If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like one year post DIEP flap surgery, this post is for you.
Everyone’s experience is different, of course, so your experience might be very different from mine, your best friend’s, your relative’s or anyone else’s you’ve heard or read about. Still, reading about outcomes and experiences of others can be helpful as far as alleviating anxiety and keeping expectations realistic. Keep in mind, your experience will be yours alone. This goes for recovery too.
Also, it can’t be mentioned often enough that choosing breast reconstruction, or opting out, is a personal choice as is the type chosen, if and when it is. Judging anyone else’s choices shouldn’t happen. Ever.
So, what’s it like one year out from my DIEP flap surgery?
You might want to read, What’s it like 6 months post DIEP?
I imagine the first question you might be wondering is, am I glad I did it, right?
For the answer to that one, keep reading. 🙂
I must mention that I recently had my phase 2 surgery. So, it feels a bit like that old one step forward, two steps back. Right now, I’m in recovery mode. Again. More on this later.
This post addresses how I felt before phase 2. Yeah, I probably should’ve written it before phase 2, but this is how I roll.
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Below are a few tips along with comments about what it’s like (for me) at one year post DIEP. (‘Cuz I don’t want this to be just about me.)
Tip #1. Be patient.
It took nearly a year for my healing to be complete. Yep. A year. It was actually 11 months. I could almost pinpoint the date. Weird. My plastic surgeon told me upfront that complete healing could take a year, but I didn’t think it would actually take that long.
Keep in mind that complete healing is very different from initial healing, the latter being more about incision healing, pain and swelling resolution and such.
A lot of healing goes on internally and that can take a lot longer. It takes a while for things to settle down. Your body’s been through a lot. DIEP is a big surgery and complete healing takes time. So again, be patient.
Tip #2. Clothes will be all about comfort for a while, but shouldn’t they always be?
Maybe you’re like me and your clothes have always been first and foremost about comfort. Following DIEP surgery, you have to wear stuff that feels comfortable. Of course, this will mean different things to different bodies.
Finding underwear that fit and felt comfortable was a challenge for me. I finally came across a brand I like and it made a huge difference. I mean, huge. How things sit on my abdomen, or rather how things feel when coming in contact with my incision scar, matters. Maybe this will matter less after more time passes??
Honestly, I’ve yet to find the right bra. Granted, I hate shopping, even online shopping. So, I haven’t looked all that hard. I need to get on this. Before phase 2, I was wearing the same bra I had used with implants. (I don’t think this will work anymore. I’ll address this in that future, phase 2 post.) You may or may not be able to wear the same bras post DIEP. (When you’re done with post-surgical ones, of course.)
You might be wondering if all this comfort talk means you’ll never get into a pair of jeans but be stuck in sweats for a year. No. It doesn’t. (Not that staying with sweats or your favorite yoga pants isn’t okay, it is.) I was wearing my favorite jeans after a couple months. You just never know what will and will not feel comfortable, so don’t assume. Try it on. If it doesn’t feel good, take it off and wear something that does.
Tip #3. You might need or want a phase 2 or what’s commonly called a revision surgery.
My surgeon told me several times she would never tell me a phase 2 surgery was necessary or even suggest I should undergo one. That decision was mine alone. It’s yours alone too. What any one person considers “done” or “good enough” varies. And believe me, I get it if you reach the point where you say, enough. I’m done!
I decided to go ahead with phase 2. I’ll write a separate post about why I chose it and how things went. Most women probably do phase 2 way sooner than I did. I waited a year.
Typically, it’s recommended you wait at least three months before having phase 2, but the timetable is really up to you, your doctor and the availability of your surgical team. And unfortunately for now, how full your hospital is with covid patients.
Tip #4. Exercise helps!
Let’s face it, exercise helps with just about everything. I am not a runner, swimmer or any other sort of athlete. Not even close. However, I KNOW that getting back to my regular walking schedule helped me recover more quickly.
I got back to my normal walking routine (2-4 miles a day) by six weeks or so. I started taking short walks immediately. I waited probably close to six months before starting to lift dumbbells and before doing any abdominal exercises. I just didn’t feel ready before that.
Listen to YOUR body. Check with YOUR doctor.
Tip #5. You’ll need six weeks or so off from work.
I know I’m extremely lucky that I work from home. Generally, you can expect to get back to work around six weeks. If you sit for long periods, it’s important to get up and move around every hour or so.
Wearing your abdominal binder can be super helpful here. I wore mine for months when sitting at my computer. I’m back to wearing one again. Fun, fun. Not!
If you have young children at home, you’ll likely need help for awhile with the physical stuff. Of course, every family situation, every kid that needs your care and attention, is different.
Tip #6. Have realistic expectations.
Don’t expect reconstruction results of any type to compare to what Mother Nature gifted you with. Sure, expect a positive outcome (you deserve nothing less), but stay realistic.
I love the warm feel of my breasts now and their more natural appearance. They feel more like me because they actually are me. That’s a nice feeling. But they are still reconstructed breasts and I will always miss my originals. Yes, even after 11 years and after two different types of reconstruction, I still miss them.
Sacrificing your breasts to the damn cancer is a huge loss and that loss is forever. I give myself permission to revisit grief whenever I need to. You get to do the same.
Tip #7 Prepare yourself, and your partner if you have one, for the scars.
The scars are not tiny. I’ve got some doozies and I had some doozies even before this surgery. About that photo I said I might share. Maybe later. (Changing in a women’s locker room would be interesting. Haven’t done that yet, nor do I have plans to anytime soon.)
Honestly, the scars don’t bother me all that much, visually speaking. The times they have bothered have been when clothing irritated. That took some time to resolve.
I have been a little concerned from time to time with how Dear Hubby might react to my humongous scars. He doesn’t like watching gory stuff or even medical procedures on TV or in movies. The poor man has seen a lot during the past 11 years. I mean, a lot. But he’s handled it all really well. Granted, he likely keeps some thoughts to himself, but don’t we all? Yes, I know I’m lucky.
Tip #8. Your abdomen will likely be forever changed.
Abdomen changes are not addressed enough IMO. When you think about what this surgery entails, it makes sense that your abdomen is forever changed. It may or may not ever feel quite like it did before. Mine still doesn’t. Not that there’s pain or even discomfort so much anymore. It just feels different.
I will also say, I have lost some abdominal strength, although I am hoping once I get back to my core-strengthening exercise routine again in a couple months, this will slowly improve over time. I’m not entirely sure what the final outcome here will be. More time is needed to determine.
Bottom line, discuss everything abdomen related that you can think of with your doctor before and after surgery/surgeries. I can’t stress this part enough.
Back to that initial question…am I glad I did it?
Yes. Most days anyway. I do have days when I think, why in the world didn’t I just go flat? I also know that had I gone that route, I’d likely be having more days that I’d be asking myself, why didn’t I go for DIEP? (Remember, this is me, not necessarily how you or anyone else would/should feel.)
Let’s face it, all the options available post mastectomy suck. They just do. But at least we have options these days.
Each woman needs to determine which option sucks less.
If you ask me today, if I’m happy I chose DIEP, I would say, yes.
Final determination is yet to come.
And oh yeah, there’s still nipple/areola decisions to mull over. But those are for another day.
Okay, now ask me anything!
If applicable, have you ever contemplated (or had) DIEP flap surgery?
If applicable, share your experience opting in or out of breast reconstruction.
Do you have a question for me? (If so, ask away.)
Is there a specific DIEP-related topic you’d like addressed in a separate post?