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What’s it like six months post DIEP flap surgery?

What’s it like at six months post DIEP flap surgery? How much time do you have? Just kidding.

Note: An audio version of this post is available via my Free Resource Library.

I’m now six months (almost seven, I’m none too speedy with this update), post DIEP flap surgery. On the one hand, it feels like surgery was yesterday. On the other hand, it feels like ages ago.

Even though I’ve been stuck at home (like most people) due to the pandemic, the past six months have gone by quickly. Not exactly sure what’ve I’ve been doing all this time besides hunkering down trying to avoid the virus and trying to maintain some sort of work schedule.

Am I the only one who hasn’t gotten as much done as I’d hoped during the past year of isolating?

(Feel free to humor me.)

So, what’s to report at six months post DIEP flap surgery?

Reminder: This post is not a substitute for medical advice. I’m offering a few tips for other DIEP flap surgery patients, but they are merely that, my tips based on my experience. Follow the advice of YOUR doctor.

I’m still healing. Yeah, I know. Six months and still healing?

Yep. My plastic surgeon continues to remind me that this is normal. Complete healing takes time.

The abdomen

My abdomen certainly feels better than say, three months ago. Things continue to improve. But, it still doesn’t feel normal — which really means it doesn’t feel like it did before. It’s important to make that distinction. Perhaps it never will feel like it did before. (Input on this, anyone?)

What exactly do I mean?

It’s hard to fully explain, but I’ll try. There is an ongoing feeling of abdominal tightness, which makes sense considering the procedure. This tightness, annoying not painful, reminds me to sit using better posture, so that’s a good thing. Or so I tell myself. For example, if I don’t pay attention to posture while working at my computer, I get uncomfortable. This can vary quite a lot from day to day.

Tip: If you sit/work at a computer, try to maintain good posture.

When I first get up in the morning, all is good, abdominally speaking. When I stand and walk around, the same is true. Sitting too long is what can be a problem. Not a huge problem, but rather a reminder.

So in addition to proper posture, I try to avoid sitting for too long. (Maybe this is why I’ve gotten less writing done.)

Tip: Take frequent breaks when sitting for extended periods.

In addition to the above, I’m still wearing mostly sweat-type pants. Comfort. That’s what I want. Of course, this has always been the case. I’ve always been a comfort over style sort of gal. These days, I pretty much only put jeans on when I go to the grocery store. (Should I be admitting this?)

Comfortable underwear is also a must. If going without works for you, that’s a good option. I really need to get busy searching online for good options for both top and bottom.

Tip: Stick to comfortable, non-restrictive clothing for as long as you want. Keep wearing post-surgical bras as long as directed to do so.

Keeping it real, I will admit that I like my now flatter stomach. HOWEVER, DIEP flap surgery is NOT like getting a tummy tuck. Hearing that sort of thing makes me cringe. I’m pretty sure a tummy tuck is quite unlike a DIEP flap procedure.

I would gladly take back that belly pouch if it meant getting back my other original parts. So, do NOT tell me how lucky I am to have had this “tummy tuck perk”. Uh, uh. No. Nope. Do not say that. I would also strongly advise plastic surgeons to avoid this comparison.

Tip: Avoid telling someone she’s lucky to get a “tummy tuck” from a DIEP flap surgery.

Exercise/movement

I resumed my walking routine pretty much right away post surgery. I cannot recommend this enough. Walking (when you get the okay) works wonders. Photo below is one week out. In winter, walks can be more challenging. Walking around Target or the grocery while hanging onto a cart is a suggestion someone shared as a way to get in wintertime walks. Of course, you’d need someone with you early on.

#Six Months Post #DIEPFlapSurgery - What's it like at? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #mastectomy #womenshealth #surgery
Can you spot the drain tube?

Recently (like a month ago), I started lifting weights again. I started with light ones. Up to three pounders now. Woohoo! The point is, after you get the go ahead, start slow. Light weights are still weights.

In addition, I really wanted to start regaining core strength. I was thinking sit-ups. My doctor isn’t a big fan of sit-ups post DIEP. So, be sure to ask yours. Mine favors yoga and controlled, modified sit-ups and planks.

(I’m glad I asked.)

Upon Googling, I came across a couple helpful YouTube videos addressing rebuilding core strength. The one I’ll tell you about here is via my esteemed fellow blogger and advocate, Terri, founder of DiepCFoundation (a great resource for anything you want to know about DIEP, btw).

It’s important you do not do any of these exercises without your doctor’s approval. Even at six months out, I’m still only doing the first two exercises explained in the video.

I’m also working on forearm planks. Let’s just say, I have a ways to go here. (Why do they look so easy?)

Tip: Walking, light weights and carefully chosen core-strengthening movements — those are the three things I do and recommend.

Healthier Eating vs the scale

I avoid advising others about diet and nutrition. There is far too much finger-pointing and blaming that goes on about how a person should/should not eat. Much of that advice too often feels judgmental. As if before cancer, we were living recklessly eating whatever and whenever. And post diagnosis, if you haven’t adopted whatever fill-in-the-blank diet, you might be made to feel that you are not doing survivorship right.

Yep. A blame-game pile on is what that is.

You might want to read, Stop Blaming Yourself for Getting Cancer.

We all know trying to eat healthy is important. Most of us try to do our best, which means entirely different things to each of us.

Following DIEP flap surgery, your body works extra hard to heal and needs proper nutrition in order to do this. Try to keep that proper nutrition stuff going for the long haul.

Once you reach a certain age, healthier eating is more about exactly that — healthier eating. It’s not about the scale. Okay, not as much about the scale. It’s not about deprivation. It’s not about good food vs bad food. Of course, it never was.

Again, since reaching a certain age, I need to walk a minimum of two miles per day to sorta maintain my weight. I’ve figured out (finally) that this is what works for me. If I wanna eat more, I gotta walk more often and further, so I adjust accordingly. Okay, I try to.

When I first got home post surgery, I was down roughly ten pounds after the initial swelling/bloating phase post surgery. (Yeah, those f****** implants were heavy.)

I’m still maintaining pretty well. But since the holidays, my weight’s been slowly creeping up. (Yeah, weird post holidays, not during the holidays) I can tell I probably shouldn’t allow myself to pack on too many pounds because as I mentioned above, my stomach is just different now.

I mean, where would “belly fat” go now?

Tip: Try to eat as healthy as you can, but do not focus on the scale. This is about your overall, ongoing health.

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My reconstructed breasts

First of all, I will just say (again) the new breasts that I have are reconstructed breasts. They are still nothing like the real deal. It bugs the heck out of me when the illusion is perpetuated that implants and autologous reconstruction methods recreate breasts. They do not.

Some things cannot be recreated. Reconstructed breasts are exactly that. Reconstructed.

You might want to read, Things We Aren’t Supposed to Say About About Mastectomies, Reconstruction & Breasts.

Also, reconstructed breasts do not make women whole again. Women are whole with or without breasts.

I share this quote from my friend Lisa, blogger at Habitual Gratitude, every chance I get:

The sum of my parts makes me whole. I don’t feel less of a woman without breasts, just a woman less her breasts.

Amen.

This a perfect spot to emphasize (again) that no matter what choice a woman makes regarding reconstruction, including opting out, it is her choice and that choice must be respected. Opting for aesthetic flat closure is a completely legit and perfect option that many women choose.

And it goes without saying that saving lives, not breasts, is what matters most in this entire scenario.

For the most part, I am content with the results of my DIEP surgery. My reconstructed breasts feel warm and more natural. Definitely more like me. I also seem to have more sensation now than I did when I had implants. These things are huge. For me.

What about phase 2?

Yes, generally DIEP flap surgery requires a phase two and sometimes a phase three. Implant surgery more often than not, also is not a one time and then you’re done type deal either.

Breast reconstruction is complex and takes time, sometimes quite a lot of time.

You might want to read, 10 Reasons Why Breast Reconstruction Is Not a Boob Job!

At this point, I’m thinking I would probably like a phase 2 when I’ve been vaccinated (still waiting) and when I feel more ready. Maybe this summer I’ll do it. Maybe. Then perhaps nipple tattoos. Again. Or perhaps not. I can only deal with one phase at a time.

You might want to read, Nipple Tattooing, the Final Step in the Long & Winding Road of Breast Reconstruction. (“Final” step. Gosh, I had a lot to learn yet when I wrote that one.)

So, am I happy I chose DIEP?

If you ask me first thing in the morning, yes. Or when I’m walking around, yes. When things are bothering me, mehh.

I tell myself to make the final judgment at one year post surgery. At this point, most of the time, I’m content with my decision. Ecstatic, no.

But again, patience is required for a bit longer.

Dear Hubby hasn’t said much. He’s super glad that major surgery is behind us. I know that much. He’s also super glad I no longer talk about my dissatisfaction with implants. How does he really feel about the state of my chest?

I’m not sure. I haven’t asked him. Why this is I’m not entirely sure.

Oh yeah, the scar!

We can’t forget about the lovely (not) scar. It’s definitely there in plain sight, along with all the others. Anyone who’s had DIEP flap surgery has a pretty darn substantial hip-to-hip scar. So, forgetting what this body’s been through isn’t even a realistic expectation. I’m reminded every day.

My abdominal scar has been a bit wonky. The left side started healing perfectly from day one. The right side was a bit more unruly. Apparently, this is not an uncommon thing. (I’ll spare you the details about the wonky right side of my scar.)

As far as scar care goes, I have not been using scar cream that was given to me at one of my follow-ups. (Using it was optional.) It’s a gel, and I hate how messy it is. Your favorite lotions work nicely too. I prefer Lubriderm, sensitive skin, unscented. I use another brand, too, with cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is what my plastic surgeon recommended as a helpful healing ingredient to look for. Plus, it smells like you’re at the beach!

I’m only addressing the abdominal scar here. My breast scars are pretty much the same as your run-of-the-mill bilateral mastectomy scars. I’ll just leave it at that for now. After all, you don’t have all day to read this.

Lightly massaging your abdominal scar area is important and can really help but ONLY if, when and after you get permission from you doctor.

Regarding scar care, be sure to follow YOUR doctor’s advice.

Tip: Use scar cream, lotion and massage techniques approved by YOUR doctor.

I’m not gonna lie, there are still days (over the past ten years, actually) when I look in the mirror and say, WTF happened?

I’m pretty sure this is normal though. No, I know it is.

Sure, we adapt, we adjust. We carry on.

But forget?

Not gonna happen.

Tip: Allow yourself to grieve for the old you. It’s okay. Breast cancer is a string of losses. There is much to grieve for.

If you were looking for photos of my scar or chest, that’s not gonna happen either. I’ll leave that sort of thing for others to share. You’re stuck with a very unrevealing selfie — apparently one with Ninja looking on.

Writing and publishing this post was hard enough!

What's it like at six months post DIEP flap surgery? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #womenshealth #surgery #mastectomy
Maybe I’ll post a scar picture at one year. (Teaser!)

So, that’s what it’s like for me at six months post DIEP flap surgery.

Now, ask me anything!

To learn more about DIEP flap surgery, visit PRMA Plastic Surgery.

For help making breast reconstruction decisions, including opting out, check out the free Breast Advocate App.

Read my review of the Breast Advocate App.

Have you had any sort of breast reconstruction, and if so, are you satisfied with the results?

Did you opt for aesthetic flat closure, and if so, how do you feel about your decision?

Do you have a tip to share or question to ask?

Thank you for sharing this post!

What's it like six months post DIEP flap surgery? #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #mastectomy #DIEPflap #womenshealth

Candice Aguirre

Saturday 11th of June 2022

Your blog is probably one of the single most helpful things I’ve read during this journey that I did not choose. Your earlier post about resilience is spot on, btw. I don’t want to be resilient, I just have to be. The DIEP flap is in my heart the right choice for me at 39, but it’s still scary. Currently going through chemo (12 weekly taxol, year of Herceptin) and next year I’ll do the surgery because I’m out of sick leave. Luckily, I am a teacher and can sacrifice another summer to breast cancer. Thank you for sharing your journey and I truly hope you are doing well. I can’t imagine going through this during the height of the pandemic. I’m already so freaking lonely. Oh. And also I hate when people say I’m strong! That really resonated with me, I’m so broken some days and it’s really hard to see the light. Take care! Hope the light is brighter for you now.

Nancy

Wednesday 15th of June 2022

Candice, Yes, we don't necessarily want to be resilient - it's just that there's not much choice. It's scary indeed facing DIEP flap surgery. Believe me, I get it. I would like to say that for me, it turned out to be not so bad. The entire thing - preparing, surgery itself, and recovery - wasn't as bad as I had imagined it would be. I'm sorry you're feeling lonely and broken. I hope you have one or two people in your life you can candidly share your feelings with. You are always welcome to share in this space. Good luck with chemo and surgery next summer. Good luck with everything. Thank you for sharing.

Lucy

Tuesday 15th of March 2022

Hi Nancy, Commenting again, now 11 months post-DIEP surgery. I was scheduled for reconstruction revision in early February to remove scar tissue under parts of my massive abdominal scar and to balance my right breast with my left, which is fuller and higher than the left. They told me no big deal, quick recovery. Easy peasy. (Exact words) Well, not so easy- two weeks beforehand, I started developing a large growth near my bellybutton. Extreme tightness in my tummy, much more than ever before. Thankfully my GP thought it serious enough to get an MRI. It was a hernia. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Out of nowhere. No idea what I did to have this happen. No heavy lifting or falls to pinpoint. It was large enough my surgeon said it had to be removed. So that makes 7 surgeries over the past two years, (which includes two ankle surgeries) of course all going on during COVID. Hopefully this will be the end of it- cancer, surgeries and a global pandemic.

Lucy

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

@Nancy, Yes, I went in for the hernia repair/scar tissue removal on Feb. 10. I think it went pretty well, especially since I didn't need drains this time. Some bruising, but not too bad. Three small scars where they went in arthroscopically to fix the hernia. They used some kind of wire to pull up the right breast, to make it even with the left, but it didn't work. At the very least they want to go in and remove that wire, since it is sticking out of my chest a bit, and occasionally hurts when i lift my arm. So, I go again this week for yet another consult. Seems like I can't go a week without some kind of test or doctor visit. It will be a year next week since I had the DIEP surgery. Crazy.

Nancy

Wednesday 16th of March 2022

Lucy, I have heard of this happening. I've had a slight abdominal bulge post DIEP, but have been assured it's not a hernia. I forget what they called it, but it was explained to me that hernias do sometimes happen. I'm sorry you are dealing with this now. You shouldn't blame yourself as it's not likely a result of anything you did. So, have you had the surgery yet? I, too, hope it'll be end of all these surgeries for you. Good luck with things and thank you for sharing.

Lisa

Monday 14th of March 2022

I am so happy to read your story. November last year i had the Diep Flap surgery and double masectomy. I still have a bulge in my abdomen area. And depending what i do during the day, it now and then swells up and then goes down. I would like to find out what type of exercise is good.. Is Pilates and cycling good.. The cycling is an indoor cycling at the gym? 3 x a week..

Nancy

Monday 14th of March 2022

Lisa, I'm glad my story resonates. Your surgery is still quite recent, so there is likely still lots of healing going on. I am finally starting to feel healed and it's been a year and a half since my phase one and seven months since phase two. As for exercising, it's probably best to speak with your doctor. I did include those core strengthening exercises as I've found them very helpful. Be sure to start slow though and with few repetitions. I would think cycling is great. Again, check with your doctor. My favorite form of exercising is plain old walking. Thank you for sharing and my best to you as you continue healing.

Linda C Boberg

Thursday 30th of December 2021

Sounds like another fork in the road and you are handling it!

Nancy

Monday 10th of January 2022

Linda, I've been trying. More posts about DIEP to come in 2022.

Michele Tate

Thursday 30th of December 2021

My plastic surgeon recommended silicone tape for my scars. It has worked wonders of keeping the scars flat and soft. No cording (lumps and bumps). My port scar is a different matter with lots of cording. My port surgeon did not tell me about silicone tape!

The are different types I got mine off Amazon in the green box. The orange box didn’t work for me. Added bonus, it adds support to the scar and keeps clothing from rubbing on the scars. The type listed below is thin and pliable. I got some at CVS ets that has paper backing a few is not comfortable. I take the tape off when showering and just hang it on the wall or glass door. Reapply after drying off and applying lotion.

I use this tape on my breast scars too

The kind I use: AWD Silicone Scar Sheets, Soft Silicone Tape for Scars Removal – 1.6” x 120” - Painless Easy Removal Scar Tape for Surgery | keloids | C section | Burns | Breast Lift |

I hope this helps others with scar issues.

Nancy

Monday 10th of January 2022

Michele, Thank you so much for sharing your tip!

Judy

Saturday 8th of January 2022

@Michele Tate, Thank you!!! I had my mastectomy/DIEP surgery almost 8 weeks ago. I am 62. I was a 38D and will probably be a B, still have a lot of swelling. I am SO happy to read someone's experience with silicone tape. My doc just wouldn't say anything beyond "use a cream". I have been researching and was considering the tape, now I definitely will.

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