Two-Year Post DIEP Anniversary
Today, December 1, 2016 marks my two-year post DIEP anniversary. Anniversaries are for remembering and celebrating. That is what I’d like to do in this blog as I recall some of the memories etched in my mind from this day two years ago, in 2014 when my life and my breasts were rebuilt after living with a mastectomy and no breasts for seven long and difficult months. I want to share those bright moments from that day, fun things I remember, and give hope to those who are newly diagnosed or have their breast reconstruction date on the calendar soon.
Good-bye Boobs in a Box!
I remember looking at my prosthesis the morning I got up to prepare for surgery. I bid them a formal and fond farewell as I placed them in the box for the last time. I traveled with that box more than once during the period I lived with no breasts. They were expensive and I was advised to keep them in this box when I wasn’t wearing them at night. That is why I’ve always referred to them as my “boobs in a box”. It was hard to wrap my mind around how I was going to feel at the end of this day with new breasts and exactly what they would look like. Good-bye Boobs in a Box!
I cried silently to myself the night before my reconstruction. I think it was mostly out of fear. I knew I would be on the table a long time. Although I had complete trust in my surgeon, he explained all the risks that went with this surgery. However, the morning of my surgery I was as cool as a cucumber. I had my game face on and was ready to go. Check in went seamlessly except for my darn veins. Ah yes, they frequently give phlebotomists and nurses trouble. I was going to have IVs in both hands today. This was serious business. One went in without trouble in my right hand. The other, not so much. I remember speaking with my plastic surgeon while the nurse continued to dig around on my left hand. No luck. She apologized and found one in my wrist. Not the best of locations and it did remain sore the entire week I was in hospital. The only thing that kept me distracted while she looked for a new vein was the calm demeanor of my plastic surgeon. Thanks Dr. C for having your calm game face on that day! It helped me, too.
Little did I know that this poster would precipitate a life-changing event for me. This was truly a strong catalyst and inspiration to writing the blog I started about my DIEP flap breast reconstruction Journey. I brought it in that day and my husband patiently held it until my plastic surgeon walked in. I had seen photos on the PRMA website of other doctors with their patients. Dr. C looked at the poster quizzically and stated, “What’s this?” I looked at him and requested that we take a photo together. I smiled back at him and said, “We can’t let Dr. Ledoux have all the press, can we?” His answer, “Well, that’s because he’s a lot better looking than I am.” Before I took the photo, I made him grab a blue surgical hat. I told him it wasn’t fair I had one on, no makeup and looking rather sleepy and he was looking all fresh and polished. In true fashion, no pun intended, he was a sport and put one on. His demeanor and sense of humor that morning was making this process easier.
My husband stood by as Dr. C carefully studied the area of my chest with it’s wrinkled, radiated, scarred skin. He took out his marking pen and explained to us that he would have to make a larger flap than he usually does due to my delayed DIEP and scarring from radiation twelve years before my DIEP. When he finished and before I was wheeled back to the OR I looked him square in the eyes and took his hands. I remember saying this.
“One of the first things I remember about you at our first consult was your hands.” He pulled one hand away and looked at it with question. I explained to him that they looked like the skilled hands of an artist. I know patients who have asked their plastic surgeons to pray with them immediately before they are taken back for surgery. I prefer to be a bit quieter about my faith values but this moment almost became one of spirituality. I took his hands and said, “I wish you Godspeed today with these gifted hands in the OR.” It is exactly what I needed to tell him before they wheeled me back.
Wake up call
The next moments I remember were back in my room after the surgery. There were nurses all around me. It was late at night. I glanced at the clock and it showed 11 pm. My husband was standing in the corner of the room looking a bit frightened and exhausted while everyone attended to me. The infamous “barf bag” was placed next to my face. Thankfully I didn’t need it. I remember being so damn thirsty and dry it was hard to swallow. A nurse placed a water soaked green sponge to my lips and tongue. Pure heaven and immediate relief! They checked the flaps with the Doppler to make sure they were alive and the blood was pulsing through those new breasts. I have no idea why I said this but when they removed the Velcro on the surgical bra to place the Doppler on the new breasts, I took a peak and literally started to giggle and I said, “Nipples down, nipples down!”. Perhaps it was the anesthesia but I remember a true sense of euphoria. My breasts were back and I was in complete awe of that moment. Best wake up call EVER!!
Hope on the Flap side
I want to tell those who are newly diagnosed and those considering breast reconstruction, especially DIEP flap breast reconstruction, there is HOPE! Recalling the moments of this day two years ago, seems like I just left the hospital. Planning breast reconstruction takes research, time, and support. It is not something you do alone but there can be many lonely days thinking about what you will to through on your own personal Journey. The two key elements are finding the right surgeon and allowing others to help you. Follow the advice of your plastic surgeon as you mend. Don’t take chances when it comes to healing and recovery.
I will continue to be a voice and testimony for this community because of the experience I had, what I learned along the way and how I feel today, two-year post DIEP flap anniversary. I am thrilled with the way my breasts look. It has given me a purposeful life, a new passion, physical balance, and self-confidence; the self-confidence that was robbed by breast cancer. There are options for breast reconstruction and I will continue to educate about all options. But, I will always advocate for using your own tissue. I know that my breasts are all part of me, I have nothing foreign in my body, I am done with surgery and I want my Journey to bring hope to those facing mastectomy.