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Ten Things to Consider When Contemplating Breast Reconstruction

Four years have passed since my breast cancer diagnosis and three since completing my recon project, so I have had a little time 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.

For one thing, 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 more consideration into that option.

At the time of my diagnosis, it seemed as if it was 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 a whole lot about it.

Opting out should always be discussed. Many women are choosing to go flat. 

I would definitely do a better job of researching ALL 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 completely overwhelmed while reading through all the different procedures and trying to process it all.

You need some time to figure this stuff out. Take some.

These decisions are huge, and you don’t have to make them overnight.

Again, think carefully about all your options.

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, and this is one reason why I put together the list below.

10 things to think about when making breast reconstruction decisions #mastectomy #breastreconstruction #plasticsurgery

 

10 Things to Consider When Contemplating Breast Reconstruction

1.  My number one tip is do your research on ALL the reconstruction options available to you (including opting out), 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 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 at least some 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?

I am. Bigger is not necessarily better. Never was before. Why would it be now?

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. Especially those. 

 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. Reconstructed breasts are not the real deal and never will be.

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?

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Still feeling overwhelmed and looking for more tips and advice?

Read my ebook, Facing Your Mastectomy & Making Reconstruction Decisions.

Facing Your Mastectomy & Making Reconstruction Decisions - My New Ebook Is Here! #mastectomy #breastreconstruction #breastcancer #brca

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Nancy

Tuesday 30th of July 2019

My diagnosis and reconstruction was 20 years ago. Reconstruction was very important to me at that time of my life. Since then, I have had so many surgeries that I’ve honestly lost count. I’ve had implants twice (both became encapsulated within a few years. I then had a DIEP which resulted in being taken back to surgery twice within 24 hours for complications. It has now been around 8 years without problems. At this point, I would do no more reconstruction wise no matter what. The cosmetics have lost importance as I’ve gotten older. I do think some of us are not aware of possible complications once we start the process. I’m a retired pre op nurse and had great resources.

Nancy

Wednesday 31st of July 2019

Nancy, Thank you for sharing your experience with reconstruction. You're right that some are not adequately aware of possible complications. Very important info to have.

Hector Uba

Tuesday 10th of July 2018

Thanks for the tips on things you should consider when contemplating breast reconstruction. I agree that the biggest reason you should get reconstruction is that it is what you want and not anyone else. My wife has been debating on getting breast reconstruction; I will be sure to share this with her.

Nima

Friday 22nd of June 2018

Hi Nancy. I am 49 years old and had bilateral mastectomies 1 month ago for invasive lobular cancer of my left breast. Nodes were luckily negative. Everyone including friends and doctors have asked if I am considering reconstruction. The recovery from mastectomy has been painful. I don't have expanders. I just want to recover and work on exercising and living a healthy life. I don't want reconstruction and am comfortable with my decision. Thank you for your posts. It helps to read all these decisions are overwhelming for all women. Sometimes, it feels like a lonely experience. Take care, Nima

Nancy

Monday 25th of June 2018

Nima, It can feel like a lonely experience. Good for you for making the decision to opt out of reconstruction. You are entitled to decide whatever you darn please. Thank you for sharing. My best to you.

Sutton Turner

Wednesday 28th of March 2018

I like how you talked about how you should do your research before your breast reconstruction surgery. My aunt had a mastectomy last year and is now preparing for her reconstruction. I am grateful for the tips on contemplating breast reconstruction.

Nancy

Thursday 29th of March 2018

Sutton, Thank you and you're welcome. My best to your aunt and to you as well.

Mikey Dy

Saturday 11th of February 2017

Hi Nancy, Thank you for sharing your personal experience to us. This is very helpful especially to women who might want to consider breast reconstruction. I think people who wants to under go breast reconstruction should do a lot of research about this surgery. There might be effects on the body after the surgery. I agree that you really need to ask your surgeon and not to be shy asking questions.