#DIEP Flap Surgery During a #Pandemic - Is is safe? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #surgery #womenshealth

DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery during a pandemic, is it safe? (Updates & reflections about my experience)

I will likely have lots more to say about my recent explant and DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery. Yes, of course, I will. But for now, I’ll share updates and a few random thoughts about my experience having a major surgery during a pandemic.

You might want to read, When Your Implant Ruptures and/or When Surgery, Cancer Care, Emotions & Covid-19 Collide.

First and foremost, if you (or a loved one) is facing any sort of surgery during this pandemic, one of your top worries undoubtedly is — is it safe to proceed?

Obviously, everyone’s situation is unique for a host of reasons and decisions are highly personal. I’m sharing updates and reflections about my recent experience hoping to help others in similar situations.

You might want to read, Preparing for surgery during a pandemic.

These are a few post-surgery reflections in no particular order:

First of all, I am doing pretty darn well at two weeks out. Knock on wood.

Thus far, I have had no pain. None. Not even in the hospital. Now, maybe this is partly due to many nerves being severed in my original bilateral. But mostly, I think it’s due to having highly skilled surgeons (I had two) and an excellent medical team. Grateful is what I am. (To be clear, no pain does not equate with this was/is a breeze, but so far, it’s all been doable.)

Having a Covid test was not something I needed to have worried about so much.

Sure, having a swab inserted and swished around in your nasal cavity isn’t pleasant, but my experience was not bad at all. Any woman (probably any man too) has been through much more unpleasant medical procedures. If you need this test for any reason, don’t worry about it. You’ll do fine.

Never seeing your care team’s faces unmasked is weird. (As is wearing a mask much of the time as a patient.)

However, you can read an awful lot via a person’s eyes, voice and body language. IMO masking in hospitals seems like a really good idea ongoing.

Being allowed only one visitor was fine.

I feel for those who have been allowed no visitors while hospitalized for any reason during this pandemic. I was fortunate to be allowed one. Dear Hubby was the only one I needed anyway.

After making my decision to go ahead with surgery during a pandemic, I was at peace.

Pandemic or no pandemic, at some point, you have to put your trust in others to do their best to care for you and to keep you safe. When I arrived on surgery day, I was calmer than I’ve ever been for any medical procedure. Go figure.

Bottom line, I felt safe proceeding.

My body is remarkably resilient. So is yours.

When I think of all this body’s been through in the past decade (not to mention the previous decades), I’m astounded. Amazed. And yes, grateful.

#DIEP Flap Surgery During a #Pandemic - Is is safe? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #surgery #womenshealth
Up and about next day. Like I said, we are resilient, right? Mask wearing required whenever I left my room.

I am even more acutely aware than ever how fortunate I have been, and still am, to receive excellent medical care. Everyone deserves the same!

This pandemic has further exposed countless disparities across the board, including in healthcare. These disparities are unacceptable, and must be addressed. It’s time for lip service to end and action to be taken.

Who among us does not deserve top-notch health care?

#DIEP Flap Surgery During a #Pandemic - Is is safe? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #surgery #womenshealth
My lead surgeon, Minh-Doan T. Nguyen, M.D., PhD, who kindly agreed to a photo with my non-showered, puffy looking post-surgery self. #keepingitreal

I am relearning to listen to my body.

Self-care is critical all the time. We all know this and yet… Post surgery, you really don’t have a choice. You must listen to your body and avoid comparing your experience to that of others.

I am eating when I’m hungry (which is pretty often). Sleeping when I need to (also pretty often). Walking as much as I am able (and allowed). Turning on my computer (and phone) in limited time doses. And, of course, I am listening to my care team and following all directions as best I can.

I am blessed to have a loving caregiver. (Thank you, Dear Hubby.)

Dear Hubby always says he never reads my blog (and he doesn’t). He says he doesn’t need to. He’s living it. Yep. That is his truth alright. When your Dearest One sees you at your most vulnerable (drains hanging out of you and other unmentionables) and tenderly cares for you despite the fact medical stuff is not his thing (at all), you are truly blessed. And loved.

If you’re having this particular surgery (or any sort), you really do need a caregiver for at least the front end of your recovery. Obviously, this can be anyone you feel comfortable with in filling that role.

With this surgery behind me, I am feeling many emotions. You likely will too if you’re facing, or have recently faced, surgery of any sort.

I am feeling relief, gratitude, apprehension (the road ahead likely won’t be entirely smooth) and a whole bunch of other ways.

Come what may, I am content with my decision to choose this particular surgery. It is not the option of choice for everyone for various reasons. (More on this later.) It was the right one for me.

Rolling the dice and choosing to proceed with such a big surgery during a pandemic was a risk I decided to take after carefully contemplating the situation. I realize I am not yet fully out of the woods. I intend to practice extra precautions for the foreseeable future. No visitors, not even family for the time being. No outings other than to medical appointments. I’m even avoiding my neighbors taking social distancing to an extreme. (Sorry. Not sorry.)

#DIEP Flap Surgery During a #Pandemic #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #surgery #womenshealth #mastectomy
Release day. Woohoo!

As I’ve said many times, the breast cancer experience is never over, regardless of type or stage.

Once again, I move forward (not on, big difference.)

You might want to read, Moving Forward vs Moving On.

Finally, even though thus far I am pleased with the results from this surgery and grateful for all options that have been available to me, I will always mourn my original breasts, that original wholeness that was once me, and this is okay.

I make no apologies for that. Nor need you.

You might want to read, Things We Aren’t Supposed to Say, and/or Breast Cancer Is a String of Losses.

Again, I will likely have more to say about all this later.

For now, I can say, I did it. I made it over yet another hurdle.

My body is bruised and banged up looking, though things are improving every day. But I did it. I came through an 11-hour surgery during a pandemic. Yes, during a freakin’ pandemic.

I am still here to talk about both.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your kind comments, emails, cards and messages. Thank you for being out there.

You’re the best. (You are!)

I’ll be taking my usual summer blogging break for a bit.

Stay safe. And please, #WearAMask and do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your fellow citizens.

See you in September!


Photos via Dear Hubby (doing his part to help me in #keepingitreal). Oh yeah, he’s living it. And yes, he knows me well.

To get more articles like this one delivered weekly to your inbox, Click Here! #KeepingItReal #SupportYouCanUse

If you like this post, why not share it? Thank you!

If you or a loved one is facing surgery during this pandemic, I hope reading this helps just a bit.

If applicable, what option did you choose regarding breast reconstruction (including Aesthetic Flat Closure) and why did you choose it?

Have you had a surgery or other medical procedure cancelled, rescheduled, completed, or whatever during this pandemic?

Any advice for me (and others) about recovering from surgery?

#DIEP Flap Surgery During a #Pandemic - Is is safe? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #surgery #womenshealth #mastectomy #cancersucks #keepingitreal
A little pre-op glamour. Not!

31 thoughts to “DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery during a pandemic, is it safe? (Updates & reflections about my experience)”

  1. Dear Nancy – I am so happy to hear from you post surgery, I have been hoping you were doing well. I had no idea it was an 11 hour procedure, my god! And I’m so glad you’re not in pain, I was worried that it would be a very tough recovery. Your smiling face says it all! I’ll be checking back in to hear more about how it all went, but for now, sending love and recovery vibes your way. I’m so glad you’re doing well and that the surgery is behind you. Best, Claudia

    1. Claudia, Thank you so much for checking in and for your kind words. I appreciate it. I’m doing remarkably well so far. Hope all is good with you.

  2. It’a good to hear that you are doing so well! You look GREAT! I’m glad that this is finally behind you even if, as you say, there’s some hurdles left to face.

  3. Oh, Nancy! So glad to see these pix of you looking surprisingly chipper after major surgery. I hope that you will continue to feel a bit better every day.

    You have covered so many issues here that I too have been thinking about (not for breast cancer-related procedures, but for important questions that we have all had about any hospital procedure during this surreal COVID-19 era).

    Healthcare professionals did a good job – some might say TOO good! – at convincing the public of two key messages very early on in the pandemic: 1. STAY HOME and 2. caring for patients with COVID19 are more important than whatever your medical problem is (e.g. thousands of surgeries and other procedures suddenly canceled to keep hospital beds available for incoming COVID19 patients).

    The not-surprising yet unintended results of this pervasively effective messaging was a fear of going into the hospital (two reasons identified by researchers so far: fear of the virus, plus reluctance to burden the already over-burdened heroic hospital staff we were reading and hearing about with every newscast.

    Fear of going into the hospital?!? In the early weeks of the pandemic, I cancelled even lab appointments for routine blood tests! Lab waiting rooms, I decided, would be FILLED with sick people. NO WAY!

    The New York City Fire Department, which runs the city’s ambulance service, reported a jump of 75% in sudden cardiac deaths in just one week due to heart patients waiting too long to call 911 in those early weeks. Rates of cardiac procedures dropped by 40% throughout heart hospitals, for example, as reported by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation who – like other medical agencies – finally decided to try to stem this dangerous tide by urging people NOT to ignore serious symptoms: “While we are all concerned about COVID-19 exposure, patients also need to know that avoiding care and treatment could be dangerous during heart attacks.”

    Such messaging, however, doesn’t help unless we know and trust that hospitals are SAFE for us to enter in the first place.

    What you’ve done here is to help rebuild that trust in our hospitals. Every story like yours of uneventful admission, successful surgery, attention to patient safety/public health protocols and of course a happy discharge helps us feel more confident in case we too are heading to the hospital in the near future.

    Thank you SO MUCH for this! Take care and stay safe, dear Nancy…. ♥

    1. Carolyn, Thank you so much for such an astute, important comment. Avoiding care and treatment because you are too afraid to go to a clinic, hospital or ER can be very dangerous and sometimes deadly. It’s sort of ironic that there is so much fear about going in because waiting rooms have always been full of sick people. Of course, this virus takes things to a whole other level. I get it. I was apprehensive too, but finally decided to go ahead with surgery. For the most part, I felt safe and well cared for. Hopefully, my experience can help someone else feel a bit more confident should he/she be facing surgery or any medical procedure. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for your good wishes too. xx

  4. Congratulations on a successful DIEP! We’ve been operating at regular speed in our normal small community hospital just outside of Charleston South Carolina since the end of April. The small intimate setting has allowed us to assure safety standards for our patients are met and exceeded. Enjoy your rest. We love your blog!

    1. Gail, Wow, that is amazing that you’ve been operating at normal speed since the end of April. It’s good for others to realize how carefully safety standards and protocols are being followed. Thank you for saying you love my blog. How nice of you. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your good wishes too.

  5. Thank you for this inspirational post! Congratulations on the success and you look great.
    Yes, breast cancer never goes away. Never. Even reading this I had chills and squeamish pangs thinking about my own mastectomy. I am so glad this stage is over for you and you are on the mend. Love your blog!

    1. JoanneT, Thanks so much. I wanted to share my experience, but I also wanted to encourage others not to necessarily avoid a needed surgery or procedure. And yeah, that initial mastectomy was an experience like nothing else, that’s for sure. Thank you for your kind words about my blog. Hope all is well with you.

  6. I had a diep flap surgery 3 years ago on one breast. You are amazing my breast didn’t hurt it was the incision from one hip to the other for the skin removal. It took me about 6 weeks to be able to stand up straight and 3 months before feeling normal and 6 months till not being exhausted
    Thanks for your insights

    1. Alison, I was fortunate in that I was able to stand up straight immediately. We are all different, so we all recover differently too. Thank you for sharing. Hope you’re doing well these days.

  7. Dear Nancy!
    I am so glad to see your smiling face! And also happy to hear that you are doing so much better than you anticipated. Sharing your personal story is so inspiring to all of us and makes us feel less alone in our own personal stories.
    I just wanted to wish you a relaxing and peaceful August break. I will miss your weekly email, but I know that you are in good hands with Dear Hubby taking care of you (he is definitely a keeper!) I hope you plan on going to a favorite place to get more rest and enjoy the remains of summer.
    Take care!

    1. Tarzangela, Thank you so much. I may (or may not) send out an email at month’s end. I’ll be doing lots of resting for sure and yes, Dear Hubby’s a keeper. Sadly, we won’t be going anywhere due to the risk of covid. Hunkering down for healing and trying to avoid that nightmare. You take care too.

    1. Jenny, I hope your boyfriend’s mum is doing alright. Surgery during normal times is nerve wracking enough. The pandemic adds another whole layer of anxiety, that’s for sure. Thank you for stopping by and for commenting too.

  8. Hi Nancy!
    I am so happy for you!
    I am going to also have DIEP flap surgery. I am just waiting for a date. After a major scare with biopsies in June, a lumpectomy just wasn’t going to cut it. They offered this surgery and WOW it is a lot to take in, Seeing how great you look is inspiring for me. I look forward to seeing your healing process. I am scared! Also, I am feeling excited to have relief.

    1. Cahnstance, You’re right, it is a lot to take in, and it is a big surgery. But I have found everything to be very doable. Knock on wood. I’m glad you’ve made your decision. That is actually one of the hardest parts. Once I made my decision to proceed during the pandemic, I felt at peace and as I mentioned in the post, I was calmer than I’ve ever been for any medical procedure – and I’ve had a lot them! That was surprising even to me. Feeling scared is normal. Hoping things go as smoothly as possible for you. I’m glad reading about my experience is helping you with yours. I appreciate your feedback, so thank you. And good luck!

  9. Good to hear your recovery has gone well, Nancy. I had a pediculed Tram Flap 5 years ago. Wish I had skipped the pediculed portion. It can be a tricky recovery. Ood to see you smiling. Great COVID healthcare info.

    1. Jenelle, I don’t know what a pedicled tram flap is, so I’ll have to look that up. Thank you for reading and for your good wishes too. Glad you thought the covid healthcare info was helpful. Hope you’re doing well.

  10. Ha! I need to check my posts for spelling before sending. I am assuming you had a free diep flap. A pedicled tram flap takes the rectus abdominus muscle and its blood supply, tunnels it up to make the base of the constructed breast.

  11. New to your site, anything to take to mitigate side effects of letrozole, can’t even make a fist in the morning Tumeric,? Collogen Peptides? etc.. Does the band of pain, pulling around the chest to the implant ever get better? Dr. didn’t want to do flap during Covid. You look Great!

  12. Thanks I d like to never entered in both contests . I m glad you are feeling better and 10 years is great . I have been 10 years with early stage before going on to now almost 3 years stage 4 and still going on

  13. I had my diep flap surgery following previous double mastectomy in a very prominent hospital with an amazing surgeon well researched. I came out following a 15 1/2 hour surgery and with in two days went back in for a failed flap on my right breast. They were able to save it they thought installing a Doppler to hear the vain. 7 days in the hospital and I was released with one breast black and blue and the other pale white. Considerably oversized than what was discussed. I was informed they will reduce following swelling in a few months. Less than one week after release I returned to hospital in complete Failure. 103 temp decayed belly button and incision in stomach and right breast. Another surgery. Installed a stomach vac and removed my belly button, 1/2 of right breast and more skin and fat from stomach incision. Tightened stomach to extremes and a hole the size of a hockey puck. Again another surgery to confirm all dead material was removed, an extraordinary amount of iv antibiotics, shots, meds, blood draws, testing and a week later home again now with the wound vac-looking like an umpa loopa breast one oversized the other lopsided, enormous scar hip to hip-pinched on each side, a wound vac 2-3 month recovery. I will never be the same I could have more corrective surgeries but I have been though enough.

    Just know infection and complications with this surgery is common! Nancy God bless her was very lucky . Are u prepared for all that it entails? Can you handle the extra time that may been required due to complications? And the body changes that may never be recoverable? For me this was an experience I completely regret.

    1. Toresa, I’m sorry your experience was so awful and that you regret your decision. Based on what you’ve shared, I don’t blame you one bit. Complications happen, but they aren’t common from what I’ve learned anyway. That doesn’t matter though if you’re the one with complications. It’s really important to have a frank discussion with your doctor about things that can go wrong. Then a person has to weigh the benefit vs risk and make decisions that feel right for her. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s important to hear about when things go wrong too.

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