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?
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.
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 procedure is quite unlike a DIEP flap procedure. Breast reconstruction of any sort is not some sort of “perk” from having breast cancer.
I would gladly take back that little 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”. I would also advise plastic surgeons to avoid this sort of comparison.
Tip: Avoid telling someone she’s lucky to get a “tummy tuck” from a DIEP flap surgery.
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.
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.
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.
The sum of my parts makes me whole. I don’t feel less of a woman without breasts, just a woman less her breasts.
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.
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!
So, that’s the update at six months post DIEP.
If you have a question for me, ask away.
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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!