DIEP flap Breast Reconstruction: Did I make the right choice?
YES! I did make the right choice having DIEP flap breast reconstruction! Each December marks another year and anniversary of my DIEP flap surgery. I remember so much about the dark, cool, morning we left for the hospital. I was calm, prepared, and ready December 1, 2014.
The time between my double mastectomy in mid-May of 2014 and my breast reconstruction were some of the most trying days of my life. In 2002, after my first breast cancer diagnosis, I had been through 2 surgeries, eighteen weeks of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of daily radiation. This was physically demanding because I was so sick and felt so weak.
Fast forward twelve years to 2014. Waiting for my breast reconstruction was psychologically trying. Each month that passed after my double mastectomy only decreased my self-image as a woman due to the loss of my breasts and seeing myself in the mirror every day without them.
The distress I faced is shared by so many after a breast cancer diagnosis or finding you have a gene mutation putting you at high risk for breast cancer. The anguish begins with the diagnosis itself. The overwhelming thoughts that come with a decision to move forward with breast reconstruction is tantamount of training for an Olympic competition.
When Did I Make the Decision to do DIEP flap Breast Reconstruction?
My decision to have DIEP flap breast reconstruction started the day I was told I had to have a double mastectomy. It was a slow process in my case, but my breast surgeon told me about all my options the day she told me I had to lose my breasts. We planned my surgery, discussed possible follow up treatment (radiation and chemotherapy) based on labs from my surgical report, and I left there with all the information I needed to decide about breast reconstruction, both implant and autologous (using your own tissue).
ADVICE: You have just been told you are facing a mastectomy. The treatment plan for breast cancer comes first, ALWAYS! But, there is no reason you cannot have a discussion with your healthcare team and ask the question: WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS FOR BREAST RECONSTRUCTION?
If you are reading this blog and you or someone you know is facing a mastectomy, you know a breast surgeon, oncologist, primary care physician, or any member of a healthcare team involved in patient education, please share this ADVICE with them. Breast Reconstruction is a personal choice. Knowing your options is a right!
After My Decision, What Were My Next Steps?
It becomes a bit more rigorous when you’ve decided to have DIEP flap breast reconstruction for the simple reason there are few well-qualified plastic surgeons who specialize in this procedure. This was my plan of attack. I hope the thoughts I have listed here help.
- Begin looking for a board certified, microsurgeon who has performed many successful DIEP flap surgeries. See my resource page here but be sure to ask the questions listed on the resource page when you call the office of the plastic surgeon you are considering.
- Ask your healthcare team if they know of microsurgeons who successfully perform DIEP flap surgery.
- It’s OK to look on the Internet but don’t rely 100% on Dr. Google! Make more than one phone call to more than one plastic surgeon until you find the one that hits a home run for your criterion and feels like your “just right” microsurgeon. You’ll know! You’re worth it!!
- Be prepared to travel. This is the reality of finding a highly qualified microsurgeon. Performing DIEP flap breast reconstruction takes grit and passion. There are few surgeons who choose to move on after medical school with even more years of specialty and fellowship training to pursue this work.
- I traveled 800 miles. I coordinated logistics with my family and friends. Additionally, the plastic surgery group I chose offered amazing support and resources for lodging. Know you will be asking a lot of family and/or friends. It feels selfish at times. We are so used to caring for others. It was heartwarming and I was taken back by the number of family and friends who willing took time off work and traveled to assist in recovery.
- Consider joining a positive support group either locally or on-line with patients who are considering or have been through DIEP flap breast reconstruction. Feel free to join DiepCJourney! My experience was so successful and positive I absolutely love administering this positive group after my DIEP flap surgery. Come join us if you need support! Hearing other voices really helps comfort and ease the fears and anticipation of this big surgical decision.
How Do I Feel After DIEP flap Breast Reconstruction?
Amazing! Grateful! Healthy! The list goes on. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and travel frequently as a patient advocate for breast reconstruction. I exercise regularly. I can still hold a one-minute plank. Shopping for clothes has never been so much fun. I am embracing the new me after a second breast cancer diagnosis.
I make no apologies for my exuberance about life. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and have had successful DIEP flap breast reconstruction, you know what I’m talking about. Every ounce of your body is YOU! Even if you don’t have your original breasts, like me, you are lucky to live in an era where using your own tissue to reconstruct your breasts after mastectomy is possible through microsurgery.
I am not delusional. I know everyone does not have the successful experience I did with my DIEP flap breast reconstruction. I also know; however, thousands of women and men have had successful experiences. The testimonials of renewal, strength, and moving beyond a breast cancer diagnosis only fuel my passion. I will continue to share my own experience and help others as they move through this process of planning, research, and recovery.
I want to honor the women and men who, after a breast cancer diagnosis, make the decision to move forward with DIEP flap breast reconstruction. My heart if full because of your commitment and conviction to take on the choice to reconstruct your breasts.
I want to honor my plastic surgeon and the few who choose microsurgery as their professional choice. You become our unsung heroes! We are grateful for your grit, your passion, in choosing to reconstruct breasts using a patient’s own tissue with DIEP flap. There are other alternative flaps successfully used, too, to rebuild breasts. This was my experience.
DIEP flap breast reconstruction: Did I make the right choice?
DAMN STRAIGHT I DID!