Intimacy ~ Touching Your Breasts after DIEP flap Surgery
This blog has been sitting in my archives for quite some time. Intimacy and touching your breast after DIEP flap surgery seems like an unabashed topic to write about. The intimacy of the content and the shared photos delayed my writing. Respect for my fellow DIEP flap sisters and touching your breasts after this surgery is not something every woman wants to do. I know this to be true because I talk to women who feel this way.
I fully respect all the complexities that surround the new sensation of your DIEP flap breasts. The purpose of my blog is to share my experience and in some way, empower breast reconstruction patients to embrace their new breasts after they have healed from surgery and to feel comfortable touching their newly reconstructed breasts. If my suggestions and story work for you, I am happy. If they do not, I get it, truly! We have all been on this difficult Journey to choose to reconstruct our breasts after mastectomy.
Delayed vs. Immediate DIEP flap Surgery
I want to make a distinction before I begin. I had delayed breast reconstruction. My mastectomy was in May of 2014. It wasn’t until December of 2014 that I had reconstruction. I lived as a hidden amputee for seven long, disheartening, months. There are evidence based studies about the psychological effects of breast cancer and mastectomy. I felt as though I was the subject of those studies. I was a different person the seven months living without my breasts. I am usually uplifted by being around others and in general I am energized by meeting new people.
That was not the case during the seven months I was a hidden amputee. We each handle situations differently. I sank into a social quagmire and I was quite uncomfortable in public. I didn’t know what to wear, especially for the month I waited to get my prosthesis. Each time I stepped out of the shower with my husband in the room it was difficult for me. I would wrap the towel around myself quickly. He was beyond understanding but never really revealed his own feelings and what it meant to have a wife with no breasts. How difficult it must have been for him. It is a shock to have body parts missing and to try to adjust to that new image for both you and those you are most intimate with.
I had to upload photos of my mastectomy to the plastic surgeon I chose since he was out of state. He used those photos to do a virtual consult before my first one-on-one appointment. I know how important those photos were for him to view, evaluate, and plan my care but, it was truly one of the most difficult evenings I encountered after my mastectomy. My stomach was in knots as I worked up the courage to hand my husband the camera to take full frontal photos of my breast-less chest. I began to cry when I handed him the camera and just choked out the words, “I hate this, I really hate this.”
He understood but didn’t say much. He did a great job of capturing what he thought my plastic surgeon would need to see. He went about it quickly knowing how difficult it was for me. I remember disrobing in front of my plastic surgeon for the first time at my initial exam. Here was a total stranger I had never met, with my husband sitting just a few feet away observing the exam; two men, looking at my breast-less chest. I am glad they were both compassionate men. Yes, it takes courage and why I am in constant awe and admiration of women who make the choice to reconstruct. I can’t even summarize my respect for each of them.
It wasn’t until the evening of my DIEP flap surgery that an awakening of my spirit began. I was back in my hospital room after being wheeled from recovery. The nurses placed the Doppler on my new breasts to check the blood flow. They were bruised, misshapen from swelling, and had drains coming out of them but I literally began to giggle. I looked down to see a body part that was replaced and had been gone for seven months. I was ecstatic! I don’t know this to be true but I can only compare it to the amputee who has been fitted for a new limb and gets to try it out for the first time; Function, balance, feeling whole again, renewal. Those are the words that come to mind with an added feeling of total exhilaration!
Women who have immediate breast reconstruction wake up with breasts that are not their original; breasts that replaced those that were there just before they were wheeled into surgery. I cannot compare my experience to theirs’ in as much as the surgery is very similar. I have spoken to women who found it difficult to touch their breasts after DIEP flap. It is the catalyst, in large part, for writing this blog.
Your Breasts Then and Now
Our bodies are vessels of nurturing, sexuality, strength, and beauty. We are formed with curves, sensation, softness, and warmth. Think back to your puberty when your breasts began to take form. Perhaps you began to marvel at the feminine form taking shape. How did you feel about your body, your breasts before breast cancer and mastectomy? How do you feel about your newly reconstructed breasts after DIEP flap surgery?
This is what I did when I returned home from my DIEP flap breast reconstruction. Each night before I got under the covers, I saw the reflection of my new breasts in the dresser mirror that was in front of my bed. I looked at them in the dim light in absolute wonder before I put my sleeping bra on. I gazed at the shape, symmetry, and perfection my plastic surgeon achieved with his skilled hands and artistic eye. I cradled them in my hands. I felt the warmth of my newly constructed breasts. They were soft and pliable. Numb in places, yes, but I was grateful beyond words to have them back and more importantly, cancer free. They were my new vessels that allowed me to reclaim my femininity. Touching my breasts was part of my journey back to healing from losing my breast and having breast cancer twice.
Gentle Touch after DIEP flap Surgery
Gentle touch can have many benefits. If you are having difficulty touching your newly constructed breast after DIEP flap surgery I want to share some personal thoughts with you. Gratitude and attitude may help you to embrace your new breasts.
- We are so very fortunate to have the choice to reconstruct. There are women who came before us 25 – 30 years ago who didn’t have the choice to use their own tissue; who may have lived their entire life with a radical mastectomy. Today women can choose to be flat or reconstruct. We are lucky to have the choice!
- Our new breasts are ALL us! They have our blood source and our warm, soft tissue. That is medical and surgical progress that still amazes me. I am thankful.
- Our tummy may feel tight but that’s OK! Your new tight tummy is protecting those vital organs just like the tummy tissue that was there before and is now our breasts.
- I have spoken to women who have had DIEP flap who are in same sex relationships, women who are single and dating, and women who have been married to the same man for many years. Numbness is a concern. Do you still have areas of numbness? I do, but I also have new sensation and areas that are not numb in my breasts. I had sensory nerve repair at the time of my DIEP flap. I guide my husband’s hands now to tell him where those areas of sensitivity are. Have you told your partner where you have feeling left in your new breasts? If the entire area of your breasts is numb, perhaps you can guide your partner to other areas of your body that would enjoy a gentle touch.
- If you still have your nipples like I do, they may be numb but they are still sensitive to temperature and touch and will still react even though you don’t feel them.
- Find a moment of solitude and place your hands on your hips. Standing In front of a mirror, unclothed from the waist up, look at those newly reconstructed breasts. You did hours of research, days of planning, underwent surgery, weeks of healing, and made personal sacrifice to have these new breasts. Now smile back in the mirror at your reflection and the new body part that no longer harbors breast cancer. You ARE BEAUTIFUL!!
- Cradle those newly reconstructed breasts in your own warm hands. They are all you! Touch them gently with DIEP gratitude for what you achieved by making the choice to reconstruct!
The intimate photos of me were taken by my husband. I used a filter from an app to complete the appearance. He knew why I asked him to take the photos and respectfully made them discrete. This photo shoot was far easier than the one we did the night I had no breasts.
I am grateful I chose DIEP flap breast reconstruction after mastectomy. I hope my story of intimacy with my breasts after DIEP flap can in some way give you a positive perspective on your choice to reconstruct.