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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.

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!


Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Hello Nancy, Thanks for posting this, so glad your surgery and recovery went well. I read this post in 2020, and again right before my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in February 2021. Having surgery during a pandemic wasn't ideal, but I didn't want to wait any longer. I'm fortunate in that I too had very little breast pain, my pain was mostly from the abdomen incision. 5 months out I'm doing well, with no regrets. Thank you again for your perspective and guidance.


Friday 23rd of July 2021

Laura, I'm glad your surgery is behind you too and happy to hear you're doing well at five months out. I'll likely be writing an update sometime soon at one year out. So glad mine's behind me too. Phase two still coming up next month. But that should be a breeze, comparatively speaking. Thanks for your comment.

Holly Westhouse

Monday 3rd of May 2021

Thank you for sharing, Nancy! I'm having my Diep flap June 16, 2021 - obviously more than a year later plus vaccinations in progress. I'm still trying to get a feel for how long I might be inpatient. I've been booted out after my mastectomy, debridement, removal of expander and replacement of expander so far! Seems like this is definitely a 3-day stay at least, even with Covid restrictions?


Thursday 6th of May 2021

Holly, You've very welcome. I need to write another post or two about DIEP at some point. I was in the hospital for three nights, which I think is pretty standard if all goes according to plan. My surgery and recovery went very well, for the most part. Best of luck with your surgery. It'll come up fast!

Toresa Riggs

Saturday 10th of April 2021

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.


Wednesday 14th of April 2021

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.

Toresa riggs

Saturday 10th of April 2021

My diep surgery was March 16, 2021. Diagnosis sept 16, 2020 double mastectomy October 16, 2020

Deb Maes

Wednesday 16th of September 2020

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


Sunday 13th of September 2020

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!


Monday 14th of September 2020

Chava, Here's a post about managing side effects that may or may not be helpful. As for that tight feeling around the chest getting better - we are all different, of course. I found it got somewhat better, but it never went away. That was my experience. Mostly, I think you get somewhat used to it. Thank you for reading and sharing and for the kind words too.

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