fractured on any given day. You may have young children that you have tenderly and lovingly explained to them that Mommy is going to get fixed and be better. You have spoken with your support team, whether it is friends, family, sisters, and brothers or arranged help through medical care that will assist you during your healing. They will help lift you out of bed, help dress and shower you, cook meals for you, help you strip and measure your drain output, and take walks with you. They will be there with you the morning you check in for your surgery and the day they wheel you out of the hospital when you breathe that first deep breath of fresh air.

I know you are equally excited and scared. You prepare your body for surgery with a regimen of no caffeine, no chocolate, stopping many medications as well as refraining from alcohol. As difficult as this can be to give these up, I can tell you from my own experience that it is worth it! I truly felt like my skin and body felt and looked better after being off of all of these for the few weeks that is required before and after surgery.

If I Could be There With You …

I wish I could be there for every single one of you as you recover in the hospital because I know exactly how you’re going to feel. I won’t sugar coat it and tell you it’s going to be easy or that it will be over before you know it. My biggest challenge was the long days of just lying in bed in the hospital with tubes and wires and leg compression bringing my body back to a point that I could get up and walk around that hospital floor while hanging on to my IV pole.

A Letter to my DIEP flap Sisters

 

Your “DIEP Whisper-er”

What I am going to be is that quiet cheerleader in the corner of your room whispering, “You can do this!” I know you can because so many of your DIEP sisters have done this before you. When you close your eyes I want you to visualize all of the women who have lain in that bed just as you will be and made it. The road may have a few unexpected twists and turns but they got through it and so will you. These women are now rebuilt, back to work, loving their family, going to dinner with friends, reading a good book or back jogging, doing yoga or cooking their favorite meal.

One year ago this week in October of 2014, I had just finished my initial consult. Even though my plastic surgeon told me that I was a candidate for DIEP after radiation from twelve years previously and a delayed DIEP from a mastectomy seven months prior, I still had to undergo another bone scan and tumor markers prior to my surgery. Those test had to come back stable and clear to get my final go ahead and set a surgery date for my DIEP. But, just the words from him that he could rebuild my breasts gave me the first sense of hope I had since my second cancer diagnosis. Added to that, he told me he was going to get my body in bikini shape by summer 2015! Little did I know that would be the case? Mission accomplished!

Although the days in the hospital seemed to drag by at times, in retrospect this year has flown by. Very soon you will be able to say this, too! You have a lot a head of you now but you’re ready. Allow yourself to take a look at your body, alone, in the mirror before your surgery. Touch your breasts (if you haven’t had your mastectomy yet) and your tummy and feel your belly button before your surgery because those will all be new and different after your surgery. When you look in the mirror, tell yourself how strong and beautiful you are. Take pictures of your body before you leave the hospital, drains and all. This will give you a baseline photograph to look at and you will be amazed at the healing process your body goes through in the months ahead.

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Let everyone use their energy to get you back on your feet. This is your time to be taken care of. Do exactly what your plastic surgeon tells you to do.  Honor your body and the decision you have made to rebuild your life.  I will be your quiet cheerleader in the corner of your hospital room saying, “You can do this! You’ve got this! You are now rebuilt!” Then, like me, you can say,

It’s time to just get on with it!

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Disclaimer

References made to my surgical group, surgeon and healthcare team are made because they are aligned with my values and met my criterion after I did research of their practices and success rates. Any other healthcare provider that displays the same skill, compassion education and outreach to patients will be given consideration and recognition on this website.  The information contained on this website is not a substitute for or should be construed as medical advice. Please consult a licensed physician for medical advice.

8 Replies to “A Letter to my DIEP Flap Sisters”

  1. Mary Sledden

    thanjbyou for your posts! Before my surgery, you helped me understand what to expect the day of surgery…the first week home…. Now, 18 days after surgery, you are giving me hope that indeed, it will all return to a new normal! You are fabulous at pegging all the emotions I have/am going through, the reassurances I have had to give, and so much more! I am glad that we share having the same doc…I found you through Dr C’s blog!!!!

    • Terri Post author

      Hi Mary, Thank you for your kind words and you found a great doc in Dr. C! You will return to a new normal because you went to one of the best docs in the country and the support at the office will help you get there. There are a lot of emotions that we go through with this surgery. I wish you happy healing. Take good care of yourself!

  2. Clark Schierle MD PhD FACS

    Thank you so much for providing this resource to our patients and others across the country. As a surgeon committed to the well being and happiness of my patients, I am reminded everyday that surgery is only one small piece of the healing process. It truly “takes a village”. Proud and humbled to play our part…

    • Terri Post author

      Dr. Schierle, Thank you so much for your kind response, highest compliment ever! I’m happy that you are part of this team and “village” helping women to rebuild their lives! Cheers ~ Terri

  3. Shauna

    Beautiful letter! It is a,journey, longer for some of us than others (6 years for me, delayed “double-DIEP” after initial reconstruction with implants (failed)). Thank you for doing this for others. It’s a loving kind thing giving those after you the gift of empathy and knowing this is a doable path that leads back to a full and happy life.

    • Terri Post author

      Shauna, I am glad to hear that you were able to have your delayed “double-DIEP”. My delay was only 7 months but certainly long enough! You’ve been through a lot if you had failed implants. A full and happy life is what most of us strive for and I wish that for you. So kind of you to respond and with such kind words. Thank you and I wish you continued good health.

  4. Patty

    Great letter Terri. It brought back memories of my surgery 5 years ago. Mine was the day before my birthday. I was very excited and told everyone that this was my birthday present to myself. I was getting rid of the cancer, getting a Breast reduction (which I had always wanted but was too scared to do), and getting a tummy tuck. I told my anesthesiologist that I wanted to wake up smiling. After an 8 hr surgery, I woke up looking into her face and smiled at her. Having a positive attitude made the healing process so much easier I think. Of course there were struggles, but I tried to remember that this was a process. One step at a time. My friends kept saying I was brave. No, I’m a survivor.

    • Terri Post author

      What a wonderful story to share, Patty. It made me smile when you said you woke up smiling from surgery. Funny the details we remember from that day. I actually remember waking up giggling, truly giggling when I looked down and saw I had breasts again. I truly believe in that positive attitude and I know that comes harder for some than others but to try and stay on that course helps the healing as you said. Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished and I wish you many more smiles!

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