A Letter to My DIEP Flap Sisters
I hear from a number of DIEP flap sisters when they 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 having prophylactic mastectomies due to a gene mutation and still others are ready to complete phase two and finalize their journey.
There is excitement and exuberance in their comments.
I am so excited 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 taking you on an emotional ride 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? You never thought this would happen to you 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 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 lasting 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 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 you have tenderly and lovingly explained, “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 who 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 the first deep breath of fresh air and feel sunshine on your face.
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, it is worth it! I truly felt like my skin and body felt and looked better after being off all of these for the few weeks 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. I know exactly how you are going to feel. I won’t sugar coat it and tell you it’s going to be easy or 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 I could get up and walk around the hospital floor while hanging on to my IV pole.
Your “DIEP Whisper-er”
What I am going to be is the 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 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, back to 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 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. The words from him stating 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 this 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.
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,