Breast Reconstruction Surgery Fears
Why do patients fear surgery for breast reconstruction? It’s just another piece of the anxiety puzzle after a breast cancer diagnosis. You’re faced with the dreaded news that a best or only option for your treatment plan is a mastectomy. Lose my breasts? Your head starts reeling and you think about what you will look like losing the body parts that most defines you as a woman. There will be scars, pain, recovery, time away from a job and family, anesthesia, medical and insurance costs, and oh yes, what about getting all that cancer out of my body during surgery! The list goes. I decided to explore some of these fears in a poll. I asked members of a Facebook page I manage in support of those going through breast reconstruction. What they fear and what they go through in their diagnosis and decision to have breast reconstruction matters to me.
I think, in my humble opinion, that what these patients express as the fears they have of breast reconstruction surgery may be a valuable tool for plastic surgeons to view. It may give them added insight into exactly what some of those fears are and how they might dispel those fears before their own patients proceed with breast reconstruction surgery.
A Poll: Breast Reconstruction Surgery Fears
This is certainly not an evidence-based study but I was curious. I posted this poll on the Journey Facebook page recently with these questions.
Journey members: What is your biggest fear of surgery? Please make one choice, your #1 fear. Then, if you wish in the comments you can respond by ordering them from #1 – greatest fear to #4 least fear.
Here are the questions as they were posted in the poll.
Assurance all cancer has been removed?
Pain during recovery?
Length of being under anesthesia?
Scars as a result of surgery?
The #1 Fear of Breast Reconstruction Surgery
I left the poll open for 2 days and there were 48 responses. There was breast cancer, BRCA patients, patients from foreign countries, and patients who had had a second occurrence of cancer. Out of those responses the number one concern was “Assurance that all the cancer had been removed.” Some added comments about this number one fear included the statement that nothing else really mattered if all the cancer was gone.
It is interesting because this poll was answered by those who had both immediate and delayed breast reconstruction. I had delayed DIEP flap breast reconstruction. I was told by my surgical oncology team that they removed all the cancer during my mastectomy that had taken place seven months prior to my reconstruction surgery. The reconstructive part of my breast cancer journey was the icing on the cake to restore what had been taken by breast cancer, by breasts. Knowing the cancer was already gone, I would have to put “length of being under anesthesia” as my number one fear. The comments I received from family and friends about this could have fueled my own concerns.
This brings up a valid point. Many patients have told me that the concerns and comments from friends and family is often what also gives them added distress. You don’t just take on your own fears. You take on the fears of your children, your parents, your spouses, partners, and best friends. There are times when you want to crawl in a hole and not listen to any more advice from anyone and just get on with the surgery. Then there is the sweet letter you get from your own dear Dad saying he’s got a priest saying four, yes FOUR masses for you the day before, the day of, and the day after your surgery! Love you Dad! He was also fearful of that length of surgery and time his daughter would be under anesthesia.
Pain: The #2 Fear of Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Pain was the second leading breast reconstruction surgery fear. Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine that someone is going to take a scalpel and slice you from hip bone to hip bone. Then imagine that there will be incisions in your breast area to place the tissue dissected from your abdominal area and secure it with sutures to your breast area. Never mind the scoring, stitching, elevating, manipulation and reattachment of all that tissue. And how about the placement of those lovely drains and how they will feel when you wake up?
It is no surprise then that this ranked as number 2 as a fear of breast reconstruction surgery. Putting the details of the surgery on paper, however, is different than the actual experience after you have woken up from surgery. None the less, you do think about pain prior to surgery. Many are surprised when I tell them how little pain I personally experienced during recovery. It is so important to discuss this with your plastic surgeon at the time of your consult. How will you deal with pain after surgery? Ask the question!
#3 Fear of Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Coming in at number 3 as a fear of breast reconstruction surgery was length of time under anesthesia. One respondent was a two-time survivor who stated that because she was 6 years older for her second surgery this was one of her major concerns. I don’t think asking about who your anesthesiologist will be should be a question that is off that table at the time of your consult. The fact is, your breast surgeon may truly not know because the scheduling varies on these cases in hospital. What you can do is ask them success rate and experience level of the anesthesia team they work with to ease some of your fears. I was so very fortunate to get a stellar gal for my DIEP flap. Dr. Stacey Allen looked at me with a warm, confident, reassuring smile the morning of my DIEP flap and said, “You’ve got me the entire day and I’m going to give you the right mix of cocktail to make sure you wake up easily.” Mission accomplished! I woke up giggling!
Last but not least…. Fear of Scars
Fear of scars because of surgery was the poll question with the least responses. There have been articles written about outsiders calling breast reconstruction a “boob job”. It makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck to even type that phrase. One such article was well written in respect of breast cancer patients by our friends at Medivizor. We all know we’re going to come out of this surgery with scars and it is a fear but not always the biggest one. So, for those outsiders who think this is a boob job; for those of you who haven’t experienced the plethora of fears that breast cancer patients go through before breast surgery, we put scars at the bottom of our poll and we NEVER consider this a boob job. Nuff said!
Shedding Light on the Fears of Breast Reconstruction
I do hope this sheds some light on what breast cancer patients consider some of their fears of breast reconstruction surgery. I want to give a shout out to my own plastic surgeon, Dr. Minas Chrysopoulo who is a one of the many fine guest surgeons on the Journey Facebook page. It did not go without notice that he saw this poll and liked it with a thumbs up click. I’m glad he showed interest in what our fears are. Thanks Dr. C! I hope this poll gives added insight to other patients and makes them feel better about their own fears of breast reconstruction surgery. I also hope it gives added insight to other plastic surgeons when they discuss these fears with their own patients.