It’s been three years since I finished up the very long and winding road of breast reconstruction, so I thought it might be a good time for me to share a few things that I feel are worth thinking about before choosing breast reconstruction. Most of them apply if you’re going the prophylactic route too. Four years have passed since my diagnosis and three since completing my recon project, so I have had a little time now to think about the choices I made and if truth be told, I might very well choose differently if I were facing the same scenario today.
I would think a little harder and a little longer about not doing reconstruction at all. I didn’t say I would still not choose it, but I am saying I would definitely put a lot more consideration into thinking about that option. At the time of my diagnosis, it seemed as if it was almost assumed by everyone around me that I’d be having reconstruction. I’m not even sure if opting out was discussed, or if it was, I don’t remember that.
Opting out should always be discussed.
I would most definitely do a better job of researching ALL of my reconstruction options. Don’t get me wrong, I take responsibility here and it’s not like I didn’t do any research. I did. I clearly remember doing it because I also remember feeling sick to my stomach while reading through all the different procedures and trying to process it all. When you are in the thick of it, as I was and you might be now, it can be very over-whelming to say the least.
You need some time to figure this stuff out. Take some.
And yes, my plastic surgeon did bring up various procedures at least once because I remember me saying something stupid like, “Yeah, I’ve got plenty of extra belly fat for whatever you might need to do.”
My surgeon’s response was, “Well, actually you don’t have as much there to work with as you might think you do.”
And that was that.
I didn’t push for much more information from him about procedures other than the implants one. What was I thinking?
I regret not doing that.
1. So my number one tip is do your research on all the reconstruction options available to you, or have someone you trust do it for you. Remember, you are amputating your breasts and figuring out what to do (if anything) with that space on your chest after they are gone. These are huge decisions and you are making them at a time when you are perhaps vulnerable, uncertain and possibly feeling pressured to decide things quickly.
2. Discuss with your plastic surgeon which procedures will or will not work for your situation and do not settle only for the one(s) he/she has experience doing. If you want to consider a different procedure, you might have to go elsewhere to at least talk about other options you’re interested in with a surgeon who does have the skills that an alternate procedure would require.
3. Never choose reconstruction to please your spouse, partner or anyone else. This is your body and your life. This is about you.
4. Realize that the reconstruction process can take months, involves pain and discomfort, has risk for complications, requires time off from work and will likely also require at least some additional help at home. It’s not quick and easy. And it sure as heck is no boob job.
5. Do not fall into the trap of I might as well go bigger now that I have a chance to do so. I did this and no, I’m still not all that big, but I did go bigger. If I were to do things over, I would not do this. I clearly remember my plastic surgeon saying to me, “No one has ever told me she was sorry she went bigger.”
Well guess what?
And again, I take responsibility for the decision I made here too. Bottom line, don’t assume bigger is better for you.
6. Find out what your time parameters are. Maybe you can do reconstruction later. Maybe you can’t. Maybe you can start things now and finish later. Maybe you can’t. But find out. Know what your options are timetable-wise, too, and also what they are likely to be down the road if you want to wait. You might need to check on insurance coverage if you wait as well.
7. Ask to see photos of reconstruction work your plastic surgeon has done for other patients. Doing this is a very weird experience, but well worth it.
8. Discuss all your questions with your plastic surgeon, even the ones you are embarrassed to ask.
9. Be sure to discuss nipples and areolas too. Don’t assume your plastic surgeon can do it all. Mine did not. Going to yet another plastic surgeon for areola stuff was yet more to do and added additional stress. Knowing this upfront is important and reduces stress later on. Some women opt out of this part. Again, it’s all about personal choice.
10. Go into things realizing breast reconstruction is just that, reconstruction. Have realistic expectations about what most likely will and will not be attained.
To sum things up, take some time and learn about the entire project, your entire project, from start to finish before you begin. This will help to eliminate surprises and disappointments, at least some of them. And heaven knows, after a cancer diagnosis (or trying to avoid one if you are doing a prophylactic surgery), mastectomy and everything else on your plate, you can use fewer of those.
I hope these tips are helpful. Good luck!
Have you had breast reconstruction?
Did you opt out of reconstruction, and if so why?
What would you add to this list?